Thursday, January 27, 2011

Don't Torture a Buggling

My complicated relationship with giallo has been documented before following my disappointment with Tenebrae and The Eyes of Laura Mars. It’s a genre I just don’t love or, more importantly, really enjoy much of. In full disclosure, I’d made the unofficial decision to just stop trying, despite the undying hope invested in me by some of my loyal readers.
It’s at this point that I’ve just realized I have an awful lot in common with the NY Mets.

Enter the world’s most talented lightning bug to the rescue! In continuing our monthly film swap, my esteemed blogging colleague T.L. Bugg chose for me 1972’s Italian classic, Don’t Torture a Duckling. As Zach is doing a series on Stephen King adaptions but had the nerve to NOT cover Stephen King’s Thinner, I insisted he watch it, and watch and review it he shall. Is it a ‘good’ film? Only if you believe carrot cake is a ‘good’ source of vegetables. But to me, it’s a pile of mid-90s horror cheese that even the classiest Bugg deserves to eat.
But first, let’s start being nicer to ducklings.
Quick Plot: A group of preteen boys cause some small town trouble on an Italian coast, teasing the local simpleton and slingshot killing lizards in the sun. One by one, they begin turning up dead, all with the same MO and often, mangled dummy corpse. Following each death, a new suspect emerges only to quickly be disproved or dispatched.
Surrounding the main tale is Patrizia (‘70s babe Barbara Bouchet), a modern (code: skanky) recovering drug addict (sure) who beings a flirtation with Tomas Milan’s nosy reporter. Also on hand are the bumbling authorities, an epileptic gypsy, Chris Sarandon-ish preist, his stern-faced mother, more stern-faced townspeople, and a mute little girl with a thing for decapitated dolls.

Like most giallos, Don’t Torture a Duckling plays an awful lot as a gory whodunit. Unlike Tenebrae or The Eyes of Laura Mars, however, it actually invites the audience into the mystery by making it both solvable and thematic. I imagine most savvy viewers will spot the killer (or killers, I spoil not yet) but a lot of the false starts are actually entertaining, even if they never feel the least bit possible.

As promised (ten seconds ago) I’m about to delve into spoiler territory. Virgin ducklings can skip down to the lessons section to preserve their chastity. All others, let’s talk:

The novelty of a Catholic priest murdering young boys is fun enough, but what I really loved about Don’t Torture a Duckling’s ending (outside of the PHENOMENAL dummy) was how, in hindsight, its very essence was inherent in the film itself. Father Don Alberto Avallone justifies his murders by trying to save the boys before they can sin, something hinted at by Patrizia’s flirtation and one of the kid‘s naughty drawings. In a way, Don’t Torture a Duckling is pure misogynist ‘70s Italian cinema, playing up the idea that women truly are evil temptresses leading innocent men to their doom. Hey, sometimes that in itself is fascinating, especially when it’s executed so well.

High Points
Best Supporting Actor, 1972: The Dummy. Holy pinnochio, that dummy.

Fulci is responsible for some truly terrible titles, but his work behind the camera is genuinely interesting here, with effective shaking and spinning landscapes used quite well
Low Points
There's something a little odd-fitting about Bouchet and Milan's random civilians ultimately being the smartest people in Europe

Stray Observation
Between this and The Beyond, can we agree that Fulci’s favorite dog breed was the German Shepherd?

Lessons Learned
If you thought the word ‘retarded’ was offensive, how about classing it up by calling deaf-mutes ‘subnormal?’
So long as you only use a decapitated Donald Duck stuffed animal, Walt Disney will not sue

Never kick away evidence at a murder scene when the ominous score is so clearly telling you not to
Don’t Torture a Duckling is already considered essential genre viewing, and I would echo that with an enthusiastic recommendation. I’m not sure if there’s a better DVD out there than my barebones Netflix rental, so a purchase depends on your wallet and special features standards.

Thanks to Zach for the swap, and now I send you over his way to trim those pesky holiday pounds with Stephen King’s Thinner!


  1. Glad to finally have gotten you to watch a giallo that you actually liked for once! You hit on myna you the film's fine points, but I also wan to mention Florinda Bolkan's performance as the "witch" La Magiara. He storyline is a minor red herring, but I think a very interesting one.

  2. This is very true. I was genuinely interested in ALL the storylines, and Bolkan was a blast. Plus, did you even realize that we had a Gypsy connection with our recommendations???

  3. I need to check this out. I too am not a fan of the giallo flick.

  4. I just watched this again last weekend. I loved the sparks that flew off the dummy's face when its head hit the rocks. For more Fulci, Bolkan and murder (but sadly no face scraping mannequins), check out the superb Lizard in a Woman's Skin.

  5. Will do Shiftless! Though twill be hard to concentrate knowing I won't be able to giggle my gloves off at the thought of another mannequin.

  6. PoT: I'll be really curious to see if this one works for you. There's a lot about giallo that bothers me, but DTaD was just so neat to watch that I put a lot of that aside.

  7. Emily, you have inspired me to stop trying to write boring-as-poo film reviews and instead have fun for once! Kudos to you, Emily, kudos!

  8. I GUESS this a giallo, although I don't see much too it, except for it's title.

    Have you gotten much into Argento's films? I would think OPERA would fit the bill as a really entertaining giallo picture. Or some of Mario Bava's earlier films, as well as Umberto Lenzi's.

    This has an interesting title, but that's about it. Not very memorable. You might even try some of Sergio Martino's films for a more fitting example of the genre.

    Lamberto Bava's A BLADE IN THE DARK is a great episodic, black-gloved killer giallo if there ever was one and certainly creepy enough as well.

  9. This is one of my favorite Giallo films, and while Fulci has made some poopie (that's always still highly enjoyable), his work in Gilli is pretty incredible. He has a way of banging out these specific scenes that are simply captivating with use of sound and music, yet, they still seem almost quiet. He's really good at the slow burn, making it interesting and tense, with a style that is quite unparalleled, especially when he shows restraint. Some of his film, specifically Duckling, almost feel like a Spaghetti Western, which is gold to me.

    Anyway, I'm rambling, but I simply adore Fulci's work. As soon as I saw that you reviewed this, I hoped so hard you would like it more than you did Tenebre (which is another one of my favorites of the genre), and I'm very happy to read that you did.
    Good work, Bugg!

    PS: I have a crazy man-crush on Tomas Milian. He smokes a cigarette like no other.

  10. Enjoy Nigel!

    Jenn: Opera keeps creeping up my Instant Watch queue, so I'll try to squeeze it in soon. I also keep meaning to check out Martino's Torso. As for Lenzi, I'm only really watched Nightmare City (which I adored, though it's not anywhere near a giallo) but I'll widen my horizons soon.

    Matt: What's funny to me is that DTaD feels so much more subtle and crafted than the other FUlci I've watched, where spiders tear apart dummies, zombies tear apart villagers, and futuristic game shows lamely limp by. It's almost like there's two completely different directors in him.

  11. I just noticed you post title. Gold!

    You should check out A Lizard in the Woman's Skin, which is very similar in restrained tone to Duckling. I don't like it quite as much, but it's really great and there is one scene with an organ (not the fleshy kind, unfortunately) and a door squeak that is simply amazing!

    I think Fulci gets pegged as a director that can only bring sleaze, gore, and a lot of over-the-top style, but he has made some very wonderful genre pictures, and this is one of them.

  12. See, sometimes the whole 'restrained' thing translates to dull, but I'll definitely give it a go.

  13. What kind of meanie would torture a duckilng anyways? tsk..

  14. The same kind of jerk that pulls the legs off of Daddy Long Legs or holds magnifying glasses over ant hills. Monsters! Such crimes should only be reserved for horrid horrid caterpillars!

  15. I can't disagree with that caterpillars are just weird.

  16. Thank you! Nobody ever agrees with me about that and seriously, you just made my night.