Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) Dir. Lucio Fulci
Young boys are being strangled in a small rural village in southern Italy. Historical context. ‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ is considered a ‘giallo’ (named for the seedy yellow tinged paperbacks they were often inspired by) – a type of European thriller made popular following the international critical and commercial mega success of Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ in 1970. Waves of these giallo thrillers (some with artsy animal titles, some without) crashed upon Europe during this time. The women in these movies are unforgettable. The movies themselves? Kinda forgettable though there are certainly some gems to be found. Fulci, a director for hire at the time, jumped onto the band wagon first with ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ which is a decent enough Argento rip-off though ‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ is a film with its own voice and its own mission statement.
‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ is a frightening and frustrating work and that’s how it should be. This is the story of the madness that creeps in when people never leave their enclave. People become slaves to the prejudices of their upbringing – holding on to outdated moral codes, superstitions and religious beliefs. They refuse to embrace cultural shifts or those they see as outsiders. And who suffers? The noble and innocent as this film so accurately portrays. Its messaging might be a bit too on the nose for some but this film plays more like a socio-political art house piece than a genre entry though it certainly has enough dollops of unnecessary gore and nudity to satiate the cine-pervs that scrounge around for that kind of stuff. But ultimately this film errs on the side of Bergman and Rossellini and this places it on a higher pedestal than many other works in this sub genre.
I personally believe this to be Fulci’s best and most accessible film. I don’t entirely agree with the revisionist evaluation of Fulci as being a director on par with other genre greats like Romero, Raimi, Carpenter and Argento. Certainly a talented and hard working dude. But did he have the vision or the artistry that the best of Romero, Argento, Carpenter, Cronenberg or Raimi have? I would say not. I think he falls more in the camp of D’Amato, Lenzi and Deodato. Lots of time chasing trends established by others. Not to say these directors don’t have flashes of brilliance or make some fun films. I totally dig their stuff and D’Amato’s ‘Beyond The Darkness’ is one of my favorite horror films. But there’s something missing from their work and Fulci’s. Too often it falls flat and comes off as needlessly crass.
Despite the above paragraph I do own a coffin tin collector’s box set of Fulci’s gore porn shocker ‘The Beyond’ complete with marquee cards and I would like to point out that the audio commentary by stars Catriona MacColl & David Warbeck is one of the best I have ever heard.