[This October is "Gialloween" on Daily Dead, as we celebrate the Halloween season by diving into the macabre mysteries, creepy kills, and eccentric characters found in some of our favorite giallo films! Keep checking back on Daily Dead this month for more retrospectives on classic, cult, and altogether unforgettable gialli, and visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Gialloween special features!]
When I think of giallo films, I think of killers lurking in the shadows on cobblestone streets in ancient cities, the collars of their coats turned up and their black-gloved hands reaching out for their next unsuspecting victim. What I don’t think of is a chicken farm, but that’s precisely the location of 1968’s Death Laid an Egg, aka La morte ha fatto l'uovo, and that unique locale for a giallo (combined with one hell of an eye-catching title), is precisely why I chose to watch this film for Daily Dead’s Gialloween retrospective series. A giallo set on a chicken farm? I had to see how director Giulio Questi pulled it off.
As it turns out, a chicken farm is not where all of the action takes place in Death Laid an Egg, as the film splits its time between the countryside where married couple Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) and Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) operate their state-of-the-art poultry breeding business and the city where Marco works in his office… and spends time in room 724 at his favorite hotel. To avoid his loveless marriage down at the farm, Marco has made a habit out of spending more time with prostitutes in room 724 than with his own wife, and with his domestic-aided anger building to a boiling point, it looks like the women who visit his room lately may not be leaving it alive.
While violence always seems to be lurking below the surface in Death Laid an Egg, it’s mostly implied rather than shown. Sure, there are a couple of shots with those trademark giallo black gloves combined with screams of horror, but instead of bringing viewers face to face with blood-stained deeds, Questi opts to instead cut away and leave the violence to the imagination, which only adds to the mystery of what exactly is going on in Marco’s hotel room.
What Questi doesn’t shy away from is prominently displaying the slow, painful death of a once-happy marriage. Anna and Marco’s marriage is the real victim here, and while we don’t see a black-gloved maniac killing something as intangible as their love, the way they look at each other and talk behind each other’s backs might as well be knives plunging into their skin. This is murder of the mental and emotional kind, and in that regard Questi (who co-wrote the script with Franco Arcalli) doesn’t hold back, subjugating the viewer to a psychological chess match between two spouses who have put their marriage on the chopping block—the only question is who will be the farmer holding the axe and who will be the chicken at their mercy?
Further egging (sorry, I couldn’t resist at least one more chicken pun) this domestic dispute along is seductive houseguest Gabri (Ewa Aulin), who came to stay at the farm after her parents died in a car accident. Gabri offers both Anna and Marco someone to confide in about their domestic troubles, but although her actions may seem helpful, her conversations with Anna and Marco only make them more desperate to be rid of each other, with the former wanting to run her farm in peace and the latter wanting to run away with Gabri, who in return tells him, “There is nothing more elusive in this world than love.” With Marco spending more time at the hotel and letting his eyes linger on the chicken feed grinder, it looks like he may do anything to get the love he craves, no matter how elusive it may be.
The scenes with Gabri alone with either Anna and Marco are great, as she plays one against the other, but it’s the scenes where they’re all together in one room when the tension—of both the psychological and sexual variety—becomes as palpable as the headless mutated chickens that are spawning in the chicken farm’s laboratory (perhaps the most unique source of stress in Anna and Marco's marriage). While it may seem like Gabri holds all the cards when it comes to this splintered threesome, even she can’t control a love gone mad between a husband and wife (especially when they disagree on those mutated chickens), and watching the puppet master become entangled in her own strings is a surprise all its own, as Questi and company constantly keep the viewer guessing as to where this love tale will go next, and who will crack like an egg first (sorry, last egg reference, I promise).
In addition to co-writing the screenplay, Arcalli also edited Death Laid an Egg (continuing an editing/co-writing collaboration that he and Questi did for the spaghetti western Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot!), and his manic quick cuts between the present and the past not only double the impact of bombshell realizations at crucial moments in the film, but also make the viewer as disoriented as the characters on screen, a technique that packs quite a wallop in the film’s dizzying climax among the clucking poultry at the chicken coop. These nauseating (yet effective) edits, coupled with Bruno Maderna’s unnerving score of plucky strings and musical notes that feel like they’re sharpened at the ends to stab your eardrums with staccato, make Death Laid an Egg a delightfully disorienting experience, especially when that trusty giallo twist comes to light in the third act, and we find out what’s behind door number 724 at Marco’s hotel hideaway.
If you’re looking for a slasher murder mystery composed entirely of chicken farm-themed kills (as I admittedly expected), you won’t find that in Death Laid an Egg. What you will find, though, is the enthralling and heartbreaking murder of a marriage, the final stage in a game of psychological chicken that was set in motion long before viewers first entered Anna and Marco’s lives. It’s not the giallo I expected, but after it mercilessly muddled my senses, I’ll take my giallo scrambled anytime (sorry, I had to sneak one last egg pun in there).
Keep an eye on our online hub throughout October for more of our Gialloween retrospectives!