Lucio Fulci is most known to horror fans for directing the Zombi series of films but his earlier career is an eclectic mix of comedies and mysteries. Don't Torture a Duckling is one of his most fascinating earlier movies that really exemplifies what an interesting filmmaker Fucli was.
Set in a small town in Sicily, Duckling is about the murder of young boys and the town’s response to the killings. As opposed to looking for the truth, the townspeople and the audience look for the simplest explanations and people to blame.
No matter what time period we live in, people are always in search of the scapegoat; never taking blame for their actions and always pushing blame on the easiest targets. In the case of Duckling, it's the outsiders and the weirdos that the town decides to accuse of the crimes.
What's interesting about Fulci’s film is that he places the audience in a position of constant blame. We see images that reinforce a certain narrative and then are shown again and again why our assumptions are wrong. We are left wondering if we recalled what we saw correctly, or even questioning if the movie itself might be wrong. Fulci reinforces the power of images and its persuasion on the human psyche again and again; leaving you questioning the eventual outcome as just another scapegoat.
While the film is far from perfect, it's something worth watching for its powerful use of images as a form of persuasion. It's propaganda, and you, just like the people who occupy the town, start to believe what you're told and what you see and not what lies beneath. Even when the solution doesn't make sense we find ourselves agreeing with the outcome because it's convenient.
It's hard to make your audience think and feel a certain way by using images and dialogue to subvert their emotions; Fulci succeeds here where many have failed.
The film was not without controversy - it was banned in many places in Europe and the US for a long time due to religious imagery. By today’s standards the film is much more tame - definitely R rated but nothing that would offend most viewers.
The quality of the film is a mixed bag but it has more to do with the localization efforts than the movie itself. The cinematography is daring, evocative and beautiful, the sound design is jolting yet oddly fitting, the story is slow paced but interesting and the overall package is something worth viewing as a curiosity and an interesting study in Italian filmmaking during the 1970’s.