No figure in the horror film genre is as divisive as Lucio Fulci. After watching his films, viewers tend to move into one of two camps. One side hails Fulci as a master of terror, a man who upped the gore quotient in his films while creating wonderfully atmospheric pictures. For these people, Fulci is up there with the likes of Dario Argento as one of the best Italian horror directors. The other camp sneers at these claims, pointing to the plodding pace of his films, the use of extreme gore to camouflage plot holes, and the director's inability to draw good performances out of his cast as evidence of mediocrity. Initially, I enjoyed Fulci's films, specifically "Zombie," "City of the Living Dead," and "The New York Ripper" because I did not know any better. When I came on the scene, you went to Fulci to feed your gore cravings. What a difference a few years exploring the genre makes! While I will not go so far as to remove Lucio from my play list, I have seen enough of his films to realize he is not a cinematic genius. He is at best a competent director, at worst an abysmal one, and there are plenty of examples of bad filmmaking in this director's filmography. Welcome to "Touch of Death".
The movie introduces us to a sad, pathetic loser named Lester Parson (Brett Halsey). Old Lester has a big problem with the ponies, one that finds him constantly digging himself deeper into debt in order to satisfy his cravings at the racetrack. He also has a problem trying to pull off that cheesy looking beard, but that's another story for another day. Anyway, Parson loses so much money gambling that he must constantly borrow dinero from a local loan shark to cover his bets. You know what happens next: Parson owes so much money that the shark threatens to send a few bonecrushers over to Lester's place unless he pays his debts. Ooooh! Fortunately for our bearded hero, he hits upon an excellent plan that will not only pay off Luigi the Loan Shark but also fill his wallet to the brim with some walkin' around money. What's the plan? Simple. He pores through lonely heart ads in the newspaper, finds a suitable mark, and then homes in for the wooin' and the robbin'. Yep, that's right. Lester Parson preys on lonely old biddies, really ugly old dames too, and cleans out their bank accounts.
To insure the success of his nefarious schemes, Parson has to kill his victims. Unfortunately for them, Lester seems to relish sending these ladies into the great unknown. I offer as proof of this assertion one of the opening scenes of the film, the one in which we see Les firing up the old chainsaw in order to reduce one of his conquests to her component parts. Fulci makes sure we understand what's going on by letting the camera linger on the unfolding atrocity. And linger. And linger. Yecch! We'll see more violence later, including a nasty bludgeoning and magic with a microwave, before the movie judders to a stop. Too, Uncle Lucio makes Parson a cannibal--just as a lark, I'd imagine. Let's see, what else happens? Oh yeah: someone else seems to be ambling around mirroring Lester's atrocities, which makes our man a wee bit nervous. He's so nervous, in fact, that he spends some time trying to discover the identity of this nefarious culprit. He also spends a lot of his free time tape recording comments about his various activities. Did I mention the tape machine talks to our hero? Uh huh. Looks like Lester's a little light in the head as well.
"Touch of Death" isn't a stellar addition to the horror canon, but then again Fulci wasn't turning out his best work by 1988. His glory days came earlier, in the 1970s and early 1980s. This movie, while gory in spots, fails to capture the charm of his earlier outings. In those movies Fulci would spread the sauce from beginning to end. Here, we see a trio of heinous crimes--a bum run over with a car, the bludgeoning followed by fun with microwaves, and the chainsaw gag--and then the gore essentially disappears. Seeming to sense that the movie won't live up to expectations, Fulci lards the film with healthy doses of black comedy. See Lester try to stuff body parts in the trunk of his car! Har Har Har! See Parson grimace as he must romance his extraordinarily ugly conquests! Oh, my sides! Granted, smooching a gal with hairy moles or cold sores isn't my cup of tea, but it's not particularly amusing either. The funniest thing about "Touch of Death" involves nothing that appears in the film but rather the realization that Lucio made the movie for television. For television! Those wacky Italians! In what bizarro universe would a movie like this appear on television?
Considering the less than sublime quality of the film, it is somewhat surprising to see "Touch of Death" receive such an excellent treatment on DVD. I'm not talking about the picture quality, which isn't good by a long shot. It's the extras where this Media Blasters disc really shines. Included for our pleasure is a lengthy audio commentary from none other than the late Lucio Fulci! It is not actually a commentary in the traditional sense (he doesn't even discuss this film) but a sort of synopsis of Fulci's career spanning the time he spent as a screenwriter up to the arrival of his 1971 classic "Lizard in a Woman's Skin". Then we get comments from Fulci historian Paolo Albeiro and an interview with star Zora Kerova. Cool! Trailers, a still gallery, and a promo for "Touch of Death" round out the disc. Obviously, Fulci aficionados will want to pick up this disc. All other viewers should start with his classic stuff and work their way up to this one.