Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Night Fulci: DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972) : Don't Let The Title Fool You!

The victim of a rather lame excuse for a title, Don't Torture A Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino) is a far cry from director Lucio Fulci's zombie-gore movies he is so very famous for in horror circles.  An on-point giallo film from 1972, it is considered to be one of the director's best, but one can experience where Fulci's love affair with gruesome effects started by watching this mystery/thriller.

Someone is killing young boys in the small Italian hamlet of Accendura and it seems there are several suspects as the film begins.  Local peeping tom Giuseppe (Vito Passeri) has a habit of watching couples copulating and when he is caught doing so by three mischievous lads (who themselves are overly interested in naked women, natch), he warns them he will kill them.

Not to be taken too seriously, Giuseppe is more or less the village idiot, so he is an easy target when the police find him hovering over a shoddy, haphazardly-dug grave that ends up being one of the boys.  Giuseppe professes his innocence, claiming that he found the boy dead already and only buried him so that he could try to get ransom money from the child's parents.

As these events unfold, we have also been introduced to a mysterious gypsy woman (Florinda Bolkan) who is first seen digging up the bones of a small child and making off with them, and then crafting three crude dolls out of clay and performing some kind of voodoo ritual on them.  It's obvious, after she catches the three boys spying on her at the child's grave, that she's more than a little pissed at them - and has the means to take her revenge.

Meanwhile, one of the boys, Michele, is asked by his mother to deliver a tray of juice to her employer - a beautiful woman named Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) who is hiding out in the tiny town due to a drug scandal. She just happens to be sunbathing in the nude when Michele comes in and soon she gets all creepy with the twelve year old, spilling juice down her breasts and offering herself to him sexually. (Can you say pedophile??). Michele, in case you were wondering, doesn't get a chance to act on the invitation because his mother calls him away. (Damn her anyhow!)

After the death of the first boy, reporters and detectives assemble in the town in an attempt to discover the murderer. One of the reporters, Martelli (Tomas Milian), takes a shine to Patrizia (and who wouldn't?- she's gorgeous!) and is baffled when he finds several clues that seem to point to her as the murderer.  The police, after another murder occurs even though they are holding Giuseppe in custody, realize they may have arrested the wrong person and begin to concentrate on the gypsy woman. Soon, evidence leads them to Patrizia as well, who is confused by the interrogation.  She and Martelli team up to find the true identity of the killer, before it's too late.

Don't Torture A Duckling wasn't my first Fulci film by far. I'd already flew through most of his gorier works like The New York Ripper, House by the Cemetery, Zombi 2, and The Beyond.  Honestly I had no idea this film was considered a giallo, either, until I actually took a peek at it about ten or twelve years ago. As previously mentioned, it was touted as one of Fulci's best works, and it is probably his most critically acclaimed film as well.  Regarding the gore, there is a reasonable amount. It's that hokey, inferior gore that isn't that great but we love it anyway, don't we?  Give me second-rate gore over today's laughable CGI any day! There is a scene near the end, one that I vividly recall from former viewings that, while ludicrous and really fake-looking, really screams FULCI!  You'll know it when you see it.

DTAD is a vivid piece of film making, it really is.  While I would never say the style is up to say, Argento's beautiful expression and impassioned approach, it holds its own with above-par cinematography and a gritty tone that helps it to stand apart from some of his other, less-appealing works.  The story, while simple, is fashioned with a social commentary regarding how misfits are treated and how small towns still look at outsiders with resentment that often turns to anger and in turn, violence.Sadly, that kind of thing doesn't seem to have changed, no matter what country, no matter what decade.

If you're wondering where the ridiculous title comes from, it's one of those titles that loses a lot in translation. In Italian, Non si sevizia un paperino translates to "Don't Torture Donald Duck", which seems quite comical but really does have meaning within the film. If you watch all the way through, you will get it. But the title has done nothing to make any of Fulci's fans want to entertain the idea of watching it. So it's here that I say: don't let the goofy title dissuade you from taking a chance on this great giallo film. It really is some of Fulci's best work.

(This review originally posted at Dr. Terror's Blog of Horrors as part of his Italian Horror Week this year. If you are a fan of Italian horror - get your fix right here.  Lots of superb work!)


Nigel M said...

This really is a classic. It is indeed one of Lucio's best. In my humble opinion his best work was between the mid 60s and 70s. Covering this, Perversion Story and Beatrice Cenci among a number of other equally great titles.

Interesting film reference on this: notice the scene where Florinda has been beaten and is attempting to crawl to the road. It is almost identical to a scene near the end of Fellini's Il bidone. I suspect this is not accidental.

Wonderful review.

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks Nigel, it means a great deal coming from someone so close to Italian horror, and whose opinion I value so much!

I've never seen Perversion Story...assume I should get my hands on a copy, then?

Nigel M said...

Well yes I would say it is worth getting a copy. Una sull'altra is definitely worth it. Especially if you like Hitchcock. It has a similar vibe to a 60s Hitchcock film. I think any Fulci film between Massacre Time and The Psychic is worth the effort. His later work is far less consistent and showed signs of declining budgets etc. Think of it this way- in the 60s and 70s Lucio worked with some of the biggest names on the European genre circuit. By the early 80s he was working increasingly with burnt out stars and as that decade proceeded he worked with has beens and never were's. What I am basically saying was that Lucio was a director who's name clearly commanded some respect back then. For this film, try to read as little as possible about it beforehand. It is a world away from the likes of Demonia, which I do like in its own way, or House of Clocks, Sodoma's Ghost, etc... the sad thing is that in his 60s work you can see the director he COULD HAVE been. I wish the "Fulci Lives" brigade and the gorehounds who latched onto his work with mocking "Fulci films never make sense" type comments would look at this period instead. I would say that those who are prepared to take earlier Lucio as a starting point would look on much of his horror work with some sadness as, in truth, much of what he put out in the 80s represented a man in declining health, working with declining budgets and churning out titles to live up to a reputation as a sort of "Godfather of Gore". So anyhow, Perversion Story is a big yes from me! check out this:


It is my sincere belief that if producers had kept faith in him we would be now talking of Lucio as "The Italian Hitchcock" or "The Maestro of Suspense" rather than the "Godfather of Gore".

I think I should have just answered "yes you should get a copy" but since he is pretty much my favourite director I can't help myself. I am biased, you see. But imagine if in decades to come Argento was judged in a similar way to Lucio and people were talking of the genius of The Card Player or Mother of Tears while overlooking Suspiria or Deep Red. This, sadly, is the equivalent of how Lucio's work is far too often treated. I hope, after all this, you like it! hehe.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

I've always had this one on my must watch list, but as you say, it's the title that makes it sound like some silly movie or something...but I will give it a chance soon (for this Halloween for sure!) and will be posting my thoughts on it, thanks for the review.

Emily said...

I'm normally not a giallo fan, because I feel like they try so hard to keep you guessing that they end up wasting so much time and resources on red herrings. But I LOVED this one. The reveal has actual social and societal significance so the story genuinely works. Plus, best use of a dummy EVER.

Christine Hadden said...

Nigel: Your passion for Fulci certainly shows! I'm anxious to see a few of the films you mentioned - esp. Perversion Story, because I am a huge Hitchcock fan!

Francisco: You're very welcome. Like Nigel said above, people have a preconceived notion about Fulci and his films, so it's nice to introduce his 'non-zombie' works to others and hopefully it makes them take a chance! Will be interested in your thoughts!

Emily: I think the social significance of this film is definitely the real reason to watch. It holds up even to this day because of it. More people need to see this film!