The last 10 years or so have been very kind to the reputation of Lucio Fulci. Once dismissed as an artless, exploitive, misogynistic gorehound, the release of most of his back catalog on home video has proven at least one thing: he's certainly not artless. And Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) is a rare bird indeed, both within Fulci's oeuvre and the giallo genre as a whole. A killer is at large in a rural Italian village, stalking only young boys and leaving their lifeless - but unmolested - bodies for the authorities and press and discover. The suspects pile up quickly: Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), an urban outsider and sexual tease....Maciara (Florinda Balkan), a wandering witch doctor...and Guiseppe, the village idiot always teased by the local kids. Andrea (Tomas Milian) is a reporter who, in true giallo fashion, suspects the cops are missing vital clues and begins to search for the murder on his own. Don't Torture a Duckling's pre-pubescent victims and a rather daring religious angle make for a much more serious thriller than the slick, urban nightmares of A Lizard in a Women's Skin, which Fulci shot just the year before. Although the narrative is arranged in typical giallo fashion, the rural setting is fairly unique to the genre and gives the movie a drastically different vibe. Ironically, it feels more authentically Italian, something most Italian films tried to avoid at all costs. But that doesn't mean it's not without its exploitive appeal. And Bouchet's opening nude scene, in which she flaunts her body in front of one of the neighborhood kids, is a doozy. Like Sharon Stone's manipulative interrogation in Basic Instinct, Bouchet has complete control of the room...yet the context of the scene, seducing an underage boy, is something only the Italians would attempt. Fulci makes a great case for any of his red herrings to be the murderer, investing some real character-building moments along the way. And his approach to violence is - for the most part - surprisingly mature. Case in point, a mid-film beating suffered by Maciara showcases all the glorious bloodletting the director would become famous for in the '80s, but sets it against an ironic pop song that changes - and intensifies - the meaning of the scene. It's certainly one of Fulci's finest moments...but that doesn't stop him from laying down some unjustified splatter in the final reel just for good measure. Arrow Video finally brings the film onto hi-def with a dual format Blu-ray / DVD set that looks wonderful and comes with its own set of extras, including a new commentary by Troy Howarth, video discussion with author Mikel J. Koven and video essay with Kat Ellinger, who focuses on Fulci's reputation for misogyny. There is also a set of audio interview with Fulci himself along with new artwork on the collector's case.
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