|Don't Torture a Duckling|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 23 May 2000|
Fulci's supporters swear that the original cuts of his films are much more interesting, often shading toward satire. You are free to disagree, to consider even his original cuts to be little more than sub-Bava, sub-Argento routine horror films.
The strangely-titled DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (Non si sevizia un paperino) is a relatively early Fulci title, a giallo rather than horror per se. Giallo refers to intricately-plotted murder mysteries, often with vividly gory scenes, centering on madness that often has its origins in the killer's childhood; they often include an animal in the title: THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, CAT O'NINE TAILS, FOUR FLIES ON GRAY VELVET, LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (another Fulci title). While "duckling" is somewhat appropriate here because the murder victims are all boys on the brink of adolescence, the "paperino" in the Italian title actually refers to Donald Duck. For obvious legal reasons, of course, though a Donald Duck doll figures in the plot, they didn't use the trademarked Disney name in the title.
The murders are taking place in the hillside town of Accendura; even though a modern elevated highway runs by the small town, the villagers are still in the grip of medieval superstitions. Weird local woman Marciara (Florinda Bolkan), who lives in a cave, is regarded by everyone (including herself) as a witch. Newcomer Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) is shunned because of her modern ways, such as a past involving drug use, and a present tendency to flaunt her nudity before the village boys.
When a boy turns up strangled, the initial suspect is the village idiot, whom the boys had cruelly taunted. He's arrested while the villagers snarl and rage at him like a pack of animals. But when the murders continue, Marciara becomes the favorite suspect -- especially when she actually confesses. It turns out, though, that she thought she killed them through black magic -- but she's really innocent. Big-city reporter Martelli (the reliable Tomas Milian) begins to investigate the crime with the help of Patrizia, though this comes very late in the proceedings.
DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING was greeted with shock in Italy on its initial release in 1972, mostly for what was seen as an anti-Catholic point of view. That's not really what's going on, however; the movie is foursquare against any form of blind acceptance of doctrine -- even though this is mostly just to keep the plot going. It's full of unassimilated details, some dealing with religion, some with sex, some with deformity, mental and physical. The priest's mother has a much younger daughter, who is retarded. Marciara gave birth to a deformed child many years ago (the first shot in the film is of her digging up its skeleton), which seems to be important, but turns out to be a grotesque red herring.
The movie is not as relatively cleanly-plotted as the giallo of Dario Argento; shocking details are dragged in just to be shocking, and tossed aside when they've fulfilled that function. As a result, the movie lurches its way from opening to closing as the viewer latches onto, then relinquishes, these arbitrary story points.
The cast is quite good; Florinda Bolkan, who's actually gorgeous, is excellent as the nearly-insane Marciara; she has a great mad scene at the police station, complete with popping eyes and foaming mouth. Barbara Bouchet, who's beautiful in the smooth, symmetrical manner of Diana Rigg, has several attractive nude scenes, and makes a good match with Milian. It's a little surprising to see the great Greek actress Irene Papas in a supporting role as the mother of the boyish-looking local priest (Marc Porel), and she doesn't really have much to do.
A touch of the later Fulci turns up in two scenes. When she's released by the police, Marciara is cornered in a sunny graveyard, and very graphically beaten by vengeful villagers armed with chains. At the climax, the killer falls from a cliff, and we see his face torn apart in great bleeding chunks as he slams into the stones of the cliff. Both these scenes are the very definition of gratuitous gore, though the effects in Marciara's beating are technically well done.
The Anchor Bay DVD is the first American release of DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING; it's handsomely presented in letterbox (even enhanced for 16X9), though it's a shame that a subtitled print couldn't have been found. Even when dubbing is done well -- and it's excellent here -- it's a distracting element that removes one of the actors' most powerful tools, their voices. There are no other extras other than some reasonably thorough biographies. The sound tends toward the tinny, but that's not the fault of those who created the DVD.
If you're into Eurohorror, you'll want this disc as an early work of a man considered by many to be a master of the genre. If you're not interested in the field, there are better discs.