New To Blu: Death Laid An Egg (1968) - Reviewed

Let’s allow our minds to be melted into the surreal boiling pot of Italian director Guilio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg. Before we are fully submerged into the intimately jarring funhouse of this 1960’s femme fatale giallo let’s establish some context of origin.

Enter a filmmaker who was relatively uncelebrated in his own time, as he spent his foundation years honing a skill-set writing scripts and filming documentaries before moving on to write and direct his own features. Whilst working on the script for La morte ha fatto l’uovo (Death Laid an Egg) which was set to give us our first glimpse of his avant-garde artistic vision, Questi was given the opportunity to co-direct a spaghetti western (Django Kill). Here is a creator who takes on a genre with relatively fixed parameters and bends them to the whim and fancy of his imagination. It was then that we could begin to discern the ubiquitous ear marking of a Questi production.

Death Laid an Egg invites you to take a curious glimpse through a voyeuristic lense whilst the clunky and out of tune piano plays on your senses. We are thrust through this intimately shot, fantasy fetish peephole and left peering through the blinds and keyholes of different hotel rooms and the depraved goings on within. A man exits swiftly from one particular room, played by leading man of the era Jean-Louis Trintignant. We have just been offered glimpses and fragments of him, a prostitute and a briefcase full of torture essentials playing out a deep dark murder fantasy. Could he be a serial killer on the weekend then husband and chicken farm owner during the week? Did you ever think you would have to ask yourself that question?

As he assimilates back into his real life we begin to understand his character’s motivations; a dominant and distant wife who holds the reigns on their financial fortune and a young and desirable mistress using jealousy as a weapon for her own materialistic gain. It is all relatively chaste by today’s standards, but the claustrophobic and anxiety inducing editing establishes an air of cold sweat and paranoia from the outset. One that has not lost its unsettling grip over time and still remains finely tuned into the dark side of basic human instinct that drives our most primal and forbidden desires.

All of these themes are relevant to the world as we know it six decades on. The presence of gender inequality particularly in the work place, female empowerment and the fear of emasculation will never become outdated topics of conversation. These themes are cleverly alluded to. Along with the idea that technology and progression will mean we slowly deviate further and further away from our humanity, which has been a constant pause for concern throughout history. Questi touches on all these deep rooted and contentious elements with a lightness of foot and a little nod to the more modern generations taking note of his work.

He has cleverly cemented himself as a director with a vision whilst also enjoying the trappings and aesthetic visual pull of 1960’s film iconography. The sex-kitten makeup and coiffed Bond girl hair teamed with beautiful cars and affluent dinner parties. It screams Hitchcock at every turn, coming after Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959) like a thief in the night. It is a definite homage and an example of the artistic zeitgeist of a particular era, but with exotic and sensual elements of insanity that establish a voice that can only be synonymous with one director.

The score composed by Bruno Maderna was designed to be so unflinchingly irritating in places it not only got under my skin, but made me want to peel it off and wear it as a hat. It all plays into this harrowing neurotic energy that permeates throughout the entire film and the idea that all of the relationships that play out are built on a foundation of lies and deceit. I will say there are times when the tension is broken by down right laugh out loud moments (did you see the headless chickens?). It would be impossible to watch a death by chicken pellet grinder with a straight face. All of these elements of the macabre, possibly accidental comedy are of course examples of an artist at play. It’s pure unadulterated imagination, partially structured anarchy and self indulgent car crash fantasy viewing. You can’t look away so you have no choice but to go along for the ride. 

Death Laid an Egg is available on Blu-ray from Cult Epics.

-Erin Ring