Rural Italy's cultural morass --
-- of ancient superstition --
-- modern violence --
-- political corruption and incompetence --
-- repressed sexuality --
-- more repressed sexuality --
-- even more repressed sexuality --
-- the dwarfed and dwarfing evil of Catholic hypocrisy --
-- and Catholic misogyny --
-- are laid bare with an unexpected Gnostic twist in director Lucio Fulci's scathing cultural satire and personal masterpiece -- DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING.
Fulci -- armed with an adroit, articulate mis-en-scene --
-- sets up Maciara (portrayed by Florinda Bolkan)-- a sympathetic, misunderstood gypsy "witch" as a feminine counter-point --
-- and red herring -- to the child murdering priest -- Don Alberto (Marc Porel) --
-- a respected town figurehead whose deceptive motivations are rooted in a religiously repressed homosexual jealousy --
-- and gives her spiritual beliefs equal weight with those of the culture at large.
This sense of balance makes the attack on Maciara by a gang of superstitious male villagers --
-- as disturbing as the murderous assaults by Don Alberto on the boys in his congregation --
-- and underlines the vulnerable, non-Catholic nature of the movie's victims.
Don Alberto pursues knowledge of the world within the restrictive confines of Catholic dogma.
And suffers disastrous consequences to his spirit and psyche.
This brings us to the Gnostic aspect of DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING --
-- illustrated in the movie's climactic sequence when the priest is sent surfing down the side of a granite cliff.
At the core of Gnostic belief is the concept of duality --
-- duality of the universe and of individual human beings -- as, for example, bullet-pointed in this Theology Card:
Benevolent spirits of good or "sparks" as Gnostics metaphorically describe them --
-- are imprisoned within corrupted vessels/bodies that are animated by perverted natures and a demonic creator.
Knowledge (gnosis) of this situation and a clear perception of the world's true two-faced nature are the only hope for a spirit in this material world.
The film's climactic sequence on the cliff --
-- dramatizes the moment the spirit is separated --
-- and released from its corporeal prison with a transition from a living actor --
-- to an articulated dummy --
-- a dummy, literally shooting "sparks" from its head.
Not just once --
-- but twice!
The deceptively attractive "face" of intrinsic evil --
-- is shorn from the priest --
-- on the jagged "face" of the cliff --
-- as the spirit escapes to freedom --
-- and reunification with the realms of light.
A last, thoughtful touch is how Lucio moves up from the inert, empty carcass of Don Alberto to the heavens as the end titles roll.
It's hard to believe that it has been 12 years since the passing of our good friend and mentor, Lucio Fulci.
It has been a very long 12 years.
17 June 1927 - 13 March 1996