Saturday, 9 September 2017

Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972)

"An Absolute Classic"

Lucio Fulci's superior, downbeat giallo gets a dual format release courtesy of Arrow Films.
Someone is murdering little boys in a remote Italian town. Is it naked Barbara Bouchet with her wave tank and drug problem? Or mad Florinda Bolkan who likes to stick pins in wax effigies and bury them next to the skeleton of her aborted child? Yes we're firmly in Italian horror film territory from the get go with this, which is actually rather better than Fulci's previous giallo effort, LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN. In fact I've probably done it an injustice by so far making it sound a bit sillier than it actually is. 

Typical gialli of the early 1970s tended to emphasise 'with it' characters living in fashionable apartments and enjoying glossy lifestyles. DUCKLING's setting is an Italian peasant town, with sometimes dressed (and whenever she is it's always fashionably) Barbara Bouchet looking as anachronistic as the concrete highway that towers over the landscape and olde worlde town where all the action takes place. DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING's story unfolds  not in the world of high rise penthouses and devious scheming murderers, but in a far more old-fashioned milieu of superstitious peasant folk and the all-pervading presence of religion. 

Fulci's directorial style is thoroughly dispassionate throughout - we are shown the events but are only rarely encouraged to relate to the characters on screen. It's interesting to note that the one time we are it's when Fulci involves us in the horrific torture and murder of Bolkan's character by a quartet of local men seeking revenge. Fulci's bleak bitter view of humanity comes to the fore here, where not only is Bolkan portrayed more sympathetically than at any other time in the film, but extra emphasis is placed on the unwillingness of those driving past the cemetery in which the attack takes place to stop and help. And as if he's worried the audience hasn't been manipulated enough Fulci rams his point home by having Riz Ortolani's music play a sweet and soulful song as Florinda gets beaten to death with chains. 

      Again contrary to many of the gialli of the time, the reason for the murders is anything but ludicrous and despite its catchpenny title DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING has one of the better (and less ridiculous) giallo denouements, with a typically horrific end for the killer. 

The use of a headless toy duck as the key to the mystery is really rather silly, but it's interesting to note that fourteen years later Fulci returned to the giallo form with his controversial and bleak slasher film THE NEW YORK RIPPER, which also featured a toy duck as a vital clue in identifying that movie's quacking-voiced killer. Perhaps Fulci had a thing about them, in which case we should be glad he never ended up making MR POPPER"S PENGUINS. But then again, that might have been interesting...

Arrow's new transfer looks substantially better than Blue Underground's Region One DVD. For extras you get an excellent commentary track from Troy Howarth that even gives us a potted history of J&B at the 90 minute mark! There's also Hell Is Already With Us - a video essay by Kat Ellinger, archive interviews with Fulci, Bolkan and assorted technical personnel, The Blood of the Innocents - a video discussion by Mikel J Koven, a reversible sleeve and a booklet with notes by Barry Forshaw. Another must-buy. 

Lucio Fulci's masterly DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING is out on dual format from Arrow Films on Monday 11th September 2017

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