Italian horror master Lucio Fulci directed Don’t Torture a Duckling in 1972. While not his first giallo film, it does mark the first time that Lucio Fulci broke with the stylistic approach of his peers in favor of a gritty and realistic tone. Don’t Torture a Duckling also demarcates Lucio Fulci’s turn towards more visibly shocking violence. The change in tone was a welcome addition to the giallo genre at the time, but different does not always mean good. Hordes of Fulci fans revere this film, but whether or not it’s deserved remains a legitimate question.
The Murders of Accendura
The films premise surrounds a series of child murders in a small town in southern Italy called Accendura. Accendura rests on the line between the old world and the new. While big enough to sustain complicated politics, it also retains ties to old world mysticism and witchcraft. Accordingly, Accendura lays claim to several odd and eccentric characters that all draw suspicion at various stages. Fulci leverages this dynamic to keep the audience in a constant guessing game for the duration of the film.
Small Town, Big Politics
One of the more interesting angles that Fulci takes with Don’t Torture a Ducking concerns the transformation of a small town into a powder keg. The townspeople attack the government. The government attacks the police. Everyone is against the press. It really paints an interesting continuum from naive village politics to big-city apathy. What lies in-between is little-big-town rage when a malevolent force descends on the town.
Witches, Idiots, Clergy and Fancy Women
The film begins with the disappearance of a young man named Bruno. The town idiot, a man named Giuseppe, quickly finds himself under suspicion when he finds Bruno’s body. Instead of reporting the body to the police, he tries instead to extract a ransom from the family.
Lurking behind the scenes, a local witch named La Maciara, played by the extraordinary Florinda Bolkan, plunges pins into voodoo dolls. She believes that she can punish the townsfolk through her witchcraft.
A wealthy woman named Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) resides in Accendura as she tries kick her drug habits. Her fancy lifestyle conflicts with the local blue-collar sensibilities, but it is her overt sexuality towards pre-pubescent boys that really should be the concern.
While fear and danger overtakes the town, a local catholic priest, Don Alberto Avallone, cares for the sons of Accendura. He seemingly has the boys best interest at heart. He tries to protect the boys through this ordeal.
A Murderer in Plain Sight
Fulci takes the audience on several twists and turns through the film. He intentionally plants false flags in various places to keep the audience guessing at the identity of the murderer. I think the key difference in Fulci’s approach with Don’t Torture a Duckling is that standard giallo films hide the identity of the killer, but are satisfied with simple visual obscurity through mask and gloves. Fulci takes the active approach of casting suspicion across multiple characters with the intent to deceive the audience.
For the most part this approach succeeds in its intent; however, it all feels a bit contrived and predictable. Like a game of Clue, the cards in the manila envelope are easily guessed through the process of elimination. I can’t say anymore about the finale without ruining the delivery. Let’s close on this, the surprise is that there is no surprise.
Fulci – An Escalation of Violence
Up until this point, Fulci, like most giallo directors at the time were far more focused on suspense and cinematography. Even Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, directed by Lucio Fulci just a year prior was tame by later giallo standards. In Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Fulci implies much of the violence, leaving much of the gore off-screen. Fulci changes up the game with Don’t Torture a Duckling. More interesting is the selective way that he choses to do it.
The majority of the violence in Don’t Torture a Duckling concerns young male children. For the most part, Lucio Fulcio leaves these murders to the imagination. Fulci does not hesitate to show their lifeless bodies, but he at least leaves the act of murder off of the screen. Unfortunately for Lucio Fulci, this approach eliminates a large portion of the impact. The lack of believable emotion from the grieving parents further erodes the impact. As disturbing as violence to children can be, for some reason Fulci’s fails to evoke enough anguish to makes it feel real.
Lucio Fulci Loves the Ladies
Instead, Lucio Fulci unleashes on his female lead, Florinda Bolkan. As her character, La Maciara, is released from police custody, the townsfolk choose to take their pound of flesh. A group of men corner her alone and attack her on the outskirts of town. The men beat her mercilessly with hands and chains. Fulci creates a spectacle of the brutality as a radio cycles through its regular programming. “Crazy” by Wess and the Airedales and “Qeui Giorni Insieme a Te” by Ornella Vanoni bellows as La Maciara succumbs to her wounds. For Fulci, La Maciara’s death is matter of fact and cold.
Often, Lucio Fulci gets remembered, even criticized for repeated themes of misogyny and violence towards women. Certainly, many directors join him that aspect. Fulci seems to draw this criticism more than most. Don’t Torture a Duckling does paint a damning case against him. The film offers so many opportunities to depict graphic violence; however, he eschews these opportunities in favor of a more implied approach. Instead, Fulci zeros in on this specific act of violence, and he relishes the prolonged and graphic attack on La Maciara. Furthermore, he cements it as the centerpiece for the film. This would define a trend many brutal deaths on film for many women to come.
Don’t Torture a Duckling – The Technicals
Many critics of Don’t Torture a Duckling claim that it represents some of the best cinematography in his catalog. Certainly, Sergio D’Offizi shows professional aptitude in his work. The films location helps considerably. The shots of the sprawling hills surrounding the town of Accendura offer a awesome glimpse of Italy’s hillside beauty. If anything, his photography evokes the feeling of a modern Spaghetti Western. D’Offizi’s work certainly doesn’t detract from the film in any way, but at the same time, nothing makes this film spectacular. Possibly it does represent some of the better executions in a Lucio Fulci film, but it’s not in league with contemporaries like Argento and Bava.
Riz Ortolani provides the soundtrack for Lucio Fulci in Don’t Torture a Duckling and it falls into a similar vein. Ortolani doesn’t hurt the film, but it also doesn’t imprint the signature style that would appear on later films. His contributions to the mondo genre of Italian films like Cannibal Holocaust cut much more deeply. However, Ortolani’s musical selections during the lynching of La Maciara add an artistic touch to an otherwise horrible event. In whole, his contributions prove competent, yet forgettable.
Torturing the Duckling
Malevolent Dark will make a break with the commonly held opinion that Don’t Torture a Duckling amounts to a giallo masterpiece. Lucio Fulci tries to entangle the viewer into a multi-layered mystery, but the cumbersome nature of the narrative tips his hand far too early. Additionally, the film overstays its welcome for about 20 minutes. None of this should be construed as a recommendation not to see the film. Put simply, expectations should be managed. While not a masterpiece, the film still retains merit and provides enough entertainment to be worth a watch.
Lucio Fulci does manage to pull together a great cast of individual character actors. Barbara Bouchet and Florinda Bolkan are exquisite in their roles. Marc Porel as Don Alberto Avallone also works very well and Tomas Milian’s role of outside reporter and full-time Burt Reynolds fan, Andrea Martelli, adds some grit to an otherwise clean-cut cast. While each individual character excels in their role, Fulci fails to create a compelling dynamic between them. Their interactions and relationships feel clumsy and poorly conceived.
More interesting that any one of Lucio Fulci films is the evolution of his film making. Don’t Torture a Duckling sits in a critical place in that continuity. Fans of Lucio Fulci should watch this film. If for nothing else, the viewer will be rewarded with an ending that any Fulci fan would love.
Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) - Gritty Lucio Fulci - Malevolent Dark
Director: Lucio Fulci
Date Created: 1971-01-01 00:00