"The killer is a maniac. But his mind works in a semi-logical pattern
which has a reasonable meaning for him."
Young boys are turning up dead – strangled to death – in a provincial Italian village. As the police work to find the killer, they must also deal with the townsfolk, who cling to old superstitions and believe in vigilante justice. Newspaper reporter Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) teams up with rich, visiting city girl Patricia (Barbara Bouchet) to see through the irrational fears that obscure the case and find the killer. Was it really the village idiot, Giusseppe (Vito Passeri)? Or did the local mystic, Francesco (Georges Wilson), and his daughter, Maciara (Florinda Bollcan) murder the boys with black magic? Only the kindly priest, Don Alberto (Marc Porel), seems rational enough to help. But could he be hiding a secret of his own?
Director Lucio Fulci has said that Don't Torture a Duckling is his favorite film and it's a really good choice. Personally, I think L'Aldila (The Beyond) is his masterpiece and that A Lizard In Woman's Skin is his best giallo, but Duckling has a lot going for it. Besides his handful of gialli, Fulci is best known for his gore movies and Duckling acts as a bridge between the two worlds, with plenty of blood and shocking edits throughout.
- The clash between the modern world and old-world superstition is a major theme throughout the movie, exemplified by the modern highway that passes by the village and the contrast of free-spirited Patrizia in the town full of villagers in traditional clothes.
- The other recurring theme is women taunting and emasculating men. We see this when Giusseppe is turned away by the prostitutes, when naked Patrizia teases the young boy, and later when she teases Don Alberto.
- The "cliff-hanger" finale is an homage to Hitchcock's North By Northwest.
- You read correctly - someone actually dies of natural causes in a giallo (though that's not without precedent). In this case, it's Maciara's baby, who was born 15 years prior to the start of the film of complications from a birth defect.
- The title makes no sense at all. But you're going to say "What about the Donald Duck doll that the little girl beheaded as a way to communicate the killer's identity?" My response: shut up. It's a stupid title.
The centerpiece of the film is the scene where Maciara, freed from prison and eliminated as a suspect, is stalked in an abandoned cemetery in broad daylight by a group of vigilante thugs. It's a stunning sequence because it plays out so slowly. And because the beating is bloody and brutal, and because the thugs don't say a word the entire time they're bashing her with sticks and chains. But mostly because of the soundtrack – Peppy American R&B plays on the radio to contrast to the brutality, followed by a soulful Italian ballad, which gives the scene tragic emotional weight. It's clear that Quentin Tarantino applied the lessons he learned from Duckling when he made the famous ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs.
Earlier, when Maciara is being interrogated, she works herself into a wide-eyed frenzy, confessing to the murders. This ends with her on the floor twitching and foaming at the mouth, while the police just stand around, give her space, and watch. This town has the most inept police force in any giallo film. In fact, they blow off crucial evidence and ignore important contradictions throughout the film.
As I mentioned earlier, the outsiders really stand out in this little village. None more so than Patrizia, who likes to wear bright colors, low tops, and high skirts. This expensive-looking outfit is a good example.