Oct 31, 2013

Don't Torture a Duckling

Unquestionably, Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) aka Non si sevizia un paperino is one of my top three favorite Lucio Fulci films and not without good reason as the Italian filmmaker, who himself regarded it as his own personal favorite among all the films he had directed, finally found his nefarious niche with the wonderfully wicked work, ultimately eventually earning himself the much deserved title of “Godfather of Gore.” Indeed, a sort of vaguely Pasolini-esque Giallo flick set in a small Southern Italian village revolving around the mysterious death of young prepubescent Catholic boys by a deranged psychopath, Don't Torture a Duckling was the film where the Guido master of the cinematically grotesque demonstrated his subversive eye for gorgeous gore and unhinged ultra-violence. A pre-flesheater flick created before Fulci became an international horror icon for directing Zombi 2 (1979) aka Zombie, Don't Torture a Duckling stands out strikingly among the filmmaker's oeuvre in that it is an innately linear and plot-driven work that lacks the sort of Artaud-inspired onieric essence of his later masterpieces of the macabre like The Beyond (1981) aka L'aldilà and The House by the Cemetery (1981) aka Quella villa accanto al cimitero. Also quite unlike Fulci’s later flicks, Don't Torture a Duckling does not hopelessly pretend to be an American production, but is, in fact, aside from possibly his pre-horror goofy goombah comedies, the director’s most intrinsically and flagrantly Italian work that wallows in the angelic beauty of the Southern Italian countryside and features the sort of ‘anti-Catholic Catholicism’ that only Catholic-indoctrinated Guido filmmakers can pull off. In fact, despite being an imperative and groundbreaking work in Fulci’s career, Don't Torture a Duckling was immediately blacklisted and only received a limited theatrical release (it was not even released in the United States in any format until 2000) due to its uniquely unflattering depiction of the Catholic church and portrayal of Italian peasants as hotheaded hicks with murderously superstitious minds. As far as I am concerned, Don't Torture a Duckling is one of the strangest, greatest, and most artfully assembled Giallo flicks ever made as a work that deserves a place alongside Giulio Questi ‘s Death Laid an Egg (1968) aka La morte ha fatto l'uovo and Silvio Narizzano’s Bloodbath (1979) aka Las flores del vicio aka The Sky Is Falling as a wonderfully wayward work that takes the Guido murder mystery genre into more delightfully deranged territory. A work that unquestionably proves that Fulci was not a no-talent horror hack who merely used buckets of blood and phantasmagoric imagery to hide the fact he was incapable of telling a story with character development and complex plots, Don’t Torture a Duckling is a ‘whodunit’ flick with equal doses of scathing style and substance that leaves the viewers guessing until the very end, thus concluding in an ungodly manner that makes one question whether or not the director was the victim of a sexually repressed priest when he was a child. 

 Bruno, Michele, and Tonino are a troublesome trio of boys who live in the small and isolated Southern Italian village of Accendura and not one of the boys will live long enough to reach puberty and deflower their first girl as a mysterious mad man with an unhealthy obsession with little lads will ultimately brutally murder each one of them. When bad boy Bruno goes missing, the remote village of Accendura has the rare distinction of reaching the national spotlight as a media frenzy occurs that brings the sharp and satirical liberal journalist Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) to the area to investigate. Initially, the local village idiot and peeping tom Giuseppe Barra (Vito Passeri) is implicated in the crime after he is found lurking around the body where Bruno is buried. Indeed, while Barra was one the first ones to discover the corpse of Bruno, he did not kill the boy but merely phoned his parents in a patently pathetic attempt to extract an absurdly small ransom. Of course, when the drowned corpse of Bruno’s friend Tonino is found while Barra is imprisoned, it becomes quite obvious that the retarded peeping tom did not commit the killing. When the last of the three boys, Michele, is killed via strangulation after he makes the fatal mistake of sneaking out of his home at night, the townspeople begin to look for a scapegoat for the murders. Of course, the villagers suspect the sexually promiscuous beauty Patrizia (German-American actress Barbara Bouchet)—a scantily clad counter-culture chick from Milan who is laying low after being involved in a drug scandal and who gets off to displaying her unclad tanned body to prepubescent boys, including one of the ones who was killed—as a young local priest, Don Alberto Avallone (Marc Porel), even hints to journalist Martelli that the murders only started to occur after she arrived and defiled the village with her voluptuous presence. Priest Don Alberto also confides in Martelli that he firmly believes loose morals are to blame for the tragic deaths and that he has managed to censor liberal/counter-culture material appearing in the village, stating, “Then something bad happens, and everyone wonders why! So they look for a culprit…and nobody understand that it’s our tolerance that’s to blame…I’m friends with the news vendor, and he won’t sell certain magazines…They don’t even arrive here.” The priest runs a youth group at the church and cons the boys into going to become more involved with god and the church by playing soccer with them. While twink-ish priest Don Alberto is unanimously loved and respected by all the villagers, his reclusive mother Aurelia (Irene Papas) is a strange and mysterious woman who, as Martelli is told by one villager, is  essentially “only tolerated because she is the priest's mother.” Another suspect in the murders is a beautiful yet decidedly dirty black magic witch named La Magiara (Florinda Bolkan) who has a peculiar proclivity for digging up infant skeletons and fiddling with voodoo dolls, including driving pins through three dolls that are ostensibly symbols of the three little lads that were killed. 

 Eventually, proletarian witch Magiara is arrested for the murders and when she is brought to the police station, she proudly proclaims she is responsible for killing the three boys as she seems to assume her voodoo doll excursions were successful. While Magiara is cleared of the charges after a police officer provides her with an alibi, she ultimately meets a grizzly end when a group of superstitious villagers decide to take matters into their own hands and brutally beat the would-be-witch an inch away from her life after spotting her in the local graveyard. While succumbing to her wounds, Magiara attempts to flag down passing cars but is ignored as if she is mere rodent road kill, ultimately dying on the side of the road. The next day, another boy is killed via drowning and posh druggy princess Patrizia’s fancy gold-plated cigarette lighter is found at the scene, thus implicating her in the crime, but luckily she has an alibi as she was buying some dope at the time of the murder. Naturally, Martelli and Patrizia, being the most cosmopolitan and ‘progressive’ people investigating the boy murders, decide to team up and solve the mystery themselves. After learning that priest Don Alberto has a retarded six-year-old sister with a perverse, peculiar proclivity for dismembering her dolls, including Donald Duck dolls (hence, the title Don’t Torture a Duckling), Martelli comes to the conclusion that the girl has witnessed the murders and is merely imitating what she saw. Ultimately, Martelli and Patrizia conclude that either Don Alberto or his mother is responsible for the murders. Although Don Alberto’s sister and mother disappear, Martelli and Patrizia later track down the mother, who is semi-conscious after taking a beat from her unholy holy son, in a medieval shack. Don Alberto begs Martelli to stop her perturbed priest from killing her daughter. Luckily, Martelli catches Don Alberto right before he throws his sister off a cliff. Martelli and Don Alberto get in a small brawl and the wussy journalist manages to trip up the pussy priest, who falls off the cliff head first, and ultimately smashes his skulls against the rocks as he plunges to his violent yet fitting death as a fallen disciple of Christ. As to why he committed the crazed killings of the young boys that he proclaimed to love so much and devoted his life to, Martelli states, “They grow up…They feel the stirrings of the flesh. They fall into the arms of sin. We must stop them. Sin that God easily forgives, yes…But what of tomorrow? What sordid acts will they commit? What sins will they enact when they no longer come to confession? Then they will be really dead. Dead forever.” Indeed, maybe if Patrizia had not gotten busted for snorting coke in Milan and sought exile in the small Sicilian village, then all the senseless deaths could have been prevented. 

 Described by Lucio Fucli’s contemporary and Giallo maestro Dario Argento as, “One of Lucio Fulci's best films and a superb Giallo!,” Don't Torture a Duckling certainly managed to bring new lunatic lifeblood to a fiercely formulaic genre as a work that manages to reconcile the celluloid blasphemy of Alberto Cavallone (indeed, it is a great incidental irony that the killer priest’s name is “Alberto Avallone”) with the thrilling crime-drama of Fernando Di Leo and the atmospheric Guido Giallo greatness of Argento. A socially scathing work that depicts Sicily as a quasi-medieval shithole populated by superstitious lynch mobs, pernicious priests of the homicidal (and possibly pedophiliac) sort, and a rather large population of retards, Don't Torture a Duckling is ultimately no less hateful, if not more personally so, in its depiction of rural Southern rednecks than the anti-Heimat films of German New Cinema and popular Hollywood movies like John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), thereupon also making it one of Fulci’s most socio-politically penetrating works. Personally, I am glad that Fulci eventually dropped the socialpolitical pretenses yet, admittedly, it does not reach intolerable nor obnoxious extremes in Don't Torture a Duckling, in part due to the fact that ‘progressive’ Patrizia is portrayed as a cunty cocktease who gets off to pseudo-seducing preteen boys and does not do much aside from drugs and sunbathing.  Also, unlike the degenerates in Hollywood, who merely make crude and preposterous caricatures of rednecks and other people they are afraid of, Fulci's hatred is clearly personal and thus more authentic. Featuring an unflattering portrait of a Catholic village that could have most certainly inspired Cavallone’s absurdist masterpiece Man, Woman and Beast (1977) aka L'uomo, la donna e la bestia - Spell (Dolce mattatoio) and easily one of the creepiest and most bizarre portrayals of a priest in cinema history, Don't Torture a Duckling is certainly a masterpiece of its genre that also, like the greatest works of the genre, transcends said genre. Including a totally complimentary score from Riz Ortolani (Goodbye Uncle Tom aka Addio Zio Tom, Cannibal Holocaust) and alluring landscapes scenes of the Sicilian countryside that recall the films of Pasolini, Don't Torture a Duckling is, in my less than humble opinion, the ultimate Guido Giallo film as a curious cinematic cocktail of what dagos do best cinematically: sex, death, crime, politics, and religion.  Although a pure assumption, I think it is safe to say after watching Don't Torture a Duckling and The House by the Cemetery that maestro Fulci had an unhappy childhood, but thank god he did or otherwise the world would otherwise not have what is probably the greatest killer priest movie ever made.

-Ty E

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