Toss the name Lucio Fulci into a decent horror film conversation and it’s quite possible it may turn into some sort of cranky debate about a few of his more outrageous films that feature copious amounts of gore and violence (often against female characters). There’s an excellent video essay by Kat Ellinger called Hell Is Already In Us included on the fantastic Arrow Video restoration of Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling that drives home the point that the director was merely holding up a mirror to some of society’s madness and letting his camera do the dirty work. While not as relentless as his later work, what’s here is a pretty effective blend of thriller and pointed social commentary that’s still got a mean bite all these years later.
Considered by the director to be one of his personal favorites, Duckling’s blend of Italian countryside setting, shocking (off-screen) child murders and handful of suspects where everyone has either a direct motive or abnormal/amoral proclivities that can be seen as motives makes for a pretty unsettling experience. Adding to the film’s grim tone, Fulci also skewers his faith but good here with some knife-twisting fierceness and a killer finale that’s either going to make you cringe or crack up laughing (or preferably, both). This is a film that’s tough to watch, but extremely well made and even thought provoking in its own manner.
Things in the remote (but fictional) village of Accendura are pretty tense after the murder of a young boy is committed and the locals are frustrated by the police and their lack of tracking down the killer or killers in a timely fashion. When a city-based reporter Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) rolls into town, he offers to assist the police in their investigation (probably because he’s smarter than the entire force combined). Soon afterward, a mentally challenged local man named Giuseppe (Vito Passeri) is arrested after he very stupidly tries to extort money from the parents of the dead boy. However, while he’s in custody, a second murder takes place, leading the police to consider other suspects.
After a third murder, Andrea pokes around the crime scene and discovers a cigarette lighter nearby that just so happens to belong to Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), a sexy woman who unknown to Martelli, might be a suspect with the added nastiness of potentially being attracted to at least one of the young boys. Or perhaps she’s just an exhibitionist who exposes herself to one of the boys and jokingly propositions him (eek). Or, she’s possibly a bored nymphomaniac as she hits on Martelli (who rebuffs her advance by telling her he’s married), but won’t go near any of the dumber local men who don’t seem to like her thanks to her choice of too casual clothing.
Even with these kicks to the thematic head, the film saves its most powerful performance for Magiara (Florinda Bolkan), a woman who considers herself a local witch with the talent to seemingly back up her choice of vocation. She’s first seen making three small dolls out of clay that she stabs with black hatpins shortly after discovering a child’s skeleton in her wanderings. She’s shunned by the superstitious locals because of her practicing black magic, but when she confesses to having some sort of mystic hand in the murders, her fate is sealed. She’s initially chased and caught, but set free by the police after it’s revealed she was miles away from the crime scenes. However, a few of the local men take it upon themselves to hunt her down and let out their rage upon her in the film’s most disturbing scene.
By the time we find out who the killer actually is, poor Magiara is forgotten and we get that cringe-y crack-up of a finale, roll credits, The End. You’ll probably guess well in advance who the true killer is, but the motive is definitely unique. For all its madness, there’s a weird sense of misguided purpose that kind of makes sense… well, except for the murderous parts. Fulci never shows the actual child murders other than a very quick shot of one kid getting hit in the head by a thrown rock. There’s also a shock shot of a drowned boy (it’s a so-so mannequin-like figure), but otherwise, Fulci saves the blood and gore effects for the two adult deaths that sort of counterpoint each other.
Amusingly enough, seeing this film make me think of my second experience with a Fulci film back around 1986 or ’87. I’d already seen Zombie (aka Zombi 2) a few years earlier thanks to a a borrowed bootleg tape, but my second time was when a friend rented one of the House movies from a rental spot and inside the case was The Gates of Hell (aka City of the Living Dead). That made for quite an evening as well as wondering what the heck the person who rented the far tamer Hollywood flick was thinking when they popped the wrong tape in their player and hit that PLAY button. If memory serves me correctly, I think I imagined someone screaming as if they were in a Fulci flick.
Picture-wise, Arrow does it again. The 2K transfer is great overall, but stick with the subtitled Italian version over the dub, I say. As for special features, that Kat Ellinger video essay is great stuff, but you’ll also get these goodies:
New audio commentary by Troy Howarth (author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films)
The Blood of Innocents, a new video discussion with Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
Interviews with co-writer/director Lucio Fulci, actress Florinda Bolkan, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, assistant editor Bruno Micheli and assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides
Collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes (First pressing only)
All of which add up to another solid Arrow Video release worth adding to your collection. I’m kind of hoping Arrow has plans to get a few of Fulci’s other genre flicks out at some point as I’d love to see one or more of his westerns. or hey, I wouldn’t mind another giallo if it’s as interesting and impressive as this one.
Score: A- (90%)
Review copy provided by the publisher