In a remote rural backwater of Southern Italy, a serial killer is targeting local teenage boys. The investigation takes in a range of suspects including the village voyeur (Vito Passeri), a tragic, self-proclaimed witch (a barely recognisable Florinda Bolkan, star of director Lucio Fulci’s previous giallo, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin) and a beautiful young woman from the city with a shady past (Barbara Bouchet), before the truth finally reveals a savage darkness at the heart of a peasant community mired in superstition and religious fervour.
Immediately unsettling from its opening juxtaposition of a modern raised motorway bisecting the rural, seemingly forgotten community below, Don’t Torture a Duckling rips up the increasingly dog-eared giallo playbook of chic designer violence, swish city settings and fashionable people to deliver a new and shocking level of brutality and a cast of characters that represent the opposing poles of encroaching modernity and entrenched, old-fashioned belief in good and evil. It’s a tension manifested in a killer who, in a change of pace for your average Catholic priest, seeks not to sexually abuse pubescent boys, but to render them in a state of grace, lest they grow up to be corrupted by the modern world.
The picture transfer on this dual DVD/Blu-ray package is sympathetically grainy and richly colourful, honouring Sergio D’Offizzi’s immaculate cinematography. It’s one of the great ironies of Fulci’s career that most people’s experience of his 1980s splatter-king heyday came courtesy of ratty pan-and-scan rental tapes that largely obliterated his mastery of widescreen composition; this is another grand restoration - in more ways than one.
Extras are as comprehensive as we’ve come to expect from Arrow. A pair of ‘video essays’ on the social function of the giallo within working-class Italian society and accusations of misogyny in Fulci’s work are, despite their academic bent, engagingly on-the-nose. Cast and crew interviews yield some priceless anecdotes, not least from Florinda Bolkan, subject of the movie’s notorious chain-whipping scene. Having never actually seen her truly heart-breaking demise, she gamely watches it for the first time on-camera. It’s fair to say she’s a bit shocked, but recovers enough to praise Fulci who she adored…sort of (“Lucio was very peculiar…he really was…”).
Best of all is an extensive audio recording that Fulci made himself in 1988 in response to a series of written questions from a journalist. If you’ve ever wondered how such an immensely cultured chap ended up making Zombie Flesh-Eaters and The New York Ripper, his genially honest testimony makes for essential listening. Effortless quoting everyone from Virginia Woolf to Kafka, he takes an odyssey through his own career and its place in the wider history of film, emerging in old age with poor health and a poor bank balance, yet feeling immensely rich for having made the journey. As self-assessments go, it’s wonderful.
Cruel, beautiful and all the colours in between, Don’t Torture a Duckling is a compelling and beguiling work from a greatly underrated filmmaker.
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: LUCIO FULCI / SCREENPLAY: LUCIO FULCI, ROBERTO GIANVITI, GIANFRANCO CLERICI / STARRING: FLORINDA BOLKAN, BARBARA BOUCHET, TOMAS MILIAN / RELEASE DATE: 25TH SEPTEMBER