Don’t Torture A Duckling: Special Edition

Studio: Arrow Video

Oct 02, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


There’s one scene in Don’t Torture a Duckling that’s more representative of the cinematic style of Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci than any other. As La Magiara, a beautiful gypsy woman, wanders an old country graveyard, she’s surrounded by a group of male villagers. These men suspect the woman of using witchcraft to murder their teenage sons, despite evidence that she was nowhere near where the crimes occurred. The soundtrack is overtaken by a blaring, fast-paced ‘60s rock song – the only thing rising above it are Magiara’s screams – as the men whip her with chains and bash her with pieces of lumber. Fulci cuts sharply between the men’s glares, the woman’s resigned face, and close-ups of her realistic, prosthetic wounds. The song ends. We learn now that it’s a radio we’re listening to when a DJ introduces his next track: a swelling, ‘70s ballad with female vocals. The beating ends, and the lynch mob leaves her bleeding among the gravestones. Summoning all of her remaining strength, Magiara crawls to the nearby road, where station wagons – with umbrellas, coolers, and surfboards strapped to the top – blaze past en route to a weekend on the beach. She makes eye contact with several young kids in a passing car, and then dies.

This beating sequence lasts for a full eight minutes, the rock ‘n’ roll front and center on the soundtrack throughout. It’s extremely violent, extremely bloody, but deliriously surreal at the same time: it’s shot almost as if it were a dream. It’s easy to see where critics will point at a scene like this, of extreme violence towards a woman, and accuse Fulci of sexism, but the argument that it’s social commentary is much stronger: Fulci is making a statement about the village’s blind anger and small-mindedness, turning them into nightmarish monsters enacting revenge on an innocent woman.

But, it’s probably best not to spend too much time trying to read Fulci’s films. Don’t Torture a Duckling also happens to be movie where a villain gets tossed over a cliff; the actor is promptly replaced by the most obvious dummy ever to appear in a film. Seemingly un-phased by how absurd the thing looks – this dummy could’ve been made as a third grader’s papier mache project – Fulci shoots it in both extreme close-up and slow motion. As the dummy’s head collides with sharp rocks, chunks of gore fly off its face, and sparks – a legitimate pyrotechnics show – fly in all directions. Does human flesh really spark when you hit it with a rock? I’m pretty sure not, but my goodness it’s eye-catching. (Not to mention incredibly silly-looking.)

Fulci once famously quipped that when his movies stopped making sense, that’s when international audiences started to pay attention to his work. Whereas his contemporary, Dario Argento, was often called the Italian Hitchcock for his stunningly-shot slashers and supernatural thrillers, Fulci’s distinctly Italian brand of horror share more commonalities with the surrealist visions of Luis Buñuel and dreamy grotesquerie of Federico Fellini. While you can probably read a message about colonialism into Fulci’s brilliant Zombie Flesh Eaters, it also contains an underwater battle between a shark, a zombie, and a topless scuba diving lady. The gore maestro’s work is almost a perfect blend of meaningful symbolism and utter wackiness.

Released in 1972, Don’t Torture a Duckling was Fulci’s contribution to the wave of giallos with animal-referencing titles the arrived in the wake of Argento’s hit Bird With Crystal Plumage (which Arrow Video coincidentally just re-released in its own fantastic Blu-ray set.) The movie is set in a picturesque, rural village where preteen children are turning up murdered in a grisly fashion. It’s up to a newspaper reporter and a local woman to solve the crime when the police can’t pin it on any of the usual suspects, ranging from a suspected witch to the village idiot. Don’t Torture a Duckling is an effective whodunit, more notable for its style than its plot (though, the mystery does take some unexpected turns.) It doesn’t hit the surreal heights of later films such as City of the Living Dead or The Beyond, but it’s one of the best entries in the director’s early filmography.

Arrow Video’s Blu-ray special edition is outstanding. The film is presented in a cleaned-up, high definition image alongside the film’s original Italian and English audio tracks and a commentary by giallo scholar Troy Howarth. There are multiple video appreciations for Fulci’s work, a late ‘80s interview with Fulci and others with crew members, as well as a thick booklet with notes on the restoration and a long essay about the movie. (The set also includes a DVD of the film and some of its extras, for those who haven’t upgraded their home theater setup.) All of this is housed inside an attractive slipcase with newly-commissioned artwork. Arrow’s Don’t Torture a Duckling is essential for Fulci fans, and worth exploring by anyone interested in Italian genre movies. 




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