Industrial Chicken Farming Giallo Rules a Roost all its own.
DIRECTED BY GIULIO QUESTI/ITALIAN, ENGLISH/1968
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: NOVEMBER 10, 2020/CULT EPICS
Giallo or not Giallo? That is the question. At least, it’s the question for those who care to ask it. For this reviewer, with his somewhat limited exposure to the subset, the vote would be “not really”. Yes, the film wields no shortage of style. And yes, it has bizarre murders as a major plot point.
There’s a fundamental unsexiness in the very fabric of Death Laid an Egg (La morte ha fatto l’uovo), as it’s central locale is an industrial chicken farm. Sterile in aesthetic yet feather-filthy, the preponderance of the extra-terrestrial-like birds tips the scales so far into the territory of “ugly-mundane”. Dario Argento or Mario Bava this is not, though director Giulio Questi does apply a certain Antonioni flair to the proceedings. The many shots of the dehumanized poultry plant are as broadly cold in their wide-angle composition and stark daylight non-illumination as anything in Red Desert.
But in lieu of Antonioni’s “impossible beauty” Monica Vitti, Questi makes do with Ewa Aulin (Candy)- easy on the eyes but lacking the former’s inward transcendence. In fact, and perhaps by design, the casual sexiness of Aulin (the film is free of any era-typical nudity but stocked with skimpy outfits) actually strikes as abruptly anomalous within the imposing industrial din of the “factory”- a place which harbors secrets of its own. Her character, Gabri, is just one part of a relationship knot headed up by the plant-owning couple Anna (Gina Lollobrigida, Beat the Devil) and Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant, The Conformist; Amour).
Trintignant, a particularly venerable leading man of many decades whom Questi is very fortunate to have, is his own kind of “corrupt mesmerizing” here. The numerous odd layers of Death Laid an Egg’s story pop due to his enigmatic presence. Lollobrigida, as his suspicious and conniving wife, matches his commitment. By this phase of her career she’d just aged out of the ingenue roles that brought her fame, imbuing a different kind of mystique both expected yet twisted (which is completely in the spirit of Death Laid an Egg).
At times formally brilliant, Questi has assembled Death Laid an Egg almost impressionistically. The film is, in fact, at its best when it allows itself to go full avant-garde. Anyone who’s ever spent much time dealing with chickens will recognize the sheer “other-ness” about them as captured here. That austere and alien quality permeates the whole of the film, including its rather deranged plot. And while fans tend not to flock to Italian cult cinema for the plots, Questi’s warped approach to it (in its distorted muchness) validate Death Laid an Egg as the cinematic anomaly it’s come to be remembered to be. (Whether it “true” giallo or not).
Cult Epics has spared nothing with its tremendously handsome Blu-ray release of the film. Two separate cuts are presented, including a far more complete Director’s cut, not widely seen for years. The 2K HD transfer from the 35mm negative is entirely satisfy, allowing Questi’s bold color palette to pop in and around the industrial blah of the strange-and-stranger-still chicken plant. A caveat is that the extended scenes had to be salvaged from an Italian cut, which mean that the English language overdub momentarily switches to English-subtitled Italian for those portions. The picture quality also degrades somewhat, though not badly. These concessions are all worth it in the name of completeness of the filmmaker’s vision, which is clearly the gosl for Cult Epics with this release.
A fine new commentary track by author and film historian Troy Howarth and fellow film historian Nathaniel Thompson is a terrific accompaniment. Hopefully fans will appreciate, as this critic did, that they exhaust every possible chicken pun right out of the gate. Though whether that’s the last we hear of such humor will be left for listeners to discover.
Completists will be happy to know that several short 2009 bonus features have been included. These interviews, from an aesthetic perspective, are not the easiest views in the world, but they are brief. In the end, it’s better to have them as options on the disc. The same goes for Questi’s short 2002 apartment-bound camcorder movie, Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic. On the heels of Death Laid an Egg, this short is a jarringly amateur effort. Questi, now an old man, stars in and created this myopic exercise.
Here is the official listing of features for this very impressive Blu-ray edition from Cult Epics:
- 2K HD Transfer (from original 35mm negative) of Director’s cut version in English and Italian language (105 mins).
- Director’s Cut Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth (Author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films vol. 1, 2, 3) and Nathaniel Thompson (Author of DVD Delirium and founder of Mondo Digital).
- 2K HD Transfer (from original 35mm negative) of alternate International giallo “Plucked” version in English and Italian language (91 mins).
- Review by Italian critic Antonio Bruschini HD.
- Giulio Questi: The Outsider – the last interview HD 2010 (13 mins).
- Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic (2002) – Short film by Giulio Questi (15 mins).
- English & Italian language Trailers in HD.
- Lossless LPCM 2.0 Mono audio.
- Optional English subtitles for Italian language versions and trailer.
- Reversible sleeve with original Italian poster.
- Slipcase limited to first 2000 copies printed with fluorescent inks.