Touch Of Death – Lucio Fulci – 1988

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Touch of Death, also known as, “When Alice Broke The Mirror”, finds Fulci in what seems to be a joking mood, but with a little observation, this film is a dark reflection of the Maestro’s inner turmoil.

Lester is a serial killer, a cannibal, and a misogynist who chops up women for his amusement and to profit off of them. He even feeds morsels to his cat. With each set up and gory payoff Lester courts wealthy women he locates from the personal ads in the paper, wines them, dines them, then, after bludgeoning them, dines upon them. Fulci stages these sequences as antithetical to horror film tropes. They are broadly lit, and underlined by borderline goofy clown music. He makes it a joke, whether or not Lester will be able to make his kills and then dispose of the bodies without being caught.

Lester is careful, and despite the silliness of the killings, he seems to have a system in place where he can get rid of his bodies without being detected. As the storyteller would have it, a copycat haunts Lester.   He hears tell on the radio of victims being found by the police that match the descriptions of his victims. Lester keeps a constant dialogue throughout the film with a voice on a tape recorder. A dialogue with the recorded? That is precisely Fulci’s intent. Films are a recording, and as we engage and absorb them we have a type of dialogue with our perceptions and what the filmmaker is presenting to us. Through these recordings the truth about Lester is revealed.

This brings me to the strange subtitle, When Alice Broke The Mirror. By the end of the film it is revealed that Lester has been sabotaging himself, due to some inherent guilt over his actions. This parallels Fulci’s character in Cat In The Brain, a director, guilty over his exploitation of the horror genre. Fulci is tortured in Lester’s way, is he a cannibal misogynist, eating his own kind so that he can keep his debtors at bay?

It can be read that Fulci believes that Lester is the public’s view of himself, and those recordings on the tape that Lester hears are the true Fulci, the one who would bring down a killer, not perpetuate killings. In effect Fulci is saying judge me by my films, they are not without a redemptive and heroic voice.

The film works as a splatter comedy, the blood flows often and in gruesome detail, the jokes are daffy, and childish, but Fulci was successful in tempering the message of the film with his trademark cynicism and misanthropy. The music is fairly weak sauce though, considering how good many Fulci scores are. Here it basically says, “Look at the clown show!” The cinematography is cheap, cheap, cheap, but it gets the job done. If anything, it feels nastier with all the high key lighting, more in your face, as is Fulci is saying, let’s do it with the lights on! Not always a good idea, particularly if your mate is a hair-lipped, mole-having widow.

Touch Of Death is really the proto-Cat In The Brain. Fulci explores all the themes present here and more in that picture, (without sacrificing any of the gore!) All of the goriest parts of this film re-appear in that picture. Clearly Fulci was a twisted man with a great sense of humor, and Touch Of Death is an important film in his late era, specifically because of its incredible self-awareness and broad tone. This is the last comedy of Fulci’s career and it is hilarious.

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