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PHANTOM OF DEATH
DVD Region 0. Shameless.

Ruggero Deodato will forever be known as the man behind the brilliant Cannibal Holocaust, but like most Italian directors, he's made a wide variety of exploitation movies during his career. This 1988 effort is not his best work, though it remains an interesting effort.

Originally titled Off Balance (both titles appear on screen, bizarrely), the film tells the story of pianist Robert Dominici (Michael York) who is tied to a series of brutal murders. In true giallo style, the killer is kept hidden during the early part of the film, as police Inspector Datti (Donald Pleasence) tries to track him down, and if the film had followed the typical Italian thriller format, we might have expected York to be trying to solve the case himself. But the movie takes a strange twist - it's York himself who is the killer, sent mad by a rapid ageing disease that rots both his body and his mind.

There's much to admire in this film, surprisingly. The plot twists and turns nicely, and Michael York's character toys with the viewer's sympathy - one minute he's taunting the cops as he kills a woman, the next he's presented as a tragic character. It's a difficult trick to pull off, but thanks to an effective performance by York and a smart screenplay from Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino and Giglioia Battaglini, Deodato pulls it off.

The gore in the film tends to come early on, where it's ridiculously excessive; subsequent killings then become less intense, as the film becomes more interested in plot and character than sensation. Only Donald Pleasence is a let down - he's at his scenery-chewing worst here.

That aside, Phantom of Death is unexpectedly good, and well worth seeking out.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

 

 

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