Don't Torture A Duckling review by The Grim Ringler

Late director Lucio Fulci has never been considered an artist, nor should he ever be. As a man he was a bit of a creep from what you read, and as a filmmaker he was a better visualist than he was a storyteller, but if you were to see this film of his and no others, you might argue with that analysis. Fulci, an old school grindhouse fave of mine, was known more than anything else for cashing in on Dawn of the Dead and the American fascination with gut munching zombies. And god bless him. He didn’t re-invent the genre but instead too what others had done and twisted them and made them into gruesome and gory re-tellings. His more famous films are often beautifully directed but are pretty slim when it comes to a story that will make sense and are anything but logical. But he shot them with such a dark tone and with such brutality that it set his films apart from all the other Italian second and third tier horror directors that made so many awful gore movies in the seventies and eighties. Duckling though is a much more subtle and quite film for Fulci and is a giallo (basically an Italian thriller) instead of a straight-ahead horror film. And after seeing this film again recently I am struck at what this man’s career might have become had he followed this path and had made more thrillers and less films with eye impaling and intestinal devouring (though I will say that, dammit, I love his gore films, so I am not too sad by it all).

In a small Italian town children are being found brutally murdered and there is no suspect or motive. The children being found are boys that had all been friends and playmates in the early stages of puberty. They were not bad children but they were trouble makers obsessed with sex. As each new body is found the police (not shown as bumbling idiots for a change, imagine that) search for the killer and think they have found him in the person of a local retarded man that had had had some problems with the boys and who, upon finding one of the bodies, had buried it in the woods. The police know though that this man could not be the killer and so they set him free as another body is found and the town becomes desperate for revenge. And while the police are conducting their search a news reporter strikes up a friendship with a mysterious and suspicious young woman staying in the town (she had tried to seduce one of the boys earlier in the film) and they begin their own investigation into the murders. But as another body appears the police seek out and arrest a local woman, a witch, and it appears they finally have their culprit as she even confesses to the murders, though as the investigation continues it becomes apparent she isn’t the culprit either. The woman had prayed for the death of the boys after they had disturbed the grave of her dead child and she had put a curse on their heads and upon their dying had taken it as she had killed them. She too is released but the town is already convinced she is the true murderer and not long after she is released she is hunted down by several men and beaten to death in a cemetery outside of town. And as another body is found the state police enter the city in the hopes of getting to the bottom of this. But while the police search in vain for the truth the reporter and his partner are getting ever closer to the identity of the killer and when they realize that one little girl was a witness to one of the murders it suddenly becomes clear who the killer is and they have to reach the girl before the killer can put her to death like the others.

Most Americans will only know Lucio Fulci as the director of the notorious film Zombie, which is perhaps his most famous horror film, but while I truly love those dream-like horror films with all my heart, I also have a strong appreciation for Duckling as it gives us a better look at this talented (if logically and plot challenged) director. The most amazing thing about this film is the dark tone that is present throughout it. With subject matter like this the tone is made a little easier to attain but Fulci adds another dimension to this with the use of the small town and its blind bloodlust. We then have not just one murderer but also a town of murderers who turn a blind eye to the murder of the witch woman when it’s believed she was the killer. Handling this film with a patient hand and directs the film much in the style of fellow Italian auteur Dario Argento. Instead of gross-out gore effects Fulci allows the story to play out and utilizes more suspense than he shows in his other, straight horror outings. I also like the fact that he creates and uses several red herrings in the film and none of them see either far-fetched or cheap. And this features what is easily one of this director’s most haunting scenes when the witch woman is murdered to the sounds of pop songs playing on a radio. We don’t hear her screaming for mercy, we don’t hear the men damning her, and all we can really hear is a pop song, which makes her beating all the more brutal.

The film is a showcase for Fulci’s eye as a storyteller and features beautiful camera-work. The acing is also top-notch and adds to the tension in the film as one of the main characters seems more and more as if they could be the villain at work here. The murders become even more shocking as we get to know each victim a little before they are murdered.

Italian thrillers are a hard breed of film for most Americans to figure it would seem. They are by nature very strange and very dark and often deal with issues that American films rarely touch upon and more often than not are more about style and suspense than about logic. But I hope more people give Don’t Torture a Duckling a try if they can find it to rent, as it’s a very well done suspense film. As much as I love this film it is not my favorite among this director’s works but it is easily his best work. Beautifully crafted, well acted, with a fairly grim conclusion, this is a thriller that shows without a doubt what kind of talent Fulci had when he wanted to use it. If only he had used it more often.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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