DEATH LAID AN EGG (1968) DIRECTOR’S CUT SPECIAL EDITION

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For our complete discussion of Death Laid an Egg, read the Canonically Weird entry.

I was thrilled in 2017 when ‘s chicken-centric surrealist giallo Death Laid an Egg finally hatched on DVD (until that time, it had only been available on VHS or poor-quality overseas bootlegs). One thing I did find room to complain about, however, was the loss of the absurd English dubbing, which added an additional layer of dementia to the already insane proceedings.  Cult Epics new Special Edition rerelease of the film answers that reservation, and throws in a few more surprises not on the previous release—most importantly, an additional 20 minutes of footage, now restored to produce a Director’s Cut version seen here for the first time since Death debuted.

Death Laid an Egg key artA true surrealist shock for 1968 viewers, Death Laid an Egg was not a hit on release, and was barely seen outside Italy. By 1970, however, the success of ‘s Bird with the Crystal Plumage was creating an international market for the Italian giallo. At 104 minutes, the already challenging (some would say incoherent) Death Laid an Egg featured far too much arty oddness and socialist satire to please the punters, but it did boast an exploitable amount of blood, sex, and a pair of gorgeous female leads in Gina Lollabrigida and . About fifteen minutes were trimmed, and Death was dubbed into English and released as Plucked, the version that most of the world has seen since. (This is the “Cliffs Notes” version of the release history, since actually at least two separate cuts of the film were made and released: see the excellent Movie Censorship entry for a more complete discussion).

The newly restored scenes mostly involve a character named Luigi, an old colleague of the protagonist whose significance (like so much in the film) is never made wholly clear. In a typical Questi twist, Luigi is partly amnesiac due to having undergone electroshock therapy. Other restorations involve a near topless scene for Aulin, gritty scenes of real poultry processing, Anna making elliptically morbid comments while looking at chicken embryo slides, and another encounter with the dispossessed farm workers. In a film where so many details and subplots are merely playful wild goose chases, the newly restored footage is, in some sense, inconsequential (although some have argued that Luigi’s character is crucial). But in any case, fifteen or twenty additional minutes of Death Laid an Egg is a blessing to be relished.

This edition gives you the option to watch the 90-minute dubbed version (Plucked) or the 104-minute director’s cut.  (You can watch the director’s cut with the English dub on; it just changes to subtitles when new footage plays, which also lets you know what’s new). As I did in my original review, I still contend that whoever did the translation for the dubbed version improved on the dialogue versus the person who translated the subtitles. The dialogue simultaneously sounds more natural to English-speakers and more poetic. “I think that’s a peculiar way to put it, men and chickens mixed up like that,” is snappier than the subtitle’s rendition of the same line, “This is a bit dubious, I think. How can you humanize chickens like that?” The spoken line “Your bra and panties are almost as important as what’s under them” is much more to the point than the written version, “lingerie is the most important. It’s almost more important than the skin underneath.” It’s likely that the original cast (the four principals included two Frechmen and a Swede) were dubbed into Italian anyway, so there’s no question of linguistic authenticity: in this case, go with the superior English dub.

Giallo scholar Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson (of Mondo Digital) provide an informative commentary track. Wisely, neither try to interpret the film’s many mysteries and peculiarities, but limit themselves to supplying context and background on Questi, the cast and crew, and the Italian film industry of the time. Other special features include two trailers, a video review by Antonio Bruchini, Questi’s last recorded interview (he doesn’t discuss Death Laid an Egg), and one of the director’s final short films, 2002’s “Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic.” In the interview Questi seems quite proud of the short, but I found it sad to see a man who once shot big-budget films with movie stars on location reduced to starring in his own camcorder YouTube uploads, set entirely in his own apartment.

Death Laid an Egg postcard
Postcard art featuring “Luigi”

Early editions of this set come with a slipcase and a package of collectible postcards. The only advantage Cult Epics previous release has over this one is that it includes a DVD copy (older limited releases also contained the rare Bruno Maderna soundtrack CD). But this is the Egg we’ve been dying for.

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