Don’t Torture a Duckling is a hidden gem within Italian Horror films of the seventies. Fans of horror will already know the name Lucio Fulci for gore films like Zombi 2 (that’s how they spell zombie, with an “i” only) and City of the Living Dead though Don’t Torture a Duckling may not be on their favorites list. It is a murder mystery filled with speculations of magic and a small town psychopath.
SPOILER ALERT! Before you read further you may want to watch the film first. The English dubbing is reasonably good, though I had a little trouble following all of the character motives in the first part of the film. The latter half starts to tie together all the loose ends so the story makes sense. I can guarantee that most freethinking horror fans will like the film and it has some relevance to the last couple of years even though it was made in the seventies.
The plot is simple enough. Small town, suspicious locals, a supposed witch, a priest, a woman of questionable morals and a trio of three boys who are killed one by one. What makes the film unique, as far as my tastes, is the condemnation of the character Magiara. Magiara is brought in by the police for questioning of the child murders and she confesses. Only she claims she killed them by using voodoo dolls or magic and doesn’t seem to be aware they were strangled or hit over the head. The police decide she’s a bit crazy but innocent. The local townspeople think she is guilty and has indeed killed the boys with magic. So much so that in in one horrific scene a group of local men surround her and beat her with chains and other objects until she crawls up near a modern freeway and dies by the side of the road as drivers ignore her. Fulci uses gore to full effect when she’s beaten. Even though it’s fiction, you may wince and then wonder how anyone could do such a terrible act–but then they truly believed she was a killer using magic.
Now the townspeople have blood on their hands, and yet, they don’t really seem to care and director Lucio Fulci doesn’t make them pay for their crime. They simply realize they were wrong when another boy is killed and Magiara is already dead so she couldn’t have done it. As the writer, I would have been tempted to burn the town down, but then this storyline is more realistic. How many people have suffered due to small town superstition and the town goes on like nothing bad ever happened?
The director then misleads us into thinking it was the “town harlot,” Patrizia who may be the murderer; a woman who likes to wear modern clothes and has escaped to the area because of drug charges. In one of the early scenes, a soon to be victim named Michele, a boy who couldn’t be older than maybe 12 or 13 is asked by his housekeeper mother to bring up some juice to Patrizia. Patrizia is found wearing only a smile and shows no shame in making the boy come to her so that he can see her naked. She even teases him about having sex with her. For a boy that age, hopped up on hormones, I’m sure he would not mind (something he would tell his friends) even as you can see how uncomfortable and unsure of himself he is. For adults watching the scene, we’re a bit creeped out. Which is why I initially thought she might be the killer.
So who is Fulci’s killer? A man who wants to save the boys from sexual sin–a priest! The final scene has Father Don Alberto trying to throw his mentally challenged sister off a cliff because she may have seen him murder one of the boys. He is stopped by the investigating journalist and Patrizia. In the end, it wasn’t a witch who was the killer, it was a representative of the church–a church who historically burned witches. The locals should have suspected their own religious leader.
According to Wiki, the film was not widely released in Europe due to the killer being a Roman Catholic priest and even though there was an English dub available the film wasn’t released in the United States until Anchor Bay Entertainment put it out on DVD in 1999. That’s too bad that we had to wait all this time for an Italian Horror treat. With all of the recent priests scandals of child rape, it only makes sense for a priest to be discovered as a child murderer. In this instance, it could hardly be chalked up to Catholic stereotyping as the scandal is widespread and nauseating.