Next week, Anthology Film Archives will be paying tribute to Italian master of gore, Lucio Fulci, with a retrospective of 15 films. The series will range from slasher horrors to spaghetti westerns to historical dramas. Fulci did not discriminate between genres, instead toying with all kinds of thematic and formal conventions, often exaggerating them to the point of cliche. His films tend to verge on the melodramatic, featuring a hint of comic disbelief and always oozing with blood and guts.
Whether it’s a classic serial-killer story about a sexually-frustrated madman hunting down promiscuous women (“The New York Ripper”), a medieval tale of parental tyranny (“The Conspiracy of Torture”) or a comedy about an obnoxious popstar (“A Strange Star”), Fulci doesn’t spare us the gory details of human perversion and affinity for violence.
The 1972 “Don’t Torture a Duckling” displays Fulci’s love for hyperbolizing plot tropes and making a spectacle of the familiar. This small-town horror has it all: the sexually frustrated priest, the mischievous boy, the promiscuous woman, the reporter and the witch. Stuck in a setting of sexual repression and malicious rumors somewhere amidst Italy’s pastel-colored hills, these one-dimensional characters are pitted against each other and a chilling, although predictable, murder story ensues.
Three young boys are killed for unclear reasons, and while the local police fail to convict suspect after suspect, an out-of-town reporter and the promiscuous woman take it upon themselves to find the killer. The film fails to set up a strong introduction of the victims, so we begin with little emotional engagement, instead rushing straight into the whodunit mystery. Audiences plow through the obvious suspects — the town’s madman, the witch, the seductress — with little conviction, but with the joy of movement and fast-paced suspense.
The story operates purely on cliches. Still, Fulci manages to bring it to life with some beautiful cinematography and a good dose of red on the lens. The drama is heightened through juxtaposition of long shots of picturesque landscapes with close-ups of mutilated bodies, bringing the horror and its absurdity uncomfortably close to the viewer.
There are scenes of explicit violence filmed in swaying motion and set against a pop-song soundtrack that even Tarantino would envy. Our cringe reflexes are momentarily stunned as we are made to follow the bloody dance on screen. Although not the most intellectually engaging or thematically original, “Don’t Torture a Duckling” remains an entertaining spectacle in a twisted sort of way.
For those who enjoy a little careless fright and sleazy gore, Fulci’s films make the perfect prelude to the Halloween spirit.
The Anthology’s retrospective runs from Oct. 21-31 at 32 2nd Ave.
Email Zuzia Czemier-Wolonciej at [email protected]