Monday, September 6, 2021

Do You Want to Buy a Duck?

Few would ever classify Lucio Fulci as a master of cinema, but the man had a certain appetite for excess that makes a lot of his work hold up as damn enjoyable entertainment today. I've never been the biggest fan of gialli, but Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling almost justifies all of the issues I usually find with the genre. 

It's somewhat odd that it's taken me this long to tackle his other best-known giallo, especially considering its deep Manhattan roots. But to dive into an Italian slasher of the '80s generally means gearing up for watching mysteriously gloved hands murder abused women, something that requires a certain, you know, MOOD from its watcher. 

Look: it's been a rough few years, and some of the meaner horror I used to love has lost a bit of its appeal on any given day. That being said, the aspect I love most about Don't Torture a Duckling is that its reveal (which I won't spoil here) was very much ABOUT violence toward women. Fulci seemed to understand that there was a way to use this kind of violence not just for thrills, but to also throw out some ideas. 

With that in mind, let's get quacking, New York style.

Quick Plot: We open with your basic Law & Order pre-credits sequence, as a man plays fetch with his enthusiastic golden retriever only for her to ditch the stick for a decaying lady's hand hidden amongst some shrubbery on the city shore. Our lead detective Fred is on the case, slowed down a bit by heavy drinking and general scuzzy apathy. When another victim is found brutally slaughtered on the Staten Island Ferry, it becomes clear that a serial killer is on the loose.

A New York Ripper, you might even say...

We follow a few more potential victims through the city streets: Jane, the sophisticated wife of an impotent but sexually adventurous man, who encourages her to have random sexual encounters and bring back the details. There's the ill-fated star of an onstage sex show Jane watches, Kitty, Fred's regular sex worker, and last, a college student named Fay who narrowly escapes a subway assault and might be the key to solving the crime. 

The murderer continues to taunt the police, making ominous phone calls in a duck voice as his nude bodies pile up. Fred, a fairly terrible cop, inches toward answers which naturally arrive in a flashback-heavy manic conclusion.

It should come as no surprise that The New York Ripper was dubbed a video nasty: we're not 10 minutes in when we have a closeup of a female nipple being carved up. Those with an aversion to visceral violence against women will probably want to skip past this title on Shudder.

And yet, I say, as I think of how The New York Ripper compares to, say, the better-made, but (to me) less female-friendly Tenebre: there is some kind of method to the madness. While the reveal (which I won't spoil) doesn't quite click everything into place at the same level as Don't Torture a Duckling, it does hold the rest of the story up in a way that just doesn't always happen in giallo. 

All that plus an echoing saxophone-infused score, super aggressive camera zooms, and surprise doll room. 

I think I liked this movie.

High Points
I don't know that Fulci ever intended to be a sex-positive presence in genre cinema, but like Don't Torture a Duckling, The New York Ripper ends up revealing certain aspects of our attitudes towards female sexuality

Low Points
The New York Ripper is a movie floating in a sea of sleaze, and yet, AND YET, it DARES to give us TWO scenes of a crusty coroner sweating over a brutally maimed body while NOT eating a gooey sandwich. A roll of Lifesavers? Mr. Fulci, I have EXPECTATIONS

Lessons Learned
A nosy landlady is a lazy detective's best friend

Yes, watching women's body parts sliced up by a dirty knife can be upsetting, but nothing, NOTHING is more disturbing or nightmare-inducing than seeing a stranger stick his dive bar-floor toes into a woman's vagina 

If you want your coffee made, get a wife, not a prostitute 

The New York Ripper is far from the apex of this era of genre cinema, but it's a fairly fascinating artifact that probably ages differently every decade. At this particular moment in time, I could find a lot to appreciate (I'd say "enjoy," but considering this movie involves a dirty bar toe bang, I'm not sure what that would say about me). It's on Shudder, and worth your eyes so long as you're aware of what you're dipping your gross toes into.  


  1. There are a lot of things I want to touch on here:

    1) great post. I lol'd at lots, starting with "let's get quacking." Man, that's a classic pun. And your disgust with the toe scene is surely warranted but I still love your clearly genuine utter revulsion.

    2) Fulci directed the only giallo I've liked so far, which is The Beyond. It's not great, or good even, but the ending was so weird and depressing that it made it all worthwhile for me. Yup, I love a bad ending that much.

    3) I've heard about Don't Torture a Duckling of course but never bothered because the title was so stupid and the synopsis didn't sound that interesting. Now my curiosity is piqued though so I'll add it to my list.

    4) I'm not sure about this one though...possibly? Maybe if I find myself in the mood for something vintage and I have absolutely nothing else in my list that fits the bill, I'll try it.

  2. 1. Thank you!
    2. I love The Beyond. It's such an oddball of everything, and ends up being both hilarious and genuinely scary.
    3. I HIGHLY recommend DTaD, and I believe it's streaming now on Shudder or some of the library apps. I'm not a big giallo fan. Most spend 100 minutes toying around as a whodunit only to throw a reveal that makes no sense in the last reel. With Duckling, I feel like Fulci is actually saying something. I can't go into any more detail because it will spoil some things, but I'd love to see how you feel when you eventually get to it. If nothing else, it features my favorite dummy stunt death of all time, so there's that to look forward to.
    4. I think if you're dying for something really sleazy OR in the mood for prime '70s NYC, this is a must-see. It's not exactly good, but it's never boring, and I think it really does manage to explore some things. Lots of ridiculous gore and nudity, but I really think it's there to serve a bit of a purpose.