Lucio Fulci is considered by some to be a pioneer in exploitation, others often dismissed him as a talentless hack, plagiarising the success of more talented artists. Perhaps most known for his gruesome zombie classics City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, The House By the Cemetery and Zombi 2, Fulci had spent the latter half of his career cementing his reputation as the `godfather of gore.' But a few years before finding international success as a regular on the UK's `video nasty' list, he had directed three dark and seductive giallo thrillers, 1969's Una sull'altra (aka Perversion Story), 1971's Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (A Lizard in a Woman's Skin) and Non si sevizia un paperino (Don't Torture a Duckling), released the following year. Although they would feature the trademark nihilism and brutality which his fans have come to expect, his gialli were also beautifully constructed and nightmarish experiments in twisted narratives and perverse violence.
In 1970, the Italian film industry would take a dramatic turn and become obsessed with giallo, a type of thriller that had been inspired by old pulp novels of the thirties. Heralded by Dario Argento's brilliant debut film L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), many filmmakers would suddenly turn to the horror genre and soon the market became flooded with variations of the formula, including Sergio Martino's Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh), Aldo Lado's La corta notte delle bambole di vetro (Short Night of the Glass Dolls) and Giuliano Carnimeo's Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer? (The Case of the Bloody Iris). Fulci had always been one to sense a new fad and would instantly jump onto the bandwagon, and so followed A Lizard in a Woman's Skin with Don't Torture a Duckling, which may have utilised such plot points as voodoo dolls and killer priests but would still follow the detective template that had become a standard of the genre since the release of Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace almost a decade earlier.
A series of child disappearances in a rural Italian village and soon the local authorities draw up a list of suspects, including a supposed witch and a creepy Peeping Tom, but each time the police think that they have the assailant the real killer strikes again. This concept of one antagonist constantly replacing the last was previously used by Bava in his 1971 Twitch of the Death Nerve, although the lack of sympathetic characters makes it difficult to distinguish the hero from the villain. It would not be until 1979's Zombi 2 that Fulci would become obsessed with images of torn flesh and spilt guts and so Don't Torture a Duckling would not be as gruesome as his later work, instead focusing on the children who are targeted by the mysterious killer and the investigation that attempts to save them. Less convoluted but equally bizarre than his eighties output, Don't Torture a Duckling would still be a confrontational and great disturbing masterpiece.
Don't Torture a Duckling made its first public screening on September 29 1972 and gained mostly favorable reviews from the Italian critics, although due to its content it would remain unavailable in the United States for over thirty years. Despite its literal translation of Non si sevizia un paperino being Don't Torture Donald Duck, the filmmakers wisely avoided a lawsuit from Disney by changing the title to avoid any references to the famous character. Whilst never receiving the kind of cult appeal that his later efforts such as Zombi 2 (which was banned in Britain under the catchier title, Zombie Flesh Eaters) and The Beyond received, Don't Torture a Duckling remained Fulci's favorite of his own films and has steadily grown a loyal fanbase over the years, proving to be one of the director's most underrated films alongside A Lizard in a Woman's Skin and 1977's Sette note in nero (The Psychic). So if your a Fulci fan make sure that you don't miss this brilliant Giallo film from the godfater of gore, I highly recommend this!.