Lucio Fulci is one of the key directors of the Italian horror scene, and perhaps the nastiest of them all. He lacks the visual flare that most of his contemporaries are known for, like Dario Argento and Mario Bava, but he has a level of pessimism that is rare. Don’t Torture A Duckling is one of his most interesting films, because it features a deep distrust of the priesthood and, despite identifying as a Catholic, it is clear that Fulci had serious problems with its institutions.
Don’t Torture a Duckling also marked a change in his style from the more psychedelic surrealism of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin to the gore-heavy films he is better known for, like Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Beyond. It’s set in a small Italian town, where a reporter and the spoiled rich team up to investigate a series of child murders. It deals with everything from corrupt clergy, paedophilia, and suspicious locals to black magic.
It plays around with the Giallo genre more than his contemporaries did, which gives it a very unique feeling. The film doesn’t totally make sense, and it’s really baggy: with better editing it could easily lose about 20 minutes. The twist is a solid one but not completely unsurprising. It’s got an aesthetic look that includes some extraordinary compositions by Fulci’s cinematographer on the film, Sergio D’Offizi, who would go on to shoot the notorious Cannibal Holocaust.
The film ended up becoming infamous in Italy, mainly due to its anti-clergy message, so it was incredibly hard to see till the turn of the century. In fact, it was practically blacklisted. It didn’t even get a US release till it came out on DVD over there in 2000 with a version put together by Anchor Bay. Fulci, of course, considered it his favourite amongst his own films, but you do always love the one nobody saw more. The film also includes leading roles from Italian cult film favourites Thomas Milan and Barbara Bouchet.
Arrow’s release includes excellent features that provide a lot of the context of the film and of Fulci. Mikel J. Koven’s feature on both the genre of the Giallo and this film is particularly worth checking out. Kat Ellinger does a visual essay on the perceived misogyny of Fulci’s films and dispels some of those myths. It’s rounded off with interviews with cast and crew, including a rare archival interview with Fulci and more. The first pressing includes a booklet with new writing on the film.