Since it’s currently about sixteen degrees Fahrenheit outside, I decided to stay indoors and enjoy one of my Christmas gifts: Don’t Torture a Duckling, yet another fine product from the wonderful folks at Arrow Video.
I first discovered this highly regarded (by those that have actually seen it, anyway; it remains criminally underappreciated by mainstream critics) Lucio Fulci thriller while researching gialli back in October. Whereas most examples of the quintessentially Italian subgenre are blatantly influenced by the films of Alfred Hitchcock, this outlier finds inspiration a bit further back in cinematic history, tearing a page straight out of Fritz Lang’s M. As usual, its plot revolves around a murder mystery, but in a surprising departure from convention, the narrative is less concerned with the particulars of the investigation than it is with its consequences—how it plunges a small, tight-knit community into hysteria, suspicion, and chaos. It’s atypical in terms of its tone and content, as well; rather than diving headfirst into surreal, hallucinatory horror, it explores such disturbingly real themes as superstition, religious extremism, mob justice, and police apathy. Fulci would later return to these subjects in City of the Living Dead, in which the misguided denizens of Dunwich blame their supernatural woes on an innocent (albeit extremely creepy) scapegoat, with disastrous repercussions—proving that authorial voice can prevail even in a studio system as restrictive as Italy’s (which was not supportive of auteurs at the time, to put it mildly).