Big Awful Friday: 'Don't Torture a Duckling' a cool low-budget, Euro-horror

By Ed Robertson, atomictown.comJune 7, 2012 

Foreign movies don't always make that much sense.

Like, this "Italy" place -- is that in California somewhere? At least some things are consistent wherever you go. The trees might look different, but they're still trees. Except in Everything's a Monster-Land.

Yet some things translate better than others. Titles often read like something written on a serial killer's basement walls. Sometimes, entire genres have no American equivalent. For an example of both, look to 1972's Don't Torture a Duckling.

In a remote Italian town, children have begun to turn up dead. At first, the locals suspect peeping tom Vito Passeri, but blame quickly shifts to Florinda Bolkan, a woman with a painful past -- and knowledge of dark magic.

You would never guess from the title, but Don't Torture a Duckling is a bit of an odd amphibious fowl. It's often billed as horror, but as my high school Spanish teacher proved, it's not necessarily horror just because a witch is involved.

The serial killings aren't slasher-movie style, either. If anything, it's more of a mystery/thriller/giallo, but considering the crimes are investigated rather haphazardly by a guy who might be a journalist and a woman who might be a prostitute, we're not exactly talking about the whipcrack plots of Hitchcock.

Instead, we are talking about the offkilter style of legendary Italian director Lucio Fulci. If I were so inclined, here is where I would skim Wikipedia and pass off its trivia as my own encyclopedic knowledge of Fulci and whatever it is he does. In truth, I've only watched his Zombie and City of the Living Dead. Like those, Don't Torture a Duckling is filled with charmingly low-budget practical effects, oddball black humor and a certain sinister ugliness.

But that's a sample size of three movies out of the 56 he directed. Maybe all the rest are about playful puppies and their big silly paws! I'm going to look pretty foolish with my sweeping conclusions about gruesome Italian gore.

Let's get back to Don't Torture a Duckling itself, then. It's not a great movie. It takes time to develop. It doesn't have a tight focus on its characters, and much of the plot feels extraneous until the ending ties it all together.

In the meantime, Fulci's camerawork is lively, and his sensibility is compelling. And he's got at least two knockout scenes -- the townsfolk's reaction to the witch's voodoo and the big ending. I don't want to spoil either, but they're giddy and gross, with practical effects that would make The Passion of the Christ look like The Jealous Glower of the Christ.

Don't Torture a Duckling is a pretty cool piece of low-budget Euro sorta-horror.

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, and everywhere else ebooks are sold.

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