Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 3rd, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, March 11th, 1988
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Writers: Gigliola Battaglini, Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino
Cast: Michael York, Edwige Fenech, Donald Pleasence
DVD released: August, 2003
Approximate running time: 89 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0
DVD Release: X-Rated Kult DVD
Region Coding: Region 2 Pal
Retail Price: $20.95
Synopsis: Robert Dominici (Michael York), is a successful pianist who is on top of the world. Then one day his doctor informs him that he suffers from a rare genetic disorder which rapidly ages him. He starts to suffer from bouts of memory as his hair and teeth start to decay. The disease has triggered behavioral problems that put Robert slightly Off Balance (The films alternate title), which also poses a problem for the women in his life and his French fashion designer girlfriend Helene (Edwige Fenech), is pregnant with his child which puts her in danger since he doesn’t want the child. Inspector Datti (Donald Pleasence), has been assigned to the case and as the film progresses it quickly becomes a game of cat and mouse. Robert kills because of his anger building up inside of him and his victims are of convenience rather then cold-blooded calculated murder. Will age catch up to Robert, or can Inspector Datti catch him before it is too late?
Ruggero Deodato started his career as a second unit director working with Sergio Corbucci and Antonio Margheriti before becoming a director. Deodato is best known for his films from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when he directed such classics like Jungle Holocaust, House on The Edge of The Park and his most notorious film of his career Cannibal Holocaust. Since the bottom feel out of the Italian film industry Deodato like many of his contemporaries have continued to make films varying in quality that have been hampered by a lack of budget and have yet to achieve the level of quality and success of his early efforts. Off Balance is written by Gianfranco Clerici who also wrote Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and The House at the Edge of the Park. He also wrote Lucio Fulci’s sadistic misogynistic The New York Ripper. At first Phantom of Death may look like an Argento clone before it settles into something unique and it is one of the few exceptions in Giallo’s when the killer is revealed almost from the outset?
Ruggero Deodato crafts an effectively paced thriller that uses its beautiful sets and Vienna as a backdrop. The film starts off with a few bloody set piece murders before settling in by the second half into a more dialog drama. The leads are very good Edwige Fenech and Donald Pleasence are a nice contrast to Michael York’s performance as a rapidly aging man which Moore plays with great sympathy considering his characters actions. The score written by Pino Donaggio a frequent collaborator of Brian De Palma and it perfectly captures the films mood adding melancholy to the final product. The film’s theme about aging is an interesting twist on the thriller genre. We all at one time or another think about are mortality and by time the film is over we no longer focus on the killings as much as we are forced to come to terms with our own mortality. Phantom of Death exists in two versions, a tame TV version and uncut export with all the violence and nudity intact which is the version include on this DVD.
Phantom of Death is presented in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio and it has been given the anamorphic treatment. The colors are muted and the image is soft as grain is more apparent in darker scenes. Overall X-Rated Kult’s transfer leaves a lot to be desired especially since Phantom of Death is half the age of some of their other titles in their Giallo series.
Included on this DVD are two audio options Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English and German. Overall both tracks are clean with some minor instances hiss that never takes away from your viewing enjoyment and both soundtracks get the job done. Pino Donaggio’s score on this DVD is very powerful and it is free of distortion.
Extras includes 4 trailers for Phantom of Death, Photo Gallery and trailers for other X-Rated Kult DVD’s as the extras are non-existent on this DVD. Ruggero Deodato’s Phantom of Death fails to live up to the Giallo’s produced in the genre’s heyday of the early 1970’s, still is has a few interesting moments and a fascinating premise that make this latter day Giallo worth at one viewing.