Don’t Torture a Duckling
Original title: Non si sevizia un paperino
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Distributed by: Shameless Films
I won’t start this with a rant on how Lucio Fulci made so much more than the classic video nasty’s he’s infamous for. I’m quite convinced that anyone who really bears a passion for the works of the late master of genre, will already have ventured back past those seminal works and discovered the real masterpieces of suspense and thrill, hidden away in his back catalogue. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’d recommend that you first check it out before we get into this, as certain spoilers are featured in this text. If you know the movie, then buckle up and let’s go.
I’ve already covered some of the early pre-Gialli thrillers such as Una sull’altra (One on Top of the Other) 1969, Sette note in nero (The Psychic) 1977, and even a couple of the comedic works such as All’onorevole piaccino le donne (The Senator Prefers Woman) 1972, Il cav. Constante Nicosia demoniac, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza (Young Dracula) 1975, and even a few of the Spaghetti Westerns; Le colt cantarono le morte e fu… tempo du massacre (Massacre Time) 1966 and I quattro dell’apocalisse (Four of the Apocalypse) 1975. It’s time to take a look at the bookend movie of the early thriller trilogy, Non si sevizia un paperino (Don’t Torture a Ducking). On one of the greats from his early period, one of those movies where he was started to perfect the themes that would make him a god amongst fans of genre cinema in the years to come.
In a small rural village, someone is murdering young pre-adolescent boys. The Carabinieri are stood almost helpless as they have a hand full of suspects ranging from the village idiot, to the witch who roams the landside, to the shaman who taught her his magic. A curious journalist arrives in the village and together with a somewhat strange choice of companion, starts to poke around the case, coming to a shocking conclusion about the killer’s identity.
I often talk about setting tone as early as possible… Well try this on for size: a woman [Florinda Bolkan] claws at the dirt under a motorway overlay. Her thin soiled and bloodied fingers produce the skeleton of an infant from a shallow grave in the dirt. A young boy (Tonino) shoot’s a stone from his slingshot that upon impact crushes the small lizard he was aiming at whist he sits keeping lookout for a specific car to swoosh by. Editor Ornella Micheli (Fulci’s frequent editor before Vincenzo Tomassi made his entrance) rapidly establishes the small village with a series of fast edits to the diegetic sound of church bells ringing. We enter a church in mass, were two young boys (Bruno and Michele) sneak out to share a gauloise under the same overlay we saw earlier. Tonino comes running towards them whilst screaming, “They’re here, they’re here” and the trio run off to a shack, where some blokes greet the two prostitutes who have exited their car. The women have “tits like water melons” in the excited boys’ opinions – but the village idiot Giuseppe wrecks their intended session of sordid voyeurism. Instead they turn their attention on him and start verbally bullying him, as he too was planning to watch the two men shag the prostitutes. As they boys taunt Giuseppe, he screams that he will get they, he will get them…
Potent stuff, and definitely an impressive couple of minutes which accompanied by Riz Ortolani’s short but harsh stinger cues, establishes a lot of stuff, which will come to play within the movies narrative later on. But be alert, those moments establish more than you could ever have guessed. The location is set, a small rural village, where the church is the centre of the town. The crazy woman – Florinda Bolkan’s is presented, and we understand that there’s a dark secret in her past. We learn that the kids are adolescent young men with a budding curiosity of the opposite sex. But they are still kids and can easily turn from their sexual curiosity to a taunting mob, which evokes fear in those they decide to single out. In the subtext we can assume that sex is something sacred and kept within the confinement of the family unit. This can be presumed as the village is most likely a stern follower of catholic values, and the men take their “imported” prostitutes to a shack outside of the village vicinity. But it’s not all presumptions, this is all true, and will give you a rush of insight upon the conclusion of the film.
If you know your Fulci, then you know that he enjoyed giving the church a kick in the ass on any given moment. My theory is that it's due to the tragic events in his personal life. I can’t really see a creative person being a devout follower of religion, when that religion takes away loved ones. Somewhere that bitterness has to vent, and I’m saying that the way Fulci aimed critique towards the clergy was one of them.
There’s a delightful irony that motivates the murders and definitely a provocative one in more than one way. The village priest, Don Avalone [Marc Porel], is the murderer of the piece, and it’s not only a stern poke at the church, but it also presents a delightful dilemma as one can in some strange way empathize with what Don Avalone is trying to do. In his complex state, his philosophy is to kill the yearning young lads as to protect them from committing sin, hence allowing them to enter heaven instead of the burning pits of hell. I’m a sucker for the moral twists of doing bad, for doing good, and Fulci nails this one on the head. Then he makes the priest – or the clergy in the larger picture – pay a most terrible and harrowing death as he has his face torn to pieces against the rock walls, before breaking every body in his bone when he smashes into the hard rock below. If there was one thing Fulci could do, it was provoke.
But perhaps the most provocative moment of the movie is found early on when Barbara Bouchet’s character Patrizia, who oddly enough rents a penthouse flat above the Spriano family, reveals herself as a paedophile! Now this isn’t a Feliniesque moment like the opening one, where the lads merely want to catch a glimpse of the prostitutes “tits like melons”. This is a raw, confrontational, full on flirtation where the fully naked Patrizia invites Michele to go to bed with her. If not for being saved by his mother who calls him back to the first floor. Patrizia, talk about a complex character, and it’s later revealed that she not only has an appetite for young boys, but she’s a recouping Junkie too… Not that this was the first time Fulci, used paedophilia to provoke, it plays a vital part in the narrative of Beatrice Cenci 1969 too, where both Tomas Milian and Georges Wilson are part of the cast. Fulci, no stranger to getting in trouble with the law – i.e. the puppet dog incident following Una Lucertola con la pelle di donna (Lizard in a Woman’s Skin) 1971 – once again ended up facing another trial when the scene where the naked Bouchet takes to seducing Michele caused a stir. Always the one with an ace up his sleeve, Fulci presented the "little person" Don Semeraro (who almost thirty years later stared in Joe D’Amato’s The Hobgoblin) who had been the stand in for the child actor, and the case was dismissed.
So how does this come together with the opening montage? Well basically Florinda Bolkan’s Macaria character is insane the whole time. Yes, she performs her voodoo-like ritual with the three dolls in the images of the three taunting kids – I told you they where trouble, and they disturbed the grave of her child, hence forcing her to move the dead baby from it’s resting place and have her perform her mumbo jumbo voodoo vengeance. But that’s merely a red herring to toss you off track, just as the trail of village idiot Giuseppe [Vito Passeri] is too. Barbara Bouchet is a red herring too, despite her wonderfully complex character. The church and the whole Catholic Church bit is all about Don Alberto’s modus operandi. Yes, there is a veil of Catholic values draped over the town, and to save the children from corruption – which we see they are on the way to being with the smoking and desire to peek at prostitutes, and possibly masturbate at the same time – Don Alberto saves their souls by murdering them. Then in the last moments of the movie, good Old Catholic guilt comes over him and he takes his own life… ironically as suicide damns the deceased to an eternity in purgatory.
There’s an interesting use of the off-screen space in Don't Torture a Duckling. At first several characters are isolated out there, the killer, and at least two pairs of hands tampering with the voodoo dolls. The off-screen space had been a safe haven for murderers to lurk around in since Powell’s Peeping Tom and Hitchcock’s Psycho, both 1960, and a genre-defining trait when it came to the Giallo. What Fulci does is use it wisely; he keeps the characters in the off-screen space until he needs to reimburse them into the narrative. Such as when we need to introduce a second red herring, and Bolkan’s character finally comes into frame after tampering with the voodoo dolls off screen since the opening.
It’s said that Don’t Torture a Duckling was Lucio Fulci’s personal favorite amongst his films, well looking at the movie from a retrospective angle, it all rings true, in some way’s the movie is more a piece of Neorealism, with a smidgeon of thriller traits added. It’s definitely the Fulci movie that lies closest to Neorealism, and it is a fair interpretation, which possibly could explain why he was so fond of this little obscure gem. Considering that Neorealism is the big Italian contribution to film history, one can understand his fondness for the film. With the knowledge that Don’t Torture a Duckling was Lucio’s favourite film, this could explain the reason why he later used several key moments –and beats - from this movie in his later more typical horror films.
Chains whipped against a tender frame of human flesh, creating deep gory gashes, which you all know and love from the “You ungodly warlock” opening of …E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’alidià (The Beyond) 1981, when a band of villager’s once again take vigilante justice into their own hands. A face being smashing against side of mountain as character plumages to death and presents insightful inner dialogue at the same time, much like the opening visions that torment Jennifer O’Neil in The Psychic. Amusingly enough the film also features a first poke at Disney and primarily Donald Duck. A Donald Duck doll is decapitated and it’s torso dragged around. Originally Fulci wanted the movie to be titled Don’t torture Donald Duck, but when Disney protested, the title was changed. Exactly ten years later the killer of Lo squartore di New York (The New York Ripper) 1982 would disguise his voice and talk like Donald Duck, and Fulci finally got his poke at the cooperate suits of Disney Co.
Don’t Torture a Duckling really is an “all comes together” flick in so many ways. Fulci has an amazing cast, several of which he’d worked previously or would work with again; Florinda Bolkan, Tomas Milian, Marc Porel and Georges Wilson. Not forgetting one-offers like Irene Papas, despite holding a rather small part, and Barbara Bouchet, who delivers a great performance here. Keeping that tight Fulci grip on those he enjoyed working with, the maestro delivers a movie with a water tight script, penned by Fulci, Gianfranco Clerici and Roberto Gianviti (who wrote a stunning twelve screenplays together with Fulci through the years), editing is superb and definitely amongst the best of the eighteen flicks Ornella Micheli cut for Lucio, and without saying, Sergio D’Offizi. Damn, the more I see of this man’s work the more it becomes a mystery to me why he never landed an international career like, say Vittorio Storaro. At least give the man an honorary award because, some stuff like Don’t Torture a Duckling and not forgetting the innovative “found footage” approach of Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust 1980, is all D’Ofizzi. Someone give credit where it’s due!
Riz Ortolani’s score, which is pretty tender at times, has a short moment that fan’s of the Cannibal Holocaust soundtrack will recognize. Not that it’s a complete tune or anything like that, but there’s a small build which Ortolani later used on Cannibal Holocaust and if you know that soundtrack you will find it. Following the violent beating of Florinda Bolkan one can hear the song Quei giorni insieme a te, performed by the domestically renown Ornella Vanoni. It’s a delicate piece written by Ortolani and Jaja Fiastri which definitely set’s a sentimental mood for Bolkan’s dying moment… but just wait for a moment, things are about to get kinda strange here. I’m more curious about the funky shit-kicker Crazy, here performed by Wess and the Airedales, the same funky ass shakers that played on stage in Umberto Lenzi’s Orgasmo 1969 and Paranoia 1970. The same version of Crazy (originally written by Armando Trovalioli), which is heard on the soundtrack to Dino Risi’s Vero Nudo 1969… Now take a guess who wrote the screenplay to Vero Nudo? Jaja Fiastri, the same who wrote Quei giorni insieme a te with Riz Ortolani. Just another reason why I love Italian genre, it’s all interwoven and connected to and fro for all eternity through captivating intertext.
Unlike other releases, Shameless have given the movie a release with the original Italian soundtrack, and an optional English Dub. Now I do find that these movies are more fun with the English dub, but I also prefer to be able to watch them with the original language option. Thanks to Shameless, that’s now an alternative. If you watch one version of Lucio Fulci’s somewhat overlooked masterpiece Don’t Torture a Duckling, then make sure it’s the Shameless Films Version.