Lucio Fulci’s career was a long strange trip. Internationally known for a 70s and 80s run of giallo and horror flicks, his best work was bleak, bloody and often darkly funny. The golden age of sensational splatter reached its apex in the 1981 dime store surrealist classic The Beyond. However, Fulci still faced unfavorable comparisons to the incredibly stylish but super self serious fellow director, Dario Argento. This Jan vs Marcia situation would dog him for the rest of his career.
By 1988, Lucio Fulci’s fortunes had done an abrupt about face. He had lost his wife to suicide, and his daughter was paralyzed in a car accident. Hepatitis and concurrent illness had forced him to leave the completion of Zombi 3 to human Xerox Bruno Mattei. A reputation for violent content and no fucks given criticism of the Catholic Church made financiers harder to come by.
Originally filmed for Italian television as Quando Alice ruppe lo specchio (Translation: When Alice Broke The Mirror, for those prone to putting on airs), the US release of today’s film was direct to video. What happens when Italy’s godfather of gore goes TV movie of the week? Let’s find out with (retitled for the US) Touch Of Death:
The credits are brief, and play over dead silence, which should tell you the approximate budget of this whole proceeding. Instead, we watch Lester the lost woodshop teacher cook up some lunch, while listening to horse racing results on the radio.
I’m not sure why he’s cooking with a sterno stove at the dining table, but perhaps the gas had not been turned on in what is CLEARLY the showhome for some Florida senior living condominium complex circa the summer of 1987.
He takes his steak, curls up on the couch and watches either some sort of weird home made porn, or a fairytale witch. The video is all gaunt cackling face, big hair and the occasional flash of shoulder, so choose your own adventure on which is correct.
Proving my point about the house, we get a POV tour, and it’s full of mauve based color combos and delicate faux houseplants that would make Blanche Devereaux and the girls jealous. It even has a finished basement.
Too bad there’s a corpse with a steak sized chunk of her thigh missing lying down there. I hope they lock that door at the open house. Humming along with the classical music on the soundtrack, Lester grabs a chainsaw and does a lovely little box step and sway as he dismembers the body. While I would think a bloody power tool would make a poor dance partner, he doesn’t miss a beat or get a speck on his polo shirt. Soft aqua is such a lovely color, but it really does show every little stain.
In fact, Lester is quite the homemaker. After the dismemberment is done, he piles the pieces into a meat grinder, whistling and waltzing as he works. In the spirit of “waste not, want not”, the bits that can’t fit through the grinder are fed to some conveniently located pigs.
This condo complex really thinks of EVERYTHING.
Lester wants to celebrate a butchering job well done. He pulls several stacks of cash out of a wall safe, pours himself a drink and has a chat with the local bookie. All is right with the world, until the evening news reports the investigation into the death of a rich widow who looks like she just might be Lester’s blue plate special from the day before. Despite 3 different processes, he still managed to leave something behind for the trash collectors to find. Guess he was too concerned with keeping grue off that sweet polo shirt.
In any case, Lester is a bit stressed, and pops his favorite classical cassette into the finest tape deck Montgomery Ward could provide. He has a nice chat with his audio system about his worries, and the equipment is kind enough to allay his fears. What a pal.
For those keeping score at home, Lester is not only a murdering cannibal, he is nuttier than squirrel shit. Even Son Of Sam had the dignity to take his orders from a dog rather than an off brand boombox.
Apparently Lester’s betting is about as good as his body disposal. He travels to some weird abandoned building at the edge of town to hand over all of his ill gotten cash to a bookie who has yet to learn how to color match his browns. Our sadsack protagonist also begs for credit on his massive debts.
Because the bookie who keeps his own assistant literally over a barrel in a dilapidated building is going to be super generous and forgiving. Right.
Rather than sell his car or his house, Lester beelines straight for the personal ads in the local paper, to find more lonely ladies with an excess of money and a deficit of sense. For someone whose whole source of income is dependent on being Casanova in chinos, you’d think his seduction technique would have advanced past butterfly kisses and grin (or grimace) and bear it.
Unnecessarily drawn out hijinks ensue, with Lester trying and failing to poison his unfortunate paramour. He only succeeds in making her throw up, and magically removing the SFX facial hair that was tacked on to the actress’ face in the previous scene.
A vicious beating with a bat also fails, but does give us the bylaw mandated eyeball in distress scene required of any movie with Lucio Fulci at the helm.
Bloody, eyeless and as energized as the battery bunny, she pops back up, finally meeting her end in an oversized toaster oven. As her face melts away, the death is doubly sad. Not only has Lester killed an innocent, he has killed a freakishly tough medical miracle that apparently had no skull under her oozing flesh. If this seems an excessive amount of space to devote to a single death, bear in mind that this sequence is nearly 20 minutes of the film’s 90 minute runtime, and likely 95% of the SFX budget.
All that physical exertion makes Lester a sloppy boy. Rather than pass the body to those handy pet pigs, he stuffs it into his car trunk to dump it at a local construction site. Not only does he leave the woman’s severed feet lying in his own driveway, he covers the corpse in concrete in full view of an off brand Charles Manson sleeping in a nearby box.
To avoid getting informed upon, he backs over Canal Street Charlie, but leaves the body in the middle of the street. There goes the remaining 5% of the SFX budget. I would also like to point out to all of you, that the car does indeed have Florida plates. Called it.
To top it off, jewelry he stole from his last victim is all worthless costume, and he owes even more interest to his bookie. A description of the likely killer has hit the evening news, and Lester has to change his appearance from shop teacher to portly sitcom dad to avoid detection by the police.
Our next victim is a slap happy S&M loving soprano, who doesn’t stop singing even in her sleep. Lester strangles her with a whip, and in his latest brilliant plan, transports her body in the front seat of his car. I suppose a jauntily tied scarf hides a lot of sins, as the cop who pulls him over for speeding assumes the cadaver is asleep.
Despite the ever so supportive talking stereo’s assertions that all of this trouble is due to a copycat killer, Lester is not soothed. The evening news once again has the breaking info, announcing the killer’s blood type and DNA genetic code(?!), and our doughboy matches both. While possible, it isn’t terribly PROBABLE that there are two moronic mass murderers with identical DNA on file with the police, and a secret twin seems unlikely on a TV movie budget.
Time for Lester to do some more gambling to destress, as this movie is going to have to try to flesh out the plot now that the SFX money is spent. For variety, he loses his shirt at poker. Why poker? Because even his bookie won’t take any more of his bad bets on horse races. He’d rather fleece him at cards and eliminate the wait.
In deeper hock than ever and plagued by mystery phone calls, Lester heads to the racetrack……to look for the copycat killer. Yep. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. Spooked by a few loud noises and his own shadow, he heads home……..
….to deal with a highly convenient plot device. A woman named Virginia Fields (whom genre fans will recognize as Cannibal Ferox’s Zora Kerova) keeps accidentally dialing Lester’s number. Thrilled by his sexy voice, she strokes a decorative taxidermy swan suggestively (not a typo), and they make plans to meet. She happens to be yet another wealthy woman with a disfigurement.
Meanwhile, the nightly news has clocked Lester again, so he disguises himself as woodshop teacher version 2.0. This time it’s big square glasses and hair that is an odd piss yellow attempt at blonde. Hope poor Virginia likes big brass house keys.
We’ve seen this same basic scene 4 times now. He minces and winces and acts generally disgusted to be anywhere near a woman. At this stage, I sincerely wonder if he would have been happier with a nice cuddly bear of a truckdriver.
They don’t even bother using the scar prosthetic in the long shots, so Lester’s cartoonish distaste is even more pronounced when the camera pans to the lovely (non altered) face of the actress.
Just like all the rest, utterly enchanted by the powder blue pouched possibility of penis, she is smitten beyond all reason. When Lester sobs about business debts, she agrees to loan him $200,000, with his house as collateral. She promises to have the cash when they meet the next night for dinner.
Unsurprisingly, Lester prepares to kill Virginia as soon as he confirms she withdrew the cash…….
Unlike the rest of these dizzy birds, Virginia watches the news. She recognizes Lester from the police composite drawing……..
……and promptly shoots him. Wanting to die like a wild animal, a bleeding Lester runs out to the parking garage……
…….where we learn that Lester’s mysterious copycat……..
……is his own shadow. Because even the literal darkness wanted to bring Lester’s crimes to light. Or something. I feel like some metaphors got mixed here. Since Lester the murderer and (just that one time) cannibal is dead, I hope somebody thought to notify the questionably sentient boombox.