Touch of Death (Blu-ray)
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Review of "Touch of Death (Blu-ray)"
Not as much time as I'd like for ciao at the moment.
This Blu-ray from 88 Films is £15 on amazon and at HMV at time of writing.Lucio Fulci had been a mildly interesting jack-of-all-trades Italian director during the late 60s and 70s (he made a couple of good gialli), but he only really came into his own in the early 80s, when he discovered the zombie movie. His squelching, abrasive, nonsensical zombie flicks are essential viewing, and they sparked off the last great wave of Italian horror.
By the late 80s, though, the Italian film industry was tottering, and so was Fulci. His last little cluster of films, many of them made for TV, are dismal, trying in vain to replicate the shock tactics of a few years earlier, and all-too-often falling back on witless humour. The only film from the era that offers even a modicum of enjoyment is A Cat in the Brain, a very silly compilation of murder scenes from other films (including this one). But Cat aside, Touch of Death is probably the best known of these late efforts.And that’s because it’s one of the films that is offered as evidence that Fulci wasn’t wildly fond of women. Violence against women is a staple of horror films, of course (so is violence against men). But the 70s and 80s offered a strain of horror that went a lot further in its depictions of what you might call gendered violence than had previously been the case. In Fulci’s oeuvre, the 1982 giallo The New York Ripper had featured some of the nastiest, most explicitly misogynistic violence seen on film so far, and is the main exhibit in the case against him. There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence of him being unpleasant towards actresses (although to be fair, he seems to have been a prick towards everyone, regardless of sex). So what is one to make of a comedy in which a man murders ‘imperfect’ women in order to pay off his gambling debts?
Director: Lucio Fulci
More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095941
IMDB user rating: 5.4
So yeah. It isn’t very good, obviously. The plot is a weird mix of Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (another black comedy about a serial killer murdering women for money, but one that won’t make you feel grotty for watching) with elements of the Richard Burton Bluebeard film thrown in (if you’ve never seen that, don’t – it’s awful). Fulci is not a naturally comedic director; his idea of humour seems to be ‘ha ha, this woman is ugly and annoying, and this man is going to murder her. Ha ha.’A black comedy about a murderer might be fine – all kinds of directors from Hitchcock on down have successfully given us the odd guilty laugh-along with a killer. But you need some hint that ultimately the film doesn’t actually side with the murderer. Silence of the Lambs might end with a funny ‘having an old friend for dinner’ gag, but we’re pretty sure that we’re not really being asked to approve of Hannibal Lecter, nor regard serial killing as a viable, fun lifestyle.
Even if Fulci were capable of the kind of light-touch humour that could make us sort-of root for Lester, the heavy emphasis on explicit gore would probably undermine it. The splatter effects are cheap and not terribly good, but are somehow effectively revolting anyway (especially a head-in-the-oven scene nicked from a video nasty). You can have good comedy gore (as in Peter Jackson’s earliest films) if the movie is a tonally even comedy from beginning to end. But Touch of Death really isn’t funny very often (possibly not at all).It fails as a horror film, too, because while there’s a lot of gore, it’s never coherently nasty, and it certainly never tries to be scary. The lame attempts at humour will surely wear out the patience of the kind of horror fan who likes Italian movies (Italian horror has many virtues, but ‘good at comedy’ really isn’t one of them). The only attempts at suspense are weak (ooh, will the latest victim drink the drugged champagne, or will Lester just have to beat her to death?). It never tries to lurch between comedy and horror in the way that something like The Honeymoon Killers does – the victims and Lester himself mug appallingly throughout, just to make sure we know this is all meant to be riotously funny.
At the start of the film, Lester is seen eating a steak he has carved from his most recent victim’s leg, but although the back of the Blu-ray box plays up the cannibal aspect, this is never alluded to again. Why would he eat one of his victims and not the others? He feeds the rest of her to some pigs who also never appear again. This is a shoddy mess of a film. Most of the murder scenes reappear in Cat in the Brain anyway, so if you’re just in it for the gore, you might as well watch that instead.The film’s one attempt at being a bit mysterious and weird – the introduction of an odd doppelganger element into the storyline – really doesn’t add up to much and has a predictable and weak pay-off. Lester is a loser, a feeble creep who is exploited and insulted by the sneering bookie (the film is set in Florida, although clearly filmed in Italy, so it’s suggested that the gambling is all mafia-controlled). But the film sets Lester up as superior to the ugly, deluded women he preys on, encouraging us to laugh at and be repulsed by them – they tend to have minor cosmetic blemishes (a wart here, a hairy mole there) and be sexually voracious and perhaps a bit overweight. The film seems to want us to share Lester’s revulsion towards the women he murders. You can see why people are wary of Fulci.
The only ‘joke’ that came close to working was the way Lester kept changing his appearance in more and more ridiculous ways to try to distance himself from his doppelganger – losing his stupid false beard, dying his hair blond etc. The most annoying joke is when Lester dates an opera singer who never stops singing, even when she’s asleep (a gag stolen from the Burton Bluebeard movie, and it wasn’t funny there either).The film is obviously meant to be hilarious though, as humorous circus-y music plays a lot of the time. An interminable scene where Lester tries to get a corpse to sit up straight in a car seat has wacky music paying throughout. This is the kind of scene that could have worked in a genuinely well-made comedy horror film (Braindead or Re-Animator or something). Here it’s just irritating.
Brett Halsey, who starred in quite a few B-movies in the 50s, has the right hearththrob-gone-to-seed look as Lester, but the material isn’t strong enough for him to shine. Fulci regular Al Cliver, usually a reliable likable presence, is terse and forgettable as the bookie. The women gamely get naked and suffer various gory makeup effects, but only Ria De Simone as the longest lasting victim has a part that isn’t a grotesque caricature, and she doesn’t make much of it. Oddly, Fulci doesn’t have a cameo role – normally he sticks himself in somewhere – so maybe even he thought this film sucked.The best thing about the film is the weird line in endearing animal names it has. Lester’s cat is called ‘Reginald’. One of the horses in a race he listens to is called ‘Nesbit’. But that might just have been the English dubbing artists getting bored and trying to add a bit of life to proceedings. Otherwise, this is one of the lowest points in the career of a director who hit some pretty low points – even the title, ‘Touch if Death’, is so generic as to be meaningless.
The good news is that even though the film is lousy, it at least looks good. It was previously only available in a very poor quality US DVD release. 88 Films have managed to make it look good – the colours are as good as they’re ever likely to look (considering this was a low budget late 80s project likely filmed for Italian TV), and there’s plenty of detail on display. It’s still quite soft-looking, but is probably the best we’ll ever see it looking. Another impressive Italian release from 88, who have come on in leaps and bounds recently.Extras-wise, we get two interviews (cut together to make a ‘feature’), which are decent enough. One is with the assistant director and one with the actor who plays an unlucky tramp who crosses Lester’s path. There’s also a leaflet which contains a fun little interview with Al Cliver and basically admits that the film isn’t any good – refreshing candour from an extra. As per usual with this company, there’s a whopping great typo on the back cover. They really want to sort that out if they want to get away from the slightly amateur-hour reputation that has dogged them.
But the problem is, the film is poor and probably wasn’t worth lavishing so much attention on. I guess Fulci’s name will guarantee sales, and maybe the film has its fans. I’m not one of them, though.
Product Information : Touch of Death (Blu-ray)
Manufacturer's product description
DVD Region: Blu-ray
Actor(s): Brett Halsey, Ria De Simone, Al Cliver
Director(s) (Last name, First name): Fulci, Lucio
Classification: 18 years and over
Listed on Ciao since: 30/07/2017