The Giallo Project #5: Death Laid an Egg
Alternative titles: La Morte ha fatto l’uovo; Plucked; A Curious Way to Love; Director: Giulio Questi; Starring: Gina Lollobrigida, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ewa Aulin, Jean Sobieski; Music: Bruno Maderna; Italian theatrical release date: January 9th, 1968
Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has married for money, which comes in the form of the chicken farm owned by his wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida). It’s a state of the art affair, employing all manner of high-tech machinery and avant garde music to get the chickens in the correct psychological frame of mind. Marco, however, has a few sordid secrets up his sleeve. Not only is he carrying on an affair with Anna’s cousin Gabriella (Ewa Aulin), he also takes regular trips to a hotel, where he indulges in the murder of prostitutes. Nothing is quite as it seems, however, with multiple conspiracies brewing beneath the surface, and everything eventually explodes in a cocktail of mind games, backstabbing and, yes, headless chickens. (From my review at DVD Times)
I defy anyone to claim that the giallo was a movement aimed exclusively at grindhouse audiences, as Mikel Koven’s book La Dolce Morte suggests, after watching this film. The clearest frame of reference seems to be Jean-Luc Godard, as evinced by the wildly experimental editing, while the sweltering heat that can be palpably felt throughout the entire film recalls the Western Django, Kill… If You Live, Shoot! for which Questi is best remembered. You won’t find much Bava here… then again, you won’t find much Antonioni either. Death Laid an Egg sports one of the most bizarre titles in the entire giallo catalogue, and is a baffling mindfuck of a movie. As an experiment, it’s an interesting one, but as a commercial film, the end result is somewhat less than the sum of its parts, for, while the various avant garde techniques of narrative and editing that co-writer and director Giulio Questi exploits are definitely interesting and give the film a tone unlike any other giallo, they ultimately serve to make the film more frustrating than engaging.
This is a film that seems to be off-kilter right from the start, as the opening titles play out over stock footage of microscopic close-ups of living organisms, set to the crashing and banging of Bruno Maderna’s weird, jaunty, atonal score, which manages to be both incredibly annoying and incredibly catchy at the same time. This segues into a truly baffling scene showing various hotel guests doing a mixture of mundane and bizarre things in their rooms - polishing knives, combing hair, preparing to commit suicide, and so on. Like much of the rest of the film, this first scene promises much but ultimately delivers little: a series of non-sequiturs with little pay-off. In a sense, it doesn’t work because, despite using experimental editing techniques and throwing in a whole bunch of inexplicable cutaways and seemingly irrelevant plot strands, Questi still insists on tying it all to a relatively straightforward narrative structure. The thriller element, which doesn’t really surface until well into the second half, and has more in common with a domestic melodrama than the urban slashers popularised by Dario Argento, doesn’t really fit, while what seem to be various criticisms of commercialism don’t really go anywhere meaningful.
What does work very well, however, is the claustrophobic atmosphere. The film seems to take place in the middle of the Italian summer, with the light so bright and the heat clearly so intense that at times it feels as if the characters are actually being suffocated. Even during the night scenes, the characters (or is that the actors?) look as if they are on the verge of collapse, while the fact that everyone looks (and sounds, at least in the English version) incredibly bored and tired seems somewhat appropriate given the film’s rather biting portrayal of this section of society. In true giallo fashion, everyone is deceiving everyone else (the constant allusions to masks are perhaps just a little too bludgeoning), and the glee with which certain characters approach the prospect of pretending to be someone else just serves to underscore how thoroughly tedious their everyday lives are.
Death Laid an Egg has built up quite a following in certain circles, most likely on account of its obscurity and weirdness - how could a film which features genetically mutated chickens that are basically falls of meat with pulsating veins and feet not be embraced by the cult circuit? A film doesn’t, after all, have to be brilliant in order to develop a cult following: often, simply being weird is enough. While Death Laid an Egg is not a bad film per se, it is an unsuccessful one - one that add two and two together and doesn’t quite make four.
Next time, I’ll be tackling a film I’ve never seen before, Antonio Margheriti’s 1968 offering Naked You Die.