Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)
For many Americans Lucio Fulci's career begins with Zombie and ends sometime in the late 1980s. It is his horror films, with their lurid box art screaming from video store shelves, their intense gore and often incomprehensible plots, that most fans outside of Italy know him for. The horror films, however, came late in his career, and largely because Zombie was such a major hit. He did heist films, comedies, early '60s rock and roll cash-in movies and westerns, to name a few of the genres he had worked in since the 1950s. By the 1970s he had also began working in the giallo field.
Don't Torture a Duckling isn't the typical film with a black-gloved killer going after scantily clad women, with a plot that curves back and forth and takes several meandering paths. Rather, it is a straight mystery film set in a small Italian town where superstition and suspicion of outsiders, and even their own neighbors, is rife. For a man known for horror films that tend to just turn into a series of events with barely any connection to the opening plot, seeing him craft such a tight mystery story makes one wonder how much he ever enjoyed making horror flicks. Many of those are fun, but here Fulci seems filled with inspiration.
The town of Accendura is suddenly disturbed when Bruno, one of a trio of mischievous boys, suddenly goes missing. A ransom is demanded and at first it looks like a simpleton named Giuseppe (Vito Passeri), whom the boys often mocked, is behind it. Bruno turns up dead, and soon the other two boys are killed while Giuseppe is in custody. Suspicion soon falls upon a woman named Maciara (Florinda Bolkan) that the locals think was once possessed by the devil and now is known to practice magic along with a local hermit named Francesco (Georges Wilson).
As the killings continue and the police are baffled, journalist Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) and local rich girl Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), who had employed one of the murdered children's family, begin looking into it. They soon discover that the key to finding the killer may lie in the deaf-mute sister of the local priest, Don Alberto (Marc Porel), but the secret she is hiding puts both of them in danger.
Despite being Fulci's personal favorite of his works, and also despite having a resurgence in interest since his death, the movie was largely unseen in its time. It had a short release in Italy, and was pulled quickly due to its not-so-subtle criticisms of the Catholic church. It also resulted in Fulci's arrest on child endangerment charges for the scene in which Barbara Bouchet, fully nude, appears to flirt with a 12-year-old boy. The scene, though uncomfortable, was done with careful editing and an adult dwarf actor when the two had to be on the screen at the same time. Still, the damage was done, and the international English-dubbed release was cancelled.
This changed when Anchor Bay was able to release the uncut English version in 1999, and since then it has garnered a reputation as one of Fulci's best films as well as a standout in the genre. While it doesn't have the usual trappings of a giallo, the sleazy scene with Bouchet as well as the over-the-top gore during one murder and the death of the actual killer are right in line with some of the later entries in the genre. It was also the first film where Fulci started using such gore effects, although the child murders themselves are relatively bloodless. The most violent sequence in the movie is used for dramatic effect rather than pure shock.
As usual it's hard to say just how the acting is since the soundtrack is dubbed and, in Bouchet's case, by another actress. The dubbing on this is well done, which important because otherwise if done wrong it can turn a great movie into an almost lifeless one. That doesn't happen here. There are parts of the movie that slow down, but often they are enhanced by some great cinematography, as Fulci uses the southern Italian locations to their fullest.
I also have to give this credit for doing something most gialli do not: it makes sense. Because of that one might figure out the true killer a lot easier than with something like Deep Red, but the motives of the killer are straightforward and the story follows a logical path to its conclusion. It's a breath of fresh air after seeing so many movies with the same plots, and Fulci truly elevated the genre with this one.
Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)
Time: 105 minutes
Starring: Tomas Milian, Barbara Bouchet, Florinda Bolkan, Marc Porel
Director: Lucio Fulci