Don't Torture a Duckling

Year: 1972



For fans of horror, a mention of the late Lucio Fulci’s name instantly conjures images of extremely violent schlock, which put spectacle before sense (Zombi 2’s zombie shark fight scene for example). Yet, Fulci did so much more than gory video nasties. Throughout his career he directed musicals (such as Ragazzi del Jukebox), Spaghetti Westerns (such as Four of the Apocalypse), and several revered Gialli, two of which we’ll be studying in this series. The first of which is heralded as his masterpiece by critics and Fulci alike. Don’t Torture a Duckling is a furious film covering controversial topics like religion, small town paranoia, and attitudes toward promiscuity.

The central mystery of Don’t Torture… is dark even for Giallo, drawing upon the disappearances and murders of several children in the Southern Italian town Accendura. The discovery of skeletons leads to journalists flocking to the town, including the film’s protagonist Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milan), a reporter from Rome. Soon after his arrival Martelli finds himself teaming up with another outcast, Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet): a socialite fallen from grace following a drug scandal who is now hiding out at her father’s house. As the pair’s investigation continues, the number of deaths rise and the superstitions of the townsfolk surrounding witchcraft and black magic reach alarming levels.

Whilst Giallo would later take on supernaturalism most explicitly through Suspria, in Don’t Torture, Fulci uses it to portray fears of non-conventional faith systems. A. A. Dowd described the film as “a deeply troubling vision of faith twisted into sadistic obsession” and this idea makes Don’t Torture an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Throughout the film we are shown tensions rising to breaking point, as local “witch” La Mogaria (Florinda Bolkan) becomes the target for the townspeople’s fury, driven by the Catholic priest who suggests that Mogaria is deserving of mob mentality justice. Fulci’s depiction of the Catholic church landed him in trouble with a lot of viewers, who deemed his work anti-Christian. Troy Howarth argues that the Catholic Church are not villainised in general in Don’t Torture, but Fulci frames the close-minded town dwellers as having misinterpreted their religion.

Alongside these complex themes, Don’t Torture also tactfully approached the difficult issue of how to show very controversial subject matter; thankfully, never falling into the splatter kills which would later punctuate Fulci’s work and earn him the moniker “the Godfather of Gore”. Instead the violence is reprehensible and, for the most part, left off screen or used to create an emotional impact. Only one cliffside fatality feels extreme in its nature, but given its late placement in the film you get the impression that Fulci was going for a final note people wouldn’t forget. This isn’t to say that all of Don’t Torture has aged well. Most notably during Patrizia’s introductory scene where she goads a young boy whilst naked. The townsfolk repeatedly refer to her character in degrading terms due to her life of excess and Fulci’s introductory framing of the character seems as if he is trying to present her as unsympathetic due to her sense of liberation. It feels superfluous and misguided in a well-crafted film, offering nothing but disdain for a central character.

Outside of this diversion, Don’t Torture is a well-focused story which is a bit too clearly signposted in its delivery, but has a very satisfying conclusion regardless. It may not be a typical Giallo, choosing complex troubling themes and the implication of violence in place of elaborate cat and mouse style murders. Yet, it is an intriguing film that creates a very uncomfortable atmosphere and shows Fulci at his most coherent.

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Patrick Dalziel

Patrick Dalziel

Patrick is a freelance journalist working in Edinburgh, currently writing for ShortCom. He has always been interested in cinema, but developed  particular obsessions for horror and Studio Ghibli. He post written reviews on his social media platforms and will soon be starting a podcast.

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Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.

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