Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) Review
**** ½ Out of 5
Release Date- September 29th, 1972
Running Time- 102-Minutes
Screenplay- Gianfranco Clerici, Lucio Fulci & Roberto Gianviti
Director- Lucio Fulci
Starring- Florinda Bolkan, Tomas Milian, Marc Porel & Barbara Bouchet
Starting with the 1979 release of Zombi 2, Lucio Fulci’s splatter era had started and while not every film he made in the 80s were splatter films the good portion of them however were and these films were filled with crazy gore scenes, which gave Fulci the Godfather of Gore nickname (H.G. Lewis has also been dubbed that). Zombi 2 is often cited for its gore and I’ve said this many times in other reviews that Zombi 2 had a lot more going for it than just gore. If anything it’s the perfect combination of gore scenes, but also legit suspense and tension with eerie atmosphere, but after that while I very much enjoyed films like City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery as they are eerie flicks, but they also lack logic and without the gore scenes they probably wouldn’t be nearly as good. The biggest problem in Fulci’s career is when he started making zombie films he was in the shadow of George Romero, which is really unfortunate since his zombie films were vastly different and while Zombi 2 shares more in common with George Romero’s work it’s not a ripoff like some people claim. But before Lucio Fulci started making gore films he made films such as Don’t Torture a Duckling from 1972, which does feature some gore, but not a whole lot. At the time this film was released Fulci was in the shadow of Mario Bava and the newly emerged Dario Argento and many of his pre-Zombi 2 films were overlooked, which is too bad since in my opinion Don’t Torture a Duckling was his best film (Zombi 2 a close 2nd). With Don’t Torture a Duckling, Lucio Fulci shows he’s far more than just a gore director and while this film may not be as crowd pleasing as his gore epics they have nothing on this film as a whole. I’d rate Don’t Torture a Duckling not just my favorite Fulci film, but also my favorite Giallo.
In a small village in Italy pre-teen boys are being found murdered, which is quite a taboo subject as its quite rare to see films where young children are the victims and while the deaths aren’t gory and some are off camera it’s still quite shocking. As much as I enjoyed Don’t Torture a Duckling it was after the film was over and I thought about it that I realized the brilliance behind the film. Besides the child murders, sexual repression and pedophilia are very much hinted at and it really elevates the movie to a whole other level. Also a 20-something woman has some kind of sexual attraction to the pre-teens that also gives a very weird and bizarre vibe and obviously makes her a suspect.
The screenplay was written by Gianfranco Clerici, Lucio Fulci & Roberto Gianviti and it was simply terrific. As much as I enjoyed Italian horror films in the 80s the biggest flaw was often the writing. What made a good portion of these films so enjoyable was either the silly nature of the film (intentional or not) as well as the gore scenes and or the visuals. Writing however in the 80s they range from ok to weak with a few exceptions and I suppose you could say the same for a lot of American horror in the 80s. That isn’t a knock on 80s horror since its one of my favorite eras for horror and film in general. But the 70s in my opinion was the best in film. Many Italian horror films had strong scripts and Duckling is no different. The film is cleverly plotted with strong characters for the most part. The mystery on the identity of the killer is solid, but the reveal isn’t overly shocking either. The motivation for the killer is very shocking and disturbing and upon watching it you may not get that feeling, but when you think back to everything and take in all what writing implies and the direction it makes is very dark and creepy. The villain isn’t your typical one either, while it’s obvious the person isn’t normal the motivation is very different and not really done out of evil. Perhaps I’m reading too much into things, but I guess we all take something different away from certain films and again when I thought back to everything it really elevated the film for me from something I thought was very good to something I see as a great film.
As director Lucio Fulci crafts in my opinion his best film. Duckling as stated doesn’t really feature the gore or graphic violence (there is a bit) like his work in the late 70s and into the 80s, but he more than makes up for that by crafting a well made film that’s very much driven by story. Pacing while never sluggish can be a little slow in spots, but these also keep the story unfolding. In Fulci’s gore epics that’s what made them such cult favorites, but they also had an eerie feel, which most people tend to overlook and while Duckling doesn’t quite have that eerie atmosphere it still succeeds in being suspenseful. As I stated some of the deaths are off camera, which might turn off fans more familiar with Fulci’s gore films, but off camera or not these scenes still pack quite a punch. For those who think Fulci can only make gore films, Don’t Torture a Duckling proves that’s clearly not the case. As I stated this film at least to me implied sexual repression and pedophilia and in my opinion Don’t Torture a Duckling is Fulci’s best film and shows he can make a deep and powerful film.
There is a scene, which a woman is severely beaten with chains while a ballad plays over the scene. This scene does feature some graphic violence and gore and its really unsettling and very disturbing. The gore may not be on the level as say the Beyond, but its far more powerful in Don’t Torture a Duckling.
There have been some who poked fun at the title of the film and I’d hate to think some may avoid the film due to the title or not fully grasp the film since they can’t get past the title. Don’t Torture a Duckling is truly a great film and like I said my favorite Fulci film and Giallo and has a chance for my favorite Italian horror film. As much as I enjoyed Fulci’s splatter films its a shame he didn’t continue down this path. This is truly one of the greats and if you think Lucio Fulci is just a gore director think again.
Writer Gianfranco Clerici had quite a prolific career in Italian horror writing or co-writing such films as Jungle Holocaust, Cannibal Holocaust and House By the Edge of the Park and all three were directed by Ruggero Deodato. He also besides this film worked with Lucio Fulci on New York Ripper, Murder Rock and House of Clocks. Roberto Gianviti also worked with Fulci a couple of times with Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Seven Notes in Black (AKA The Psychic) as well as Murder Rock. Lastly Don’t Torture a Duckling was composed by Riz Ortolani best known for his work on such films as Cannibal Holocaust and House by the Edge of the Park.