The Beyond: Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg

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A chicken farm, a lesbian love triangle, dead prostitutes (and a few with dialogue!), an avant-garde score, and a pop-art backdrop — what else would you expect from Giulio Questi? The psychedelic filmmaker made his feature debut with one of spaghetti western cinema’s strangest entries, Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! — which follows a Mexican outlaw who rises from the grave to seek revenge on the bizarre band of thieves who stole his loot. Questi’s 1968 giallo Death Laid an Egg (perhaps better described by one of its alt titles, A Curious Way to Love) also revels in its peculiar art film sensibilities, but uses it as a platform to discuss commodity culture, suburban malaise, and economic and sexual anxiety. 

Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Marco lives a double life. By day, he’s a well-kept husband, married to Gina Lollobrigida’s Anna, who helps run the couple’s high-tech chicken farm. By night, he begs Anna’s free-spirited cousin Gabrielle (the unfortunately dubbed Ewa Aulin) to run away with him and spends his wife’s money on prostitutes. He engages the women in kinky role-play, black gloves and all, which makes him the prime suspect in a series of murders. In a Diabolique-esque psychosexual twist, Anna also has eyes for Gabrielle — but the young blonde is busy juggling relationships with a ravenously jealous Marco and a mysterious man named Mondaini. Marital mind games and deadly conspiracies ensue.

Set to Bruno Maderna’s cacophonous jazz and acoustic score, and chock-full of some very un-giallo elements — including a mutant radioactive chicken subplot that is as bonkers as it sounds — Death Laid an Egg features a troubled cast of characters who yearn for freedom and are simultaneously terrified by it. Questi suggests that the chains that bind are many and surround us, evident in his cutaways to splashy advertising billboards, his juxtaposition between men and chickens trapped in cages, and the way Anna clings to Gabrielle and treats her like a leashed pet. Marriage, or love, is considered “a luxury” by Questi’s characters who share dreams about wanting a new life to make new choices, but have settled for financial comforts and conveniences. “Marco and I have always worn masks with each other,” Anna explains to Gabrielle. She’s driven to uncover her husband’s secrets, not so she may understand his frustrated longings, but so she can continue to have the upper hand. 

Although Marco’s sadistic trysts involve murderous thrills, he is the only one who opposes the despicable goings-on behind the scenes at the chicken farm — including his unhealthy relationship with Anna. Questi leaves it up to the viewer to decide if Marco’s repulsion is motivated by his desperate need to cling to the moral bedrock of yesterday, or his disgust with the greediness that surrounds him. It’s a question we’re still asking ourselves about our so-called modern society, today.

Alison Nastasi is a giallo addict and the weekend editor of Flavorwire. You can find her talking about exploitation cinema, VHS, occult oddities, Hammer horror, and other genre fare on Twitter.

Death Laid an Egg screens in NYC this month as part of Anthology Film Archives’ The Killer Must Kill Again!: Giallo Fever, Part 2. See the full lineup here.