DEATH LAID AN EGG (1968) Region B Blu-ray
Director: Giulio Questi
Nucleus Films

Gina Lollobrigida, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Ewa Aulin get "plucked" when DEATH LAID AN EGG, on Blu-ray from Nucleus Films.

Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant, A MAN AND A WOMAN) is an executive in charge of his wealthy wife Anna's (Gina Lollobrigida, BEAT THE DEVIL) chicken farm which has just gone high-tech with automation and an emphasis on scientific development, leaving the laid-off workers angry and milling about on the outskirts of the property. While his wife is beautiful, he resents her power over him and has been carrying on an affair with her younger cousin Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin, DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER) who has been staying with them since her parents were killed in a road accident. Under the guise of meetings at the poultry concern, Marco steals away to a highway motel to slash the throats of prostitutes. Someone else knows this and has not only been sending him photographs of his clandestine activities but also evidence that he has been trying to off his wife by way of accidents. Marco has started to suspect that Gabrielle, who is prone to wandering about at night, has another lover, and the likely man is handsome young ad man Mondaini (PERVERSION STORY's Jean Sobieski, father of EYES WIDE SHUT's Leelee Sobieski) tasked by the all-powerful "association" with mounting an ad campaign casting "the chicken as the principal actor in the drama of modern life!" Marco plots Anna's death, but his plans are frustrated by his own accidental sabotage of the farm's embryo modification experiments resulting in mutations that produce headless, wingless, living chickens. Meanwhile, an anonymous note reveals to Anna her husband's secret meetings and she enlists Gabrielle to help her catch him in the act, possibly putting one or both of them at the end of the blade.

Classified by some as a proto-giallo and others as a deconstruction of the genre – especially in light of Giulio Questi's previous leftist take on the spaghetti western with DJANGO KILL! IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! – DEATH LAID AN EGG, co-scripted and edited by Bernardo Bertolucci collaborator Franco Arcalli, definitely seems to be more the latter in such as it was deconstructing a certain kind of giallo that preceded the turn towards body count plotting in light of the success of Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Questi's film, instead, takes on the jet set gialli modeled after LES DIABOLIQUES with an emphasis on what the bourgeoisie get up to in their leisure time, spinning the traditional thriller plot within a sixties meditation on moral malaise that one would expect of Michelangelo Antonioni. Anna and Gabrielle are either sunning by a dinky swimming pool or manning the feed machines while Marco has forgone his artistic interests to attend meetings in offices dominated by giant eggs and chicken pop art or shelves where live chickens are filed as part of collected data. Such absurdities would tip the film over into comedy were it not for Questi's visual approach where character either become player pieces moving through symmetrical compositions as they go about their day robotically or have their bodies broken up and faces occluded by the camera during attempts at intimate physical or emotional contact as photographed by Dario Di Palma (nephew of Woody Allen's one-time DP of choice Carlo Di Palma) and assisted by Giuseppe Lanci (NOSTAGLHIA) and Blasco Giurato (CINEMA PARADISO). Questi's original cut was trimmed of fifteen to twenty minutes for its Italian reissue and various export versions (although the BFI's Monthly Film Bulletin listed the UK release as 105 minutes). Some of these cuts are to the "association" scenes in which some dialogue about cost efficiency and obsolescence of labor may have seemed redundant given exchanges between Anna and Marco about the workers, but they also include the deletion of an entire character: a friend of Marco's Luigi (Renato Romano, DORIAN GRAY) who had a nervous breakdown and whose subsequent electroshock treatment has given him a detached view of society and his former high-stress, high stakes position as a lawyer. Without these bits between Marco and Luigi, Marco proclaiming to Gabrielle that he wants to run away with her and be free seems like formulaic noir motivation for offing one's wealthy spouse; and it makes more sense of Marco's resolving that he has a sort of freedom in making decisions he does not care about on behalf of his wife who otherwise controls the business and the purse. Bruno Maderna provides an avant-garde score in which the frolicking of humans and chickens alike are scored with flamenco while the film's suspense scenes are lent a more atonal accompaniment. Trintignant and Aulin had previously appeared together in Tinto Brass' Pop Art giallo DEADLY SWEET. The supporting cast includes Giuliano Raffaelli (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) and Margherita Horowitz (SUSPIRIA).

Released theatrically in the US as PLUCKED! by Universal Marion Corporation (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) and in the UK as A CURIOUS WAY TO LOVE by Butcher Film Distributors (AN ANGEL FOR SATAN), DEATH LAID AN EGG was largely inaccessible to English-speaking audiences apart from a foreign-subtitled source tracked down by Video Search of Miami during their initial foreign video hunt in South Florida in the late eighties. A better non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer showed up on DVD in Japan with English audio, but was as cost-prohibitive as many Japanese DVDs. On the gray market circuit, a longer cut of the film turned upon German VHS. Cult Epics in the United States and Nucleus Films in the United Kingdom started Kickstarter campaigns to fund restorations around the same time, but Cult Epics limited edition release featured a poor master of the "giallo cut" (88:35) in Italian with English subtitles. Nucleus, on the other hand, have created a new transfer of the full giallo cut (90:45) from the original camera negative and recreated Questi's original director's cut (104:26) utilizing an archival 35mm print. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen image reveals more peripheral information on all four sides of the frame and sports overall finer detail, including highlights clipped on both the standard definition releases and Cult Epics' older master. Coming from a 35mm print, the restored scenes are a bit contrastier than the rest of the transfer but it will likely be more noticeable for viewers auditing the English track by their reverting to Italian. The giallo cut is included with the same specs but at a lower bitrate, but still more than watchable compared to what has come before. The English and Italian dubs are included in LPCM 2.0 mono with full English subtitles as well as English subtitles for scenes where the director's cut reverts to Italian.

The director's cut is accompanied by an audio commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman. As with other tracks, they seem a bit flip and winging it at first, but they are informed about the differences between the two cuts of the film and offer up interpretation of what the deletions cost it. They also frame the film not only within the era's giallo contemporaries but also such films as Michael Winner's I'LL NEVER FORGET WHAT'S 'ISNAME. They contrast Questi's leftist leaning with that of Argento in that TENEBRAE was conjectured as set in a future in which all of the poor had disappeared while their disenfranchisement is a concern of DEATH LAID AN EGG. They trace Lollobrigida's career back to Mario Bava and also make the case of art film star Trintignant not being so out-of-place in a genre film given his appearance in Lenzi's SO SWEET, SO PERVERSE as well as a similarly kinky role in Alain Robbe-Grillet's TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS and various French policier films (some considered as art films in English-speaking countries).

“Discovering Questi” (19:47) is a featurette with BFI Blu-ray/DVD producer James Blackford who discusses Questi's largely obscure early career including his career as a film journalist for his own magazine and then a leftish art publication to his early short films, a small role in LA DOLCE VITA, co-directing a mondo film with Elio Petri (THE TENTH VICTIM), co-writing Luigi Bazzoni's THE POSSESSED, as well as helming episodes of the portmanteau films LATIN LOVERS and AMORI PERICOLOSI before his discussion of the thematically-related genre deconstruction trilogy DJANGO KILL!, DEATH LAID AN EGG, and ARCANA. “Sonic Explorations” (23:51) is an interview with soundtrack collector Lovely Jon who has DJ'd sound installations with Italian soundtrack music – including live performances by Alessandro Alessandroni – and covers both his admiration for Maderna's score as well as what he has learned of the composer and the score (themes of which were reworked from earlier albums).

“The Outsider: A Conversation with Guilio Questi” (12:40) is an interview with the director focusing largely on his creative process and his more recent work with video, noting that he views cinema as Pop Art and that genre guarantees a "well-structured dramaturgy" while experimentation come out of the work for him during the editing phase after starting with a clear story. The Antonio Brushini review (5:07) notes the type of gialli of the period the film sought to deconstruct, the initial Venice Film Festival reception, the effect of the cutting of the reissue version, and what documentation existed about the cut footage before it was rediscovered. As with Nucleus Films' LADY FRANKENSTEIN, the “BBFC Cuts” featurette (7:25) did not have the actual British version to reference so it show the text of the cutting notes alongside the uncut scenes. The disc also includes the film's English credits (2:19) – sadly not the American "PLUCKED" title card – as well as the German credits (1:08). Both the English trailer (3:53) and the Italian trailer (3:45) employ narration exclusive to them to convey a sense of plot while misleading viewers to believe the film focuses on the homicidal impulses of Trintignant's protagonist. A promotional gallery (6:42) and home video gallery (1:43) are included, the latter featuring among many examples the Venezuelan VHS from which European Trash Cinema's Craig Ledbetter rediscovered the film after seeing it originally as PLUCKED, and the text on the film from his fanzine is presented in full (2:01), although viewers will have to pause (and possibly zoom) to read it. Missing from the standard edition is the slipcover, reversible cover, lobby card reproductions, and poster. (Eric Cotenas)