Wednesday, September 13, 2017

DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972) (Arrow Video Blu-ray)

Label: Arrow Video
Release Date: September 26th 2017 
Region Code: A/B
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 105 Minutes 
Audio: English LPCM Mono 1.0 with Optional English and Italian Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian

Luci Fulci's rural-set giallo entry Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) opens in a rather perverse sort of way, which is appropriate for such a perverse movie. In a rural mountain village in Southern Italy three adolescent boys excitedly herald the arrival a a pair of French whores into their small village, they follow the prostitute's car to a cottage on the outskirts of town where they meet up with some local men, they watch from a distance as the local village idiot Barra (Vito Passeri, Meridian) catches an eyeful of the sexy stuff through the shuttered windows until he is caught and chased away by the men and angry whores, he is further taunted by the trio of young boys who call him a peeping-tom. Angry he threatens to kill the insolent boys for their taunts, which makes him an ideal suspect when two of the boys are later found murdered, strangled to death.

As with any good giallo entry we have a wonderful myriad of red-herrings and possible could-be culprits throughout, beginning with simple-minded Barra, a local witchy woman named Martiara (Florinda Bolkan, A Lizard In a Woman's Skin), and a young, sexy, and wealthy outsider name Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times), a rich spoiled girl who shockingly fully exposes herself to one of the young boys, seemingly offering to pop the kid's cherry! I can see why the movie made such a fuss in Italy when it was released, the movie is perverse in that it is about a series of child murders, plus there's a weird sexual component with hints at pedophilia, and in its own way is mighty damning of the Catholic Church. 

The movie is fascinating in that as a giallo it is not the usual black-gloved killer stuff we love about Dario Argento, it's set in a rural area and not in an urban center, which was not something you saw too much with gialli, though it did happen from time to time, notably with The House with the Laughing Windows (1976), and child-murders were also the focus of other Italian whodunits like What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974). Also adding intrigue to the proceedings we have the lovely Florinda Balkan as the witchy woman, we see her performing black magic and unearthing a baby's skeleton from the ground, it creates a sense of oddness, and Balkan adds some substance to the character with her glances and facial expressions, she steals the movie to a large degree. 

Add to that a Catholic priest named  Don Alberto (Marc Porel, The Psychic) who runs the local church where the murdered boys attended school, and his creepy mother (Irene Papas, The Trojan Women) and his "deaf and dumb" sister. The child murders cause quite a stir in the local press, represented by reporter Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian, Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot!), who sort of becomes the sleuth of the piece, joining forces with the sexy Patrizia to figure it all out. 

The murder of children is impactful, add to that the superstitions and rural attitudes and you have a fascinating giallo murder-mystery happening here with some damning views of the Catholic church, a wonderful film and one of my favorite of Fulci's early 70's works. It does lack the visceral grue of his later films, but there's still some potent visual shocks, including a brutal whipping with chains and a nose-dive off a cliff face that has some face-peeling qualities later seen in Fulci's The Psychic. I find this the most affecting of all Fulci's films, the themes are dark and the child-murders are bleak, I like the way the local superstitions and rural attitudes feed the hysteria, leading to a vigilante justice that proves erroneous, it's a striking scene, the lonely death is set to some radio-tuned rock n' roll. 

I won't spoil the movie but the killer's motives when revealed are even more perverse than the sexuality in the film, and therein lies the controversy the film created, Fulci was really laying into the Church on this one.  

Sergio D'Offizi (The House on the Edge of the Park) cinematography nicely captures the lush, green and scenic mountainous locations in Southern Italy, it's not as artful as some other gialli but it's a gorgeous looking film; some of the camerawork and atmospheric lighting in Patrizia's apartment are particularly sweet, a scene with her nude with a wave-machine in the forefront looks fantastic, and it captures a weird sexuality between her and a young boy. Then we have a wonderful and haunting theme from Riz Ortolani (Cannibal Holocaust) which adds a lot of atmosphere to the rural and visuals, this movie only gets better with each watch.  

Special Features: 
- New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
- Gialla A La Campagna: A new video discussion with Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film (28 min) HD 
- Hell is Already In Us: A new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger (21 min) HD 

- Interview with co-writer/director Lucio Fulci, 
- Those Days with Lucio: Interview with actor Florinda Bolkan (28 min) HD 
- The DP's Eye: Interviews with cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi (46 min) 
- From The Cutting Room Table: Interview with assistant editor Bruno Micheli (26 min) 

- Endless Torture: Interview with assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani (16 min) 
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides

- Fulci Remembers: Director Lucio Fulci answers questions from journalist Gaetano Mistretta in this rare audio recording from 1988. Italian with English subtitles(33 min) 
- Collector's booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes (First Pressing Only)

I am so pleased to see this earlier Fulci title get some love from Arrow Video, his 80s gore-films are loved and adored, but these lesser-known slightly less-loved titles are deserving of some new evaluation and appreciation, Fulci was more than just an 80s gore director, he was a true visual craftsman and a potent storyteller, his early 70s work is proof of that. This version of Don't Torture a Duckling is the best it has looked on home video and the Arrow extras are plentiful, this one comes highly recommended.