This is more like it! Possibly. (Like what?)
Lucio Fulci’s DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING is at least kind of interesting, which makes it an improvement on his CAT IN THE BRAIN. Unfortunately, what makes it interesting is partly wrapped up in the solution to its whodunnit aspect, so it’s impossible to discuss without spoilers. See you on the other side if you want to keep this one a mystery.
The setting is Sicily, with a backwards town, the bone-dry hills, and also a giant motorway flyover as settings. Florinda Bolkan is largely reprising her role in IL DEMONIO, with a side order of voodoo doll hexing. Someone starts murdering little boys, and she’s a suspect as she’s been sticking pins in their effigies. I mean, that kind of thing never looks good. In the manner of gialli, hardly anybody emerges from this with credit — some of the suspect child-killers are more appealing than the cops. The kids are PARTICULARLY horrible. I felt, on the whole, pretty good about them getting killed. And that’s not, you know, my regular stance.
Best kid death is the one who turns up in a water trough, transformed by some kind of reverse-Pinocchio magic into an unconvincing mannequin (shades of EVENING PRIMROSE). Well, said Fiona, dead bodies DO look unconvincing…
As the movie goes on, surprising sympathies do start to emerge. The journalist hero (Tomas Milian) is at least somewhat capable and cool, and the heroine (Barbara Bouchet), a former drug addict and all-round minx who teases one little boy by lolling around nude, doesn’t get killed for it. Which is refreshing. People who are not cops or rustic villagers are allowed to be somewhat OK, if weird. Sex, on the other hand, is consistently gross.
The most problematic scene is midway, when a group of villagers viciously beat Bolkan to death. This is one of Fulci’s trademark nasty, prolonged set-pieces, more pornographic than suspenseful. On the one hand, he scores it with a love song playing from a transistor radio, for disturbing counterpoint, and stages it in a churchyard. The victim has become quite sympathetic and we know now she’s innocent. Also, in a clear violation of standard gialli rules, the killers are an anonymous mob and they’re never punished for this murder. Bolkan doesn’t even die at the scene, but crawls off and expires by the roadside.
But the attempts at making this killing upsetting and meaningful, a condemnation of the vigilante impulse and of primitive rural communities, are somewhat undercut by Fulci’s typically gloating visualisation of violence. Maybe it’s because he was a doctor, or maybe because he felt the need to compete with the mayhem of Argento et al, or maybe he was just a sick sonofabitch, but Fulci always feels the need to go that extra mile, usually straight through someone’s aorta.
Fulci’s restless visual mucking-about is in evidence here, but not as manic as in LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (a great stylistic smorgasbord, the one film where he competes with Bava for baroque invention). Mainly he uses the wide screen for diopter shots to create impossible deep focus, or does the opposite, racking focus between giant foreground forms and tiny background people. He likes this trick so much he spends ten minutes in the middle of the film literally doing nothing else.
Then the killer turns out to be a pedophile priest, which isn’t surprising in plot terms because his apparent NICENESS made him very suspicious in Fulci’s vespiary of a dramatis personae, but IS surprising sociologically. Sure, there’s the KILLER NUN, but I haven’t seen a giallo with a killer priest before. There was one godawful dull thing in which he SEEMED to be a priest but turned out to be an impostor, thus rubbing the movie of its one point of interest. What was that called? Maybe best forgotten, slightly unfair to spring another spoiler on you about a random different film.
Anyhow, the film admitting that there are homosexual and pedophile priests seems kind of radical, and using a priest as killer, well, that’s anti-clerical if anything is, right? And exposing this via a soccer montage is, uh, interesting.
The title is explained by a mutilated Donald Duck doll, which ties this in with THE NEW YORK RIPPER in some strange way, for in that unpleasant movie, Fulci gives his killer the voice of Donald. This is not amusing, as you might think — it is very, very disturbing. Something must have happened to old Lucio some time way back when, involving the anthropomorphic, bottomless sailor Duck, and his mental associations with Disney’s Number Two character are a bit unpleasant.
Also: Georges Wilson, Irene Papas. Rated R for Rancorous.