DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Lucio Fulci
Arrow Video USA

Lucio Fulci's combines giallo and social commentary with his masterwork DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Arrow Video USA.

The rural village of Accendura is plunged into a nightmare when young boy Bruno mysterious disappears. His parents (LADY FRANKENSTEIN's Andrea Aureli and IL SORPASSO's Linda Sini) receive a ransom call for the boy's return but it turns out to be an act of opportunism by the dimwitted Barra (Vito Passeri, MERIDIAN) who claims not to have killed the boy but buried his body and made the ransom demand. When young Tonino turns up submerged in a laundry basin, the killings draw the attention of police and reporters from Milan. As local police captain Modesti (Ugo D'Alessio, BREAD AND CHOCOLATE) mediates between the insular locals and the city police commissioner (Virgilio Gazzolo, DAY OF ANGER) as they explore the connection between the two boys and the next victim Bruno, Milanese reporter Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milan, ALMOST HUMAN) takes an interest in promiscuous city girl Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet, AMUCK) for whom Bruno's mother worked as housekeeper. When Maciara (Florinda Bolkan, FOOTPRINTS), an outcast the locals believe is a witch, is murdered by a mob after being interrogated and released by the police, many believe the danger is over until the next body is discovered. A bored Patrizia helps Martelli in his investigation, and the discovery of a Donald Duck doll's head near one of the bodies leads them to a possible witness in Malvina (Fausta Avelli, later of Fulci's THE PSYCHIC and Argento's PHENOMENA), the mentally-retarded sister of the local priest Don Alberto (Marc Porel, THE INNOCENT) whose mysterious mother Aurelia (Irene Papas, OASIS OF FEAR) has also been shunned by the village and carries a deep resentment.

"A horrible crime, bred of ignorance and superstition," surmises the police commissioner of one murder, but he could just as easily be describing all of the violent acts committed by murderer and mob in Fulci's most effective, moving, and tragic giallo DON'T TORTURE THE DUCKLING. Eschewing jet-setting protagonists, cosmopolitan locations, razor-wielding black-gloved assassins and comely female victims, the film is one of the rare examples of the "rural giallo" and Fulci at his most pessimistic exposes all of the characters for their ignorance. The well-intentioned – among them the police commissioner and the local police captain who is well aware of the provincial shortcomings of the citizenry – are ultimately ineffectual or hopeless naïve, including Don Alberto who channels the boys interest into sports and is one of the first to dismiss the fear of witchcraft ("No one has ever been killed by magic") but also censorious, repressive, and actually shocked at the sexual curiosity of his young flock who are seen spying on prostitutes and other couples who make use of the local "haunted house" ("But you're so young. You're just boys"). The village men and women are afraid and quick to identify scapegoats from anyone who is different or strange, including Barra, Patrizia, Aurelia, and Maciara. Although Martelli takes more of a compassionate interest in the killings, he and the other reporters in search of sensationalism ultimately have a role in stirring up the fear and anger of the villagers. The paperino in the Italian title "Non si sevizia un paperino" has a double meaning in referring to Donald Duck (in Italy, Paolino Paperino) – a clue that takes the protagonists in the right direction – and to the young victims, whose deaths bear no traces of carnal violence or sexual sadism. The film's most sadistic treatment of a victim is reserved for Maciara, a truly tragic figure whose supposed possession by the devil is revealed to be an undiagnosed case of epilepsy, who believes as much as the villagers that she is responsible for the deaths of the boys by sticking pins in poppet dolls to summon demons to kill them. When she is asked who actually physically commits the acts, she replies "Anybody, man or woman," unwittingly identifying the real suspicion that the villagers do not want to admit. The real killer's motivation is quite novel for the genre and would be inverted by Fulci himself for his considerably more graphic latter day giallo NEW YORK RIPPER into which Donald Duck also figures as a key to the killer's identity. Fulci and cinematographer Sergio d'Offizzi (HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) are continually inventive visually, contrasting agoraphobic wide angle views of the looming hilltop town and the surrounding countryside (along with the highway which brings strangers suspicious and enticing to the town while also providing the villagers spectatorship of those who drive past the town on the way to presumably more exciting lives) with the perspectives of its immature (physically and mentally) characters spying forbidden sights through splayed fingers, cracks in doors, through distorting seesawing wave machines, or on the periphery of gathered crowds. Riz Ortolani (credited on both the Italian and English credits as "Ritz Ortolani") contributes another score that alternates between stabbing strings and plaintive melodies (pop singer Ornella Vanoni provides a vocal version of the film's theme in "Quei giorni insieme a te") anticipating his work on CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

Unreleased theatrically in the United States and only available to fans on foreign-subtitled bootlegs, DON'T TORTURE THE DUCKLING got its first official release from Anchor Bay Entertainment in 2000 as part of their Lucio Fulci Collection in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that was spectacular for the time when the alternative was virtually nothing else but looks pretty weak by modern standards (the UK had to contend with a cropped DVD until Shameless' 2011 DVD which also included a subtitled Italian track). Long requested of niche cult/horror companies for a Blu-ray release, it first appeared on Blu-ray in Germany from '84 Entertainment in 2015 in a prohibitively expensive leather-bound mediabook with DVD and CD soundtrack followed by a regular mediabook three-disc set and a two-disc version last year along with Japanese edition from Happinet. These editions were derived from a new restoration that featured a strange flaw in which the extra frames at each splice on the negative were printed, extending the running time by roughly three minutes and requiring the audio to be cut at each shot change to maintain synchronization. At 105:06, Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is three minutes shorter than the Japanese/German editions, deleting the extra frames, but also three minutes longer than the previous SD transfers by including the extended exit music (presumably also part of the additional six minutes of the German restoration). The opening credits are in Italian or English depending on the audio option – English SDH or English subtitles translating the Italian dub are also selected depending on the choice of English or Italian LPCM 1.0 mono tracks – and, like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, these sequences are grainier and have slightly off-colors, with the image improving drastically after the credits. The Techniscope film is still very grainy but detail is also greatly improved from skin, hair, and clothing to the rustic settings of the village, huts, and caves or the burnished wood and shag carpeting of Patrizia's ultra-modern family villa on the outskirts of the town. The audio tracks are cleaner, with anguished and angered voices as piercing as Ortolani's strings while iterations of the theme song buried in the mix are now more apparent and enhance the emotions of the scenes in which they appear.

Extras start off with a new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of the three-volume "So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films", who touches upon the film as an example of the "rural giallo", draws from interview with Fulci who reveals that the fictional Accendura was meant to be emblematic of such villages and the people, the ways in which the film explodes the myth of the purity of children while still maintaining their essential innocence in the scenario, and the effect of the suicide of Fulci's terminally ill wife during the filming BEATRICE CENCI and how that may have contributed to his increasingly despairing and pessimistic view of humanity while also arguing that the film is not anti-Catholic as it has been fashionably viewed by some critics. He provides some production anecdotes like the use of a midget double to share the frame with nude Bouchet in a sequence in which she and the child actor otherwise inhabit separate reverse angles, and also provides some information on the two towns used for the setting. He reveals that the film's uncredited producer was Edmondo Amati had previously funded Fulci's PERVERSION STORY, THE EROTICIST, and A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN and would later also serve as uncredited producer on FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE, and also points out not only a number of popular bit players but also a number of familiar voice artists in the English dub.

In "Giallo a la Campagna" (27:44), Mikel J. Koven (author of "La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film") discusses the film in the context of "vernacular cinema" a term he coined for the cinema that existed outside of the Italian mainstream and those who viewed it with the knowledge of its makers, as well as the second and third tier cinemas in which the films were scene (noting a deliberate design on behalf of the filmmakers to periodically engage the attention of moviegoers for whom the cinema was a nightly place for socializing). He also compares the typical giallo and the rural giallo in the ways in which the cosmopolitan was viewed as a source of novelty and suspicion as a foreign influence. In the video essay "Hell is Already in Us" (20:30), Diabolique Magazine's Kat Ellinger addresses the common charge against Fulci of misogyny, suggesting that tragedy in his private life (his ill wife's suicide and the death of one of his daughters) tainted his outlook on humanity, and that the victimization of women in the context of his film's plots (with respect to how they are subjugated and reduced to certain roles of witch, temptress, and mother) is an expression of the evil of man and the victimization of those who are more vulnerable.

"Lucio Fulci Remembers" is a pair of archival audio interviews by co-writer/director Lucio Fulci responding on tape to questions sent in writing by Gaetano Mastretta (co-writer of "Spaghetti Nightmares"). In the first part (20:13), he recalls how he got into film, working as an assistant to Steno (UNCLE WAS A VAMPIRE) and his early directorial credits with the Franco and Ciccio comedies. Of his gialli, he recalls how PERVERSION STORY (ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER) was greenlighted in response to the success of Romolo Guerrini's THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH (for which he collaborated on the screenplay), and how the opportunity to direct it came out of a failed project with Ugo Tognazzi (LE GRANDE BOUFFE), as well as how A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN came as a response to the success of Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. He touches upon the problems that befell CONSPIRACY OF TORTURE (BEATRICE CENCI) and THE PSYCHIC while speaking proudly of what he achieved with DUCKLING. He also makes the case that ZOMBIE may have been motivated by DAWN OF THE DEAD but it was more inspired by I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. He also reveals that the puzzling final shot of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD was editor Vincenzo Tomassi's idea, and that he let the crew of ZOMBIE loose on the "rudimentary" screenplay for THE BEYOND. His overview of his subsequent works moves from a defense of the excess of NEW YORK RIPPER to a narrative of producer interference and production troubles on his subsequent works. The second part (13:13) is more general as he expounds his ideas of what makes a good horror or fantasy screenplay, bemoans the lack of interest in the fantasy genre in contemporary Italian cinema, gives his opinions on contemporaries like Argento and Kubrick, and also relates a bit more of the behind the scenes problems on THE PSYCHIC.

Left off the DVD side of the package are a selection of cast and crew interviews, starting with actress Bolkan (28:20) who recalls taking the rolls in LIZARD and DUCKLING because she was intrigued by the characters and the challenge of becoming them (as well as Carol's wardrobe in the former film) while describing Fulci has hot-headed, ultimately sweet and sadistic when he wanted a specific reaction out of his performers (catching her completely off-guard in a deleted sequence in which Maciara is attacked by bats). Cinematographer D’Offizi (46:21) recalls meeting Fulci through producer Amati and first collaborating with him on THE EROTICIST. Of DUCKLING, he discusses the challenges of lighting interiors and exteriors for atmosphere, as well as shooting handheld shots, and reveals that Bolkan's agent initially demanded the use of a cinematographer with which the actress had previously worked to ensure that she would look good on film but was eventually won over by the rushes. Assistant editor Bruno Micheli (25:38) recalls getting fired from RAI over a vending machine and going to work at Technicolor where he would observe sister Ornella Micheli (BEYOND THE DARKNESS) editing pictures and would soon learn the trade himself. He recalls how he and his sister would create a premix soundtrack with music and sound effects to enhance the first viewing of the assembly for producers, and how this would lead to him being assigned to create the sound design for important sequences in subsequent Fulci films including FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE and WHITE FANG. Assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani (16:03) recalls first working with Fulci's later effects artist Giannetto de Rossi on Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 and Fellini's CASANOVA but first worked on DUCKLING under Franco Di Girolamo (NEW YORK RIPPER) and learning both cosmetic make-up and special effects make-up. Of the film, he discusses the construction of the child skeleton seen in the opening credits, the bats designed by Corridori and Company for the aforementioned deleted scene (Trani admits that he borrowed some ideas from this unused sequence for a rat attack in WILD BEASTS), and how Fulci himself innovated the chain-whipping effects through the use of editing and reverse motion. Not included for review was the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides, and the collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes included with the first pressing only. (Eric Cotenas)