BR: Death Laid an Egg / La morte ha fatto l’uovo / Plucked (1968)

December 30, 2020 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Cult Epics

Region: A, B, C

Released:  November 10, 2020

Genre:  Giallo / Thriller / Suspense / Cinema Bizarre

Synopsis: The co-owner of an advanced poultry farm indulges in violent sexual escapades when dissatisfaction with his marriage and business practices become increasingly intolerable. Oh yeah: there’s also headless & wingless chickens.

Special Features:  105 mins. Director’s Cut + 91 mins. International ‘Giallo / Plucked’ Cut 2K HD transfers mastered from 35mm negatives / Audio Commentary by genre historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson on Director’s Cut / Video Review by Italian critic Antonio Bruschini / 2010 Giulio Questi Interview “Giulio Questi: The Outsider” (13 mins.) / 2002 Short Film by Giulio Questi: “Dorctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic” (15 mins.) / English + Italian Theatrical Trailers / Reversible English & Italian sleeve / O-sleeve with phosphorescent ink limited to first 2000 copies.




Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg will probably rank as the strangest giallo ever produced, if not a leading example of Cinema Bizarre.

Questi and co-writer / film editor Franco Arcalli stuck with the basic conventions of the giallo format – double-crossing, murder, mayhem, sex, and a finale with a morbid sense of irony – but they applied their own stylistic approaches and political subtext that probably had people walking out of theatres, enraged they weren’t given a standard giallo thriller.

Even at the film’s halfway mark, it’s hard to figure out exactly what Death is all about, and yet there’s something incredibly dynamic about the filmmakers’ methodology in applying an experimental, deconstructionist style that’s quite unconventional to the genre.

Questi’s background in documentaries and screenwriting may have fed his fascination in adding sometimes clashing elements to standard generic structures, yet denying fans some of the very teasing components integral to spaghetti westerns, the supernatural horror, and in this case, the giallo.

Arcalli’s own interest in writing and editing also seemed to determine his visually experimental approach in fracturing scenes, playing with misdirection, blendering time periods, and similarly sharing a desire to critique the politics and greed of capitalism and upscale socialites and industrialists.

Death is ostensibly a giallo about a husband sleeping with his wife’s younger & sexier cousin and maintaining a sideline killing prostitutes in fetishistic scenarios, but it’s also a marital drama in which the husband lacks the absolute control of his wife’s company, and perhaps rebuilds his masculinity through sexual treachery, and bloody murder. Questi and Arcalli also fire satirical shotgun pellets at industrial-scale poultry, from the couple’s hatchery and breeding operations to the increasing demand by the poultry association to up production, get everyone hooked on chicken, and get more profits.

And the weirdest moment in the drama is unexpectedly prescient: a freak event leads to the creation of wingless, headless chickens that offer the potential to breed nearly pure meat – itself a contemporary goal to offer genetically modified meat products that are grown rather than sliced from felled creatures.

But first, let’s start with the film’s extraordinary visual style.



The opening sequence introducing Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a fractured montage featuring selected hotel guests and their secret habits, such as an old man readying himself for a suicide attempt, and Marco opening up his little briefcase of murder tools before he slashes a prostitute, and then calmly returns to finish the day at the office, still carrying his murder attaché.

Arcalli’s editing is amazingly fluid in the way he compacts events without creating raw jump-cuts; it’s a style that’s consistent in the film, and while it doesn’t augment already slightly discontinuous scenes, it gives the film a very unique and dynamic rhythm.

There are many superbly constructed sequences, but a highlight has Marco driving his convertible with his cousin-in-law / lover Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin) on the highway, and halfway through their conversation, he recalls a slice from his childhood that had his parents involved in a vicious car crash.

Questi emphasizes driving sounds and moving lines – extreme close-ups of tire-level painted dividers sweeping off-screen and off-ramp guides – which Arcalli intercuts between the conversationalists to create a sense of deadly speed before the rhythm is fractured by flash edits of a twisted and flaming car crash, and a bloodied woman approaching the camera like a scene from a gory zombie thriller.

Death is fairly low on action, but the film’s visual momentum is also maintained in the way the actors’ bodies become abstract, faceless creatures. This is particularly evident in the lone bedroom scene between Marco and his wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida), in which the unhappy couple are reduced to a seated male torso (seen from the backside), and a headless female torso resting in bed like a silky fleshy sculpture.



Questi  also choreographs the film’s characters like vain birds, their heads pivoting, turning, spiralling and interweaving, with beautiful male and female fowl in chic hairstyles, pastel costumes, iridescent wigs, and sometimes piercing eyes, as with blue-eyed Aulin and Gabrielle’s own side-lover, Mondaini (painter-actor Jean Sobieski, and father of American actress Leelee Sobieski).

Dario Di Palma’s lush cinematography is stunning, with his soft-focus compositions of objects and people resembling fashion magazine portraiture. No shot is vulgar or overtly erotic; the women are presented in nuanced portraits, capturing quivering lips, a staid face, or a visage expressing slowly wandering thoughts. There’s no gratuitous nudity; even the prostitutes Marco subjects to his dark fantasies are seen briefly, minimizing the sleaze factor often inherent to the giallo.

Whether inspired by chickens, or Carl Dreyer’s use of close-ups, Questi’s visuals also follow his cast in elaborate tracking shots, often with flattened telephoto images with boke, and blurred, almost vignetted framing, as in the fantastic love scene in which Marco and Gabrielle roll over each other amid wild flowers after a truly weird trek through a claustrophobic cornfield – the latter seen only in POV and reverse angles.



The cast’s performances are very subdued, and the characters seem generally cold and unsympathetic, but they’re also aloof, and drifting between their own odd little worlds: Marco is never quite grounded in his marriage, his affair, his corporate job, nor murder scenarios, and he seems perpetually preoccupied; Anna seems content with a dull emotional days & nights, and only comes to life in a photo montage after she’s ejected the bulk of her hatchery staff – blue-collar men – for an automated, Dutch-designed food grinder that’s easily operated by a single person; and Gabrielle seems quietly amused by her cousin’s likely indifference to her affair with Marco – besides a typist and general assistant duties, Gabrielle is a live-in business aide, and occasional marital fluffer.

Questi isn’t subtle in using Marco as an unlikely rebel among immoral capitalists playing God with Nature, but whether it’s the political subtext or exchanges between his giallo archetypes, the dialogue’s emotional tenor is steadily muted. Questi has characters positing moral and life issues, but a little clumsily, as though Questi wants his characters to sound dopey because he has contempt for the distracted antics of the privileged. He and Arcalli delight in showcasing their vapid socializing – best dramatized in a game orchestrated by Mondaini in which couples and would-be couples are locked in a freshly emptied room, and forced to confront inhibitions or secrets or vulnerabilities in starkly lit whiteness, or sudden lapses into total darkness.

The film’s colour scheme of soft, pastel shades radically minimize the glossy garish primary colours typical of the 1960s, so Death looks surprisingly contemporary. Neither the clothes nor furniture is outrageously voguish, and Gabrielle’s attire often looks retro-chic, particularly a blue and white polka dot outfit, regal hairstyle & blue ribbons in ‘the room of truth’ sequence.

Several sets are equally modern, including the mid-century hotel where Marco enacts his violent sexual fantasies (the molded concrete and cold white walls in the suites’ hallway resemble a corporate bureau); and the shiny new chicken hatchery, where a chemist breeds the mutant chickens.

For the characters, the hatchery is just another exotic backdrop where deceit and murder occur, but in Questi’s hands, he uses Marco as a man who develops a sudden conscience by finding revulsion in Anna’s firm desire to breed more of the mutant chickens – a conflict that sours their marriage, their resident chemist, and the poultry producers association.

The last key component in Questi’s wacky film is Bruno Maderna’s avant-garde score. The sparse themes often infer a kind of character disconnection where lovers, couples, murderers and corporations all suffer from an inability to connect with their companions, interpersonal or on a consumer level.

Maderna also adds his own surreal tone to the film by writing a piece Marco, Anna, and Gabrielle play to excite the chickens in their hatchery – a frenetic samba, over which scat Brazilian vocals shout above a funky guitar. It’s hard to tell whether the source music’s supposed to enliven the birds, increase productivity, or colour the trio’s management style as another ditzy rich indulgence. Maderna’s love theme is a delicate contrast, but the vocal does shift from cooing, descending words to sudden scolding outbursts.


Versions, Releases, and Rediscovery

Death has had a rather tough release history theatrically, on TV, and on home video. In his last on-camera interview from 2010, Questi cites the film’s original running time at around 2 hours, but he may be referring to the 105 min. cut which briefly circulated in Italian cinemas before it was cut down to roughly 86-90 mins..

Commentators and historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson detail slightly different edits for the Italian theatrical reissue and other European cinemas, such the 86 min. Japanese Region 2 DVD, the German 84 min. Blu-ray from 2003, and Cult Epics’ own 89 min. 2017 Blu-ray. The last video release was bolstered with an isolated score gallery  featuring Maderna’s bonkers score, but it was Nucleus Films’ 2018 Region B Blu-ray featuring Questi’s Director’s Cut / aka Giallo Cut that rectified the need for a definitive release, being a 2K HD transfer mastered from a negative and cleaner elements from a negative of the International 91 min. version.

Cult Epics licensed the 105 min. Nucleus transfer in 2020, yet both releases feature differing special features. The Nucleus disc includes a commentary with Kim Newman and Alan Jones, separate featurettes on director Questi, the film’s unique score, BBFC certification edits, and promo galleries, whereas Cult Epics’ disc sports the 91 and 105 min. versions, a proprietary commentary with Howarth and Jones, and some extras from archival Italian sources.



While the shift in footage between the longer and shorter edits is sometimes evident – material in the longer cut has a higher contrast, and more reddish skin tones – the film’s sleek visual design and Arcalli’s editing almost neuters any seams.

The material in the longer cut is also truly fascinating. A minor character named Luigi (Renato Romano) is wholly restored, although he’s a weird dreamlike figure who drifts into Marco’s life, and his omission doesn’t really take anything away from the narrative. The character first appears during a screening of what’s an explainer film for the characters (and us), detailing the genesis of a chicken fetus, its growth, and formation into a living creature – footage no doubt interpolated in the film’s superb Main Title sequence.

Other deleted material shows Marco and colleagues being hectored by association leaders to ramp up production, and some very graphic material of chickens being slaughtered in a lengthy, grotty sequence emphasizing the suffering and crude ‘plucking’ of the cadavers. Also expanded is a sequence where the presumably fired hatchery workers participate in the mass-release of chickens in streets, with (presumably) communist liberators grabbing and tossing whole birds at greedy capitalist motorists and passersby.

Both versions work, and those more intrigued by Questi and Arcalli’s central narrative may prefer the shorter version, but it is a delight to see Questi’s original vision, with its weird distractions, indulgences, and shock sequences that ensure Death is perhaps the most atypical, strangest giallo ever rendered.

The film didn’t help Questi’s career directing feature films, though. After his debut, the spaghetti western Django Kill— If You Line, Shoot! (1967), he tackled the giallo in 1968 and the supernatural horror Arcana (1972), after which he returned to documentaries, short films, and TV, working from 1981 to 2011, before passing away at 90 in 2014.

Extras ported over from the Nucleus release is aforementioned 2010 archival interview with the director reflecting on screenwriting and aspects of Death, as filmed in a  projection room; and an appreciation by Italian critic Bruschini filmed in the upper regions of a cinema. The editing in both is pretty crude and frenetic, and rapid English subtitles notwithstanding, the content is fairly solid.

Unique to the Cult Epics release is Questi’s  2002 short film “Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic” which relates to Questi’s 2010 interview, wherein he details the advantages of the camcorder and the freedom allowed to anyone with a home. “Schizo” is a short & sweet narrative showing the director reading poetry, and a mysterious figure who emerges in his apartment with a particular grudge. The Italian language, video-shot short is fairly slick for a personal experiment, and has English subtitles.

The real delight in Cult Epics’ 2020 edition is the Jones-Howarth commentary which provides an excellent examination of where Death rests within the giallo genre, and where it goes wacky, plus the assorted in-jokes and recurring ovoid and poultry imagery, like the giant egg at the association’s granite-slabbed headquarters, the weird chicken painting behind the poultry head’s desk, and an office where file storage boxes have chickens poking through finger holes.

Jones & Howarth have great sympathy for the film, and its maker who perhaps didn’t care if his generic take was misunderstood by the masses; in the 2010 interview, Questi has no regrets for his experimentation, and has fondness and pride for his genetically recombined creations / cinematic mutations.

Death isn’t for the average giallo connoisseur, but those intrigued by exceptions, experiments, and a form of filmmaking that’s part modernist, crackhead, pop-art and odd-art, it’s a delight that gets better with each viewing – as does Maderna’s score.





After co-writing and editing Questi’s three features, Arcalli remained very active, cutting many works for Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist, 1900), Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (Love Circle, and the extraordinary Addio fratello crudele / ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore), Michelangelo Antonioni (Zabriskie Point), and Valerio Zurlini (the dreamy non-action epic The Desert of the Tartars).

Former Miss Teen Sweden of 1965 / co-star Ewa Aulin, who’s actually very good in Death, had previously appeared with Trintignant in Tinto Brass’s own remarkable, eccentric, pop-art giallo Deadly Sweet / Col cuore in gola (1967), and earned a bit of immortality / immediate notoriety playing the lead in the nutty Candy (1968) before appearing in a few more sex comedies, erotic dramas, and gialli, including La Morte ha sorriso all’assassino / Death Smiled at Murder and Ceremonia sangrienta / Blood Castle (both 1973), after which she retired at the ripe old age of 23.



© 2020 Mark R. Hasan





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