Yeah, that title is unusual. Does it make you more or less interested in watching this late 1960s giallo? As awkward as it is, it does actually fit the plot.
Italy, the late-1960s. Italians aren’t eating enough chicken, so one clever agrarian who is a member of a consortium of the infamous chicken farming business empire brings in automation and a scientist. His goal: create the perfect mutant chicken, with more meat, fewer bones, and possibly no parts that you don’t want, like the head. It’s got the local workers pissed off, but businessman Marco is pretty pleased…that is, until he sees what the freaky mutant gore-birds look like.
This isn’t Marco’s only issue though. See, he’s got a thing for prostitutes. Not only that, he’s got a thing for murdering prostitutes. He has a regular hotel room, which he brings the women to, ties them up, and murders them before having his way with them. His wife, Anna, doesn’t know either. When she does find out…well, we finally get some plot in this movie.
Also, Anna’s beautiful younger cousin Gabri happens to be staying with Marco and Anna. Guess who’s gonna have an affair with Marco? Guess who’s also totally faking everything and has extremely dark plans to frame Marco for Anna’s murder to take over the farm? Yeah, it’s Gabri, along with her secret husband Mondaini. Yes, this ruins the plot, but if you’re watching this for the plot, well, don’t. You know what else ruins the plot: Marco’s not really killing those prostitutes, he’s just living out a dark fantasy with them. According to them, he’s actually very polite and sweet, and he’s a repeat customer.
It’s ok that I tell you this, because you’re probably here more for the weird 1960s chicken advertising campaigns, the crazy ’60s ideas on what parties should be like (it involves empty rooms, freaking out, and a potentially rapey version of the game “7 Minutes in Heaven”), and bizarre editing that makes Bohemian Rhapsody actually look like it deserved that Oscar. Yeah, that’s right, I said it! Death Laid an Egg hops around at seemingly random times, using close ups, a wandering camera, and sudden cuts to convey a film that feels more like an avant-garde hallucination than any form of coherency. At least one critic has noted a comparison to Eraserhead, though I dispute this; Eraserhead was easier to follow.
The mystery of this giallo comes from the deceptive nature of Gabri and in Marco’s killings, though there is more to unpack here about the brutal and generally unethical nature of corporations, as well as the secrets we keep from our spouses. When Anna learns via an “anonymous” letter planted by Gabri and Mondaini that her husband likes to kill hookers in hotel rooms, she decides to pretend to be a prostitute to learn about Marco’s secret life and humiliate him. Unfortunately, Mondaini then kills her in an attempt to frame Marco, but Marco falls into the thresher and gets fed to the chickens, much like a dog did earlier in the film. The cops show up, and Gabri and Mondaini are sported off to jail as the cops cluelessly search for Marco without thinking maybe he accidentally fell into a piece of farm equipment. They also eat raw eggs, because that seems like a good idea.
I learned from this film that in the 1960s, Italians didn’t eat much chicken, and big poultry wanted to make them eat more of the domesticated birds. Somehow I don’t think genetic experiments to create the headless chicken ubermensch was the best way to do it.