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Touch of Death (1988)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/6/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/7/2019
In my recent review for The New York Ripper, I wrote about the diverse career of Italian director Lucio Fulci. While he made his name in the United States with a string of gore films in the early 80s, he tackled many genres over the course of his long career. As the Italian film industry went into a decline in the late 80s, many feature-film directors like Fulci turned to making movies for television. While this may sound like a step backwards to American audiences, itís pretty clear that TV in Italy has different standards & practices. For an example of this, look no further than Fulciís 1988 made-for-TV effort Touch of Death.
Lester Parson (Bretty Halsey) is a widower turned playboy who is clearly used to a lavish lifestyle. Heís also addicted to gambling on horse racing. In order to support these desires, Lester has taken to wooing rich widows in order to steal their money. But, not only does he bilk the poor women, he also kills them. As the media begins to report of his murders, Lester changes his appearance and continues to track down lonely, rich ladies. Despite his success in getting cash and hiding the bodies, Lesterís greed and his obsession with betting on the ponies only grows and he begins to get reckless with the killing. Will he get caught or will he finally get enough money and stop the carnage?
I feel like every time I review a Lucio Fulci movie, I say, ďThis is a weird movie.Ē Well, get ready to hear that again, because Touch of Death is a weird movie. As noted above, Fulci has worked in many genres and he appears to be compelled to shove many of them into this film. Unlike much of Fulciís output in the 80s, and despite the really cool box art, this is not a horror movie. Instead, itís more of a Hitchcockian thriller, as we get the notorious ladykiller who is attempting to evade the law. We also get some dark comedy here, most of which surrounds the shenanigans involved in Lester disposing of the bodies. (Thereís a scene in which Lester canít get a corpse in a car which just goes on and on like a gag from Family Guy.) In a somewhat surprising move, thereís also a Twilight Zone-esque subplot which makes us question just how insane Lester truly is.
The result is a movie which is definitely a mixed bag. For starters, Fulci has taken a risk by making the villain the main character. Lester is essentially in every shot of the film and itís never quite clear if we are supposed to like him or if we are simply here to see if he gets caught. The filmís tone is also off-putting. As noted above, there is a mix of genres here, and itís certainly jarring when a movie goes from explicit (and clearly fake) gore to dark slapstick comedy to an intentionally icky sex scene. (Again, Italian TV is most certainly different from American TV.) And, being an Italian movie, especially a Fulci movie, thereís a distinct lack of logic here. The opening scene implies that Lester is a cannibal, but this is never revisited. We are never told how Lester appears to be rich, but most keep robbing desperate women. The parts of the movie which border on being a paranoid fantasy seemingly come out of nowhere and the ending is a true head-scratcher.
Fulci efforts like Zombie, The Beyond, or The City of the Living Dead arenít art (and they arguably arenít good movies), but their sheer audacity and shamelessness make them entertaining to watch. Touch of Death has some of those key Fulci elements, including unmotivated zooms into actorís eyes, but it never reaches the ďso bad itís goodĒ level seen in his more well-known movies. Thereís no doubt that this is one of the wackier TV movies that youíll ever see and itís a must for Fulci completists, but most will find it bewildering and slightly dull.
Touch of Death sees the needless death of yet another Italian mannequin on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Raro Video. The film has been framed at 1.33:1 and the Disc contains a 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only mild grain at times and no overt defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture has an acceptable amount of depth, as movies from this era can often look flat. The level of detail is OK, with some shots looking soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a mono track, we donít get any dynamic effects here, but the sound is well-balanced, with no hissing or popping on the track. The music is present, but it never drowns out the actors.
The lone extra on the Touch of Death Blu-ray Disc is a 20-minute documentary entitled ďWhen Lucio Fulci Broke the MirrorĒ. Featuring comments from actors Al Cliver, Zora Kerowa and Maurce Poli, and Musician Carlo Maria Cordio, as well as film critic Davide Pulici, the piece provides some background information about Touch of Death and allows the two speakers to share anecdotes about their experiences working on the film and their personal memories of Fulci.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long