Non Si Sevizia un Paperino
(Don't Torture a Duckling)

Synopsis: In the small Italian village of Accendura, a killer is preying on young boys. Suspicion falls on each of the local "outsiders": the village idiot, who hides one of the bodies to perpetrate a foolish "kidnapping" scam; an old hermit, who says a saint appeared to him and warned him of one of the crimes; the local witch, who thinks she killed the children by magic because they tried to dig up her dead child; and a rich man's daughter, a recovering drug addict with a taste for young boys. When the witch, insane but not guilty, is released by the police, the village men get together and beat her to death. It's left to another outsider, a reporter, to figure out what the locals are unable to see for themselves: the killer is the local priest, who kills little boys when they seem to be in danger of losing their innocence.

Fulci's blistering attack on closed-mindedness is every bit as brutal today as when it was released. Abandoning the cool, reserved tone of Beatrice Cenci, Fulci is much more aggressive in Non Si Sevizia..., confronting us with really horrible images and perverse situations.

No-one is who he or she appears to be in this movie. The vigilantes who punish the outsiders have the same mind-set as the killer, and the killer himself is not an outsider at all - he's one of the "pillars of the community" (in most thrillers this would be just another ironic twist, but in this one, it's because he's at the moral heart of the community that he has become a murderer). Even the reporter who eventually untangles the situation has his secrets: we think he's going to "end up with the girl" until just before the climax, when he reveals that the reason the case means so much to him is that he has children (and a wife) at home.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of a very brutal film is the murder of the "witch" Macciara. The woman has actually confessed to the killings, because the children had harrassed her near the burial place of her infant child. She truly believes that she had killed them with a magical spell. Of course, this turns out to be nonsense, and Macciara herself is just a slightly mad outcast. She's also an epileptic, and it's not hard to imagine how an epileptic child could grow up shunned and accused of sorcery by the residents of a backwater like Accendura. Even after her release, though, the villagers decide that she is not worthy to live among them. A handful of village men surround her in the cemetery and beat her to death with chains. The men act almost casual as they murder the poor woman: they don't look at her, or at each other, staring instead off at the sky or down at the ground. They seem to be waiting idly for soemthing to happen, and then they swing into action with sudden, horrible force. They seem to prefigure Fulci's later, impersonally murderous zombies -- except that these zombies will go home, break bread with their families, go to Church with a clean conscience, and sleep well at night. And as this awful scene plays out, the men have turned up the radio to cover the sound. A sickly, sentimental love song accompanies the scene (and it's the same tune that has served as the leitmotif for the whole movie).

The uncertainty of all the characters and their relationships, and the near-impossibility of our making any moral judgments on them, contrasts with the rock-solid "clarity" of the killer's moral choices. This becomes apparent in the final moments of the film, as the priest's delirious fantasies of sending his boys to Heaven alternate with slow-motion images of the priest's bloody death. This is a dirty, brutal, squalid film - and it just happens to be one of Fulci's best, most powerful and most personal movies.

Things I learned from this movie: priests' heads explode on impact.