Thursday, October 27, 2022

Ten Days of Terror!: Don't Torture a Duckling

Film: Don’t Torture a Duckling
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I don’t love Italian horror films that much. I always get the feeling, as I have said before, that many Italian horror directors get an idea for a scene or two and then create the entire movie around those scenes. It’s why so many Italian horror movies feel disjointed and like their plots don’t really hold together. That’s actually not the case with Don’t Torture a Duckling (or Non si Sivizia un Paperino if you prefer the Italian). There is an actual plot that kind of makes sense here. It’s just not very good.

We start with a trio of boys around 12 or so teasing the equivalent of the village idiot, who was trying to catch a peek of a couple of men getting it on with a pair of prostitutes. Later, on of the boys at home is told to carry up a drink to the woman staying in their home. This woman is Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), returned to this small town because she was involved in a drug scandal. She also evidently likes to lay around nude. In what’s going to be one of several disturbing scenes, she more or less asks the boy (remember, he’s about 12) to have sex with her.

Meanwhile, another of those three boys is killed. We’re going to get some indication that there may be a supernatural reason for this, as a local witch woman named Maciara (Florinda Bolkan) has created a trio of wax dolls that are representative of the three boys in the beginning. As each one dies (because the other two are going to soon enough), she ritually buries the dolls.

When kids start turning up dead, it becomes a media circus, and the most talented member of that circus is Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milan), who finds himself investigating the case while being strongly attracted to Patrizia, in part because of her big city manners and habits and probably in greater part for her miniskirts. As the child murders continue, blame seems to point more and more toward Patrizia.

Look, this is a movie from 1972, so I’m going to spoil this because to discuss why Don’t Torture a Duckling really fails, we need to go beyond the fact that Patrizia evidently really enjoys what can only be honestly called sexually harassing and assaulting pre-teen boys. So, spoilers start in the next paragraph.

The movie wants us to think that Patrizia is guilty of the murders. The fact that she is set up as something of a pervert is part of this, but it’s much more. At several points, we are led to believe that Patrizia is the last person to see one of the murdered boys alive. But that would clearly be too obvious.

So then, we’re set up to believe that the mother of the local priest (Irene Papas) is the killer. A couple of the murders evidently happened just outside of his residence, and there is some evidence to demonstrate that the murders were witnessed. She has her own set of issues and she certainly seems capable of killing the boys. And in 1972, there was no way possible it could have been the priest, right?

And this, more than the fact that Patrizia is a pervert is what has caused this movie to age so poorly (In addition to her nude seduction of a kid she has one soon-to-be-murdered boy help her change a tire, and offers him like $4 or a kiss for his trouble). Today, if there’s some fuckery going on regarding the abuse in any way of 12-year-old boys, the priest (Marc Porel) is the immediate suspect. I twigged him as the killer in the first scene he showed up. It’s clear that it’s not going to be Patrizia because she’s the love interest/sex object for the reporter, who implicitly believes everything she says to him. When he finds her gold cigarette lighter at the scene of the fourth murder, he just assumes that she’s not lying when she claims that she lost it there, and after we see her talking to the victim right before he’s killed. The witch woman is clearly not our killer even with her weird confession. The mom is a fun diversion, but that only lasts for a couple of minutes.

No, anyone watching this today is not going to be surprised by the guilty priest. They’re going to expect it, and so the ending is going to be disappointing. I didn’t even need all of the additional information that implicates the priest—I figured he was the killer the moment I saw the collar.

There’s also some upsetting misogyny when a few townspeople get together and beat witch woman Maciara to death with chains. It’s ugly and it doesn’t really have a place in the film.

You know what would have been cool? Have the villain actually be Patrizia. That would have been shocking and unexpected and would have given us a killer who was also a child molester rather than trying to get us to sympathize with a person who makes sexual advances on the equivalent of a sixth grader.

So, I guess it’s interesting that Italian horror films can find new ways to disappoint me.

Why to watch Don’t Torture a Duckling: Because it’s Lucio Fulci.
Why not to watch: It’s aged really, really badly in many ways.