1972, Color, 105 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci / Starring Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas, Marc Porel, Vito Passeri
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC), Shameless Screen Entertainment (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Anchor Bay, Blue Underground (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
While many Italian murder mysteries (or gialli) involve black-gloved killers stalking women in the big city, Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino) turns the formula completely inside out to produce a violent, sweltering masterpiece of cultural and religious oppression. Don't expect to see any shuffling zombies or skull-piercing power drills in this one, folks.
In a small mountain village in Italy, preadolescent boys are turning up dead from strangulation. Evidence points to a number of possible suspects, especially the local "witch," Martiara (Bolkan), whose occult practices and possible insanity make her a likely candidate. But what about Patrizia (Bouchet), the bored city girl and reputed wild child hiding out after a drug scandal, who now passes the time by flaunting her naked body in front of children? The local Catholic Church, headed by young Don Alberto (The Psychic's Porel) and his mother, Aurelia (Papas), tries to keep the population under control, but even the local police are baffled by the case. A reporter from the north, Andrea (Milian, sporting an impressive mustache), comes to investigate and recruits Patrizia to discover some genuinely ugly truths about the quiet provincial town.
Virtually unseen outside Italy and a handful of other European countries for years since its release, Don't Torture a Duckling is one of the crucial films in the Fulci canon. He once again displays the precise control of the giallo format found in the previous A Lizard in a Woman's Skin and One on Top of the Other, but he also introduces a number of elements which would reappear prominently throughout his later work. The film's theme of innocence preserved through murder, coupled with the prominent use of Donald Duck as a plot device, later appeared in the much nastier New York Ripper, while the memorable cliff-smashing finale dovetails nicely with its identical appearance at the beginning of Fulci's next film, The Psychic. However, Duckling's most memorable sequence, in which a main character is subjected to a horrific fate involving chain-whips, is so effective that Fulci repeated it during the prologue of The Beyond and returned to the concept of provincial vigilantism in City of the Living Dead. That said, Duckling is much more than a simple blueprint for Fulci's themes and obsessions; on its own terms the film is a singular accomplishment, a chilling horror film and social thesis flooded with sunlight, punctuated with odd scenes of dark rainfall. This contrast is reflected in the magnificent score by Riz Ortolani, which oscillates between chilling atonal suspense music and the deliberately syrupy, haunting main theme which appears ironically in several key scenes. The acting is also among the best in a Fulci film, with Bolkan in particular delivering a tour de force performance as the mistreated outcast. One of the many Euro starlets who blossomed in Italian thrillers, Barbara Bouchet never looked better and has an undeniably memorable entrance in the film.
First available to gray market collectors via dupes of a half-letterboxed (1.85:1) English transfer from Dutch VHS in the '80s, Don't Torture a Duckling was long overdue for a decent video presentation. Anchor Bay's DVD from 2000 (complete with a famously awful cover and bare bones apart from an "About Lucio Fulci" text piece) was a huge relief at the time as it restored the film's expert scope photography and unorthodox color schemes. One of Anchor Bay's earliest anamorphic releases, the disc looked dated rather quickly though as its noisy, crunchy appearance didn't adapt well to video quality standards within a couple of years. Though some of the film was filmed with English dubbing in mind (especially Bouchet), some of the voices are jarring considering the rural nature of the characters with the children in particular sounding canned and way too Americanized. The same transfer was ported over in 2007 on DVD from Blue Underground.
British label Shameless took its own stab at Fulci's classic on DVD in 2011, presenting the film in its standard English dub while also thankfully adding the Italian track with optional English subtitles. The Italian trailer is also included (along with the usual bonus promos) along with a Stephen Thrower booklet essay and, for no apparent reason, a pdf of "An Introduction to Poliziotteschi" as a DVD-Rom option. The presentation here does some additional color correction and looks healthier in several shots, though the inherent problems with the source transfer are impossible to overcome.
Fans demanding the release of this film on Blu-ray for years had to deal with some frustration in 2015 when the first HD release came from Germany's ELEA-Media in a prohibitively expensive but nicely packaged leather-book set containing a Blu-ray (with Italian, German, or English audio options with German subtitles) plus non-English extras including the Italian and German trailers and a pair of video interviews (more on that below). Weirdly, competing (and still pretty expensive) mediabook releases also turned up in 2016 from ELEA-Media and in 2017 from 84 Entertainment.
Luckily you don't have to worry about spending an arm and a leg to own this film on Blu-ray thanks to the essential 2017 release from Arrow Video (dual format in the U.S. and Blu-ray only in the U.K.), which sports the superior Italian track and the English dub in LPCM mono options. The Italian is absolutely the way to go here as it's not only a more effective and professionally engineered achievement but more sonically pleasing as well without the tinniness that plagues the music and sound effects on the English one. Image quality is impressive as well, retaining the essential grit and darkness of the original visual scheme while featuring bold and brilliant colors where it counts with a warmer, richer look than before. The detail level is impressive as well, bringing out all the minute details in the mountainside setting. Translated English subtitles are provided for the Italian track, while English SDH ones can be played for the English one; note that both are locked to be switched on or off via the main or pop-up menus for their respective audio versions though and can't be switched on the fly. The film can also be played with a new audio commentary by So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films and Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films author Troy Howarth, who ranks this among his favorite films and does a skillful job of laying out details about the film's shooting locations, complex attitudes about Catholicism, cast and crew backgrounds, and the animosity between two of the actors that turned physical during the finale.
On the video extras side, "Giallo a la Campagna" (27m44s) with writer Mikel J. Koven (author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film), announced in early press materials as "The Blood of Innocents," explores the relationship between urban and rural Italy in the '70s and reiterates his book's theory that these films were made for a distracted audience who used the theater for more of a social setting. His much-repeated theory about the self-coined vernacular film is very limiting when you consider how many of these films were intended to be widely exported and in fact courted English-speaking audiences, but his thoughts on northern versus southern Italy are quite valuable and fascinating as they relate to the cultural elements sparking against each other in Fulci's film and its attitudes about technological progression. "Hell Is Already in Us" (20m30s), an insightful overview by Kat Ellinger (originally announced under the title "Every (Wo)man Their Own Hell" in the release announcement), takes a look at the accusations of misogyny and cruelty in Fulci's films (such as New York Ripper, most famously) and how he actually has a more complex, critical portrayal of humanity with the murders in this film making a powerful statement about the inherent cruelty in man and the role religion and gender plays in the treatment of women and children. Fulci himself is represented with "Lucio Fulci Remembers," a two-part audio interview from 1988 (partially used for publications like Spaghetti Nightmares) sent to journalist Gaetano Mistretta (20m13s and 13m12s) covering his thoughts on filmmaking, the horror genre, his distaste for The Shining, his controversial opinion at the time on Dario Argento, the revolutionary nature of Cronenebrg's The Fly, his love of modern music, and plenty more.
Segregated to its own section in the extras is an assortment of cast and crew interviews beginning with a Freak-o-Rama chat with Bolkan (28m20s), who vividly recalls her Fulci collaborations and calls the director "unpredictable" and a "devil" (in a positive sense) when it came to making this film and Lizard, both of which used the acting theories she espouses here. She also briefly touches on a deleted scene involving a bat cave attack that "nearly killed me," which sounds quite intense. Next from the German release (but now English subtitled) comes cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi with a lengthy 46m21s overview of how he started working with Fulci ("we were on the same page") and made his way through the busy Italian film industry at the time, with this film standing out as a source of pride with its intricate lighting and nighttime shooting requirements. (Weirdly, the Italian trailer is not included on this release but is briefly excerpted a few times in this featurette.) Assistant editor Bruno Micheli turns up next (also from the German set) with a 25m38s interview that starts off with a career overview (including a funny story about getting fired over beer from a vending machine) before jumping into another set of stories about the "easygoing" Fulci as they put together the film and the music and sound effects tracks. Finally, assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani gets his say with a 16m3s account of how he got into the business after retrieving wigs from the water for acrobats(!) and found his proclivity for creating convincing make-up and facial hair in high demand in Italian '70s cinema including this film and Fellini's Casanova. Featuring reversible artwork including a Catholic-themed new design by Timothy Pittides, the release also comes (in its first pressing only) with an insert booklet featuring liner notes by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes.
Shameless UK DVD
Anchor Bay / Blue Underground UK DVD
Updated review on September 8, 2017