In honor of the late Lucio Fulci’s 90th birthday, let’s take a look back on one of the greatest films in the Godfather of Gore’s unprecedented filmography.
Lucio Fulci’s personal crowning achievement lies within the celluloid inconsistency that is Don’t Torture a Duckling. An early entry into the giallo genre, Duckling offers many of the typical trappings that would become the standard, however, Fulci was never able to hit the success of his contemporary challengers in Argento and Bava. Despite the lack of critical support during its release, the direction of the film is focused, offering one of Fulci’s best works.
Set in a vibrantly shot village in southern Italy, opposed to the darker tones and interior shots of his giallo contemporaries, the town is rocked by the news of a missing child. Much like in today’s society, news outlets flock to the small village which leads to further murders of children. One of the reporters, played by Tomas Milian, heads up an investigation to uncover the killer. In typical giallo fashion, the murders are rather graphic and are shot from the perspective of the killer. What is unique to this story is the interesting parallels between this film and the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Not that the film tackles the racial intolerance of the south, but there are many similarities including the quick to judge nature of villagers that are too dull to see past their traditions and current way of thinking. Fulci also takes several beats from To Kill a Mockingbird’s narrative arcs including the finales to the second and third acts.
Arguably the only film in Fulci’s filmography that has a message to tell, despite Fulci’s insistence that he never really tried, the film tackles sexism and sexuality, including pedophilia. The societal pressures of growing up in an environment with early age of consent also play in odd ways that are a bit strange to 2016 viewership. The seduction of Bruno by the completely nude Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) is jaw-dropping in its candidness.
Quentin Tarantino has always been a huge supporter of Fulci, often citing him as one of his largest influences next to Jean-Luc Godard. Tarantino even went so far as to release The Beyond during his short-lived Rolling Thunder Pictures label. The influence is more apparent in Don’t Torture a Duckling, not for its hyper violence, which is the easiest and most obvious influence on the director, instead the influence can be seen in the sequence where villagers take revenge into their own hands against the witch/gypsy that is the number one suspect for the murders. In this scene, the villagers brutally attack the woman in a gory sequence in a cemetery that is overshadowed by a loud garage rock track that seems to come from nowhere. This style of violence mixed with pulp music is a signature move that Tarantino used as early as Reservoir Dogs and would grow to become a signature move in his films during the 1990s.
Brilliant directing, aggressive cinematography and an ominous score help rank this among some of Fulci’s best work. There are some really ridiculous moments that will pull a chuckle or two, but overall the film works as a giallo that should be mentioned more frequently. Between the gore and subject matter, there is plenty to unnerve and satisfy.