Wednesday 10 April 2013

Movie Review: Don't Torture A Duckling (1972)

An effective Italian giallo film, Don't Torture A Duckling slowly works its way to disturbing territory. The story of a mysterious child killer terrorizing a small town gains momentum from effectively creepy characters simmering in a gratifyingly unhealthy mix of religion and sexuality.

In the remote village of Accendura, dominated by an imposing elevated freeway, a group of young boys pass the time peeping at sexual escapades in a ramshackle forest and making fun of local recluse Maciara (Florinda Bolkan). The local community includes village idiot Giuseppe (Vito Passeri), football-loving priest Don Alberto (Marc Porel) who tries to keep the boys out of trouble, his grim mother Dona Aurelia (Irene Papas) who cares for a much younger girl with learning disabilities, and party girl with a sordid past Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet).

One by one, the boys disappear and are found dead, gruesomely killed by a mysterious murderer. There is no shortage of suspects, with Giuseppe and then Maciara hauled in for questioning, and both possessing motives for hating the boys. Newspaper journalist Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) arrives to report on the story, and with the police bamboozled, Martelli teams up with Patrizia, herself a possible suspect, to try and track down the killer.

Director Lucio Fulci builds up the tension with plenty of clever patience and interesting characters, gradually ramping-up Don't Torture A Duckling into a full-fledged horror show. By the time the villagers start to turn on each other, forming lynch mobs and then dishing out vigilante justice, Fulci spreads his wings with plenty of verve and dollops of gore.

With a community in turmoil, Tomas Milian as the only outsider maintains the coolest stance but almost slips into mechanical motion as the reporter intent on breaking the case.Without really acting much, Barbara Bouchet as Patrizia gets to play a source of naked corruption for the boys, the village playgirl, a murder suspect, and a co-investigator with Milian, her presence brightening the movie if not blessing it with acting talent.

The rest of the cast all err on the side of one-dimensional theatrical over-dramatization. There are no nuances or evolutions on display. The characters exist as victims, suspects or killers, and once labelled proceed to energetically milk simmering emotion out of their roles. Irene Papas maintains a mute, grim presence, a seemingly judgemental woman who probably knows more than she should but won't talk about it.

Fulci gives the film a dark "evil lurks here" polish, the village of Accendura literally being passed by the rest of the world, the mammoth freeway offering a tantalizing vision of progress that will remain out of reach for the local residents. Instead, religion, sex, gossip, suspicion and superstition are mixed to create the combustible community fuel, and from the toxic fumes murder will emerge to punish deviancy.

It's all basic and earthy, wrong-doing thriving where nothing else will. When a community is dying of stagnation, ducklings along with many others will suffer.

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