Touch of Death

Color, 1988, 85 mins. 57 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Brett Halsey, Ria De Simone, Al Cliver, Sacha Darwin, Zora Kerova, Marco di Stefano
88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0, RB/R2 HD/PAL), Media Blasters (US R1 NTSC), EC Entertainment (Holland R2 PAL)

After Touch of Deatha string of financial Touch of Deathdisappointments and numerous health problems, director Lucio Fulci seemed incapable of returning to the glory days of his gore-splashed scope extravaganzas in the early 1980s. However, he certainly gave it his best shot before his death, suddenly cranking out several pictures per year both for the big screen and small. Most of this output remained unreleased (legally) outside Italy and Japan, but fans eager enough could track down such oddities as Aenigma and Demonia to see how Lucio tried to adapt his style for the increasingly diminishing Italian horror market. Perhaps weirdest of all were two black comedies, A Cat in the Brain and Touch of Death, both featuring former Hollywood glamour boy and occasional European sleaze actor Brett Halsey. Neither of these turned out to be among Fulci's most accomplished work, but there's a certain morbid fascination in watching Fulci go for morbid wit and slapstick while spraying his sets with stage blood.

Originally shot under the far more evocative title of Quando Alice ruppe lo specchio (When Alice Broke the Mirror), this nasty tale charts the exploits of compulsive gambler and debtor Lester Parson (Halsey), first seen disposing of his latest female victim by chainsawing her naked body to bits (accompanied by upbeat music), then turning the offal into slop for his pigs and making a nice human steak he shares with his kitty. Lester's come up with the perfect scheme of cruising the lonely hearts scene for rich women, all of whom display some physical or behavioral annoyance, and bumping them off when their cash is at hand. Thus he woos and butchers a variety of grotesques, including a hairy and mole-laden matron and an incessant opera singer (a bit blatantly stolen from Bluebeard with Richard Burton). Unfortunately, someone seems to be planning his downfall by planting clues pointing to him; who could it be? You won't believe the outcome, but at least give Fulci a few points for sheer chutzpah. Touch of Death

Touch of DeathCertainly sick and bizarre, Touch of Death suffers from its cheap, claustrophobic environment and the strange philosophy that acting goofy while killing ugly women automatically generates high comedy. Halsey gives it all he's worth (including one of the least appealing sex scenes in cinematic history), but Fulci's comedy chops are definitely hit and miss. His execution of the very wet gore scenes is as gleeful as ever, though, and a handful of individual scenes certainly pack a punch. As with A Cat in the Brain (which pilfers footage from this film), the whole thing is so shapeless and erratic that it often feels like an embolism on film with Fulci desperately wanting to remake Chaplin's lady-killing comedy Monsieur Verdoux for the Fangoria set. Flawed or not, it's one of the more outrageous and unusual efforts from Fulci's later career and certainly merits a place in any die hard's library.

First released on Dutch DVD by EC Entertainment in 2000 in a drab, washed-out transfer with the original Italian title card, Touch of Death appeared exactly the same on Shriek Show's 2005 DVD. The search for better elements had been ongoing for years, but none of the worldwide licensors were able to turn up anything usable by that point. Both discs feature the awkward English dub track and, with optional English subtitles, the equally hollow, canned Italian version, which at least has more quirky, energetic vocal performances. Though the EC disc offers nothing besides a still gallery, the Shriek Show disc easily stomps it into the ground with a host of worthy extras that alone justify picking up the disc. Fulci contributes an almost-feature-length "commentary," basically an in-depth interview about his pre-Zombie career conducting in Italian with optional English subtitles, playable over the main feature. Actress Zora Kerova, best known for her sensitive encounter with a pair of meat-hooks in Cannibal Ferox, appears for a short and sweet interview in which she talks about some of her most famous exploitation roles (except for the Fulci film, oddly enough!). Paolo Albiero, a Fulci scholar, appears for another interview in which he discusses the film and Fulci's later career in quite insightful detail. Also included is a photo gallery (different and longer than the EC one), a newly created Touch of Death promo trailer, and previews for various other international Media Blasters horror titles including the usual suspects like Zombi 2, Warlock Moon, Touch of DeathChoking Hazard, and The Oracle. Touch of Death

Years of mistreatment were finally swept aside in 2017 with the arrival of a British Blu-ray from 88 Films, which will be an eye-popping experience for anyone who's seen this before. The long-absent Italian negative (with the Alice title card) has finally been sourced here, and the results are a massive leap up in quality that truly makes this feel like a different film. Clothing textures and background decor are far more vivid than before and give the film a more stylish, elegant look, and the original 1.33:1 framing (presumably since this was geared for the video market) has been retained here. (You can try matting it to 1.78:1 on an HD monitor if you like, but it looks more cramped that way.) A couple of inherent issues with the film, like a hair stuck in the bottom of one camera around the 18-minute mark, are part of the original negative and have been left intact here. This also appears to be the first release anywhere that runs at the correct film speed, as the Shriek Show was an uncorrected PAL master clocking in at 80m43s. Both the English and Italian tracks are included (LPCM mono) with optional English-translated subtitles from the Italian. The one video extra is "Reflections in a Broken Mirror - Working with Lucio Fulci and Making Touch of Death" (21m43s) with assistant director Michele De Angelis and Marco Di Stefano ("The Tramp") both chatting in English about Fulci's working methods and the remote shooting location that caused a few production hiccups. Also included is a liner notes booklet by Calum Waddell covering Fulci's later period that spawned this film and a text interview with actor Al Cliver.


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Reviewed on August 4, 2017.