Sunday, 6 May 2012

Phantom of Death (Ruggero Deodato, 1988) DVD Review

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Otherwise known as Off Balance, Ruggero (Cannibal Holocaust, The House on the Edge of the Park) Deodato's vengeance-fuelled thriller, co-written by Vincenzo (New York Ripper) Mannino and Gianfranco Clerici, tells the story of Robert Dominici (Michael York) – a piano virtuoso – whose previously dormant Progeria condition (a disease that ages the victim at an accelerated rate) sends him spiralling into an insane thirst for blood.

At first he seeks to hide his condition from those around him, but soon – as the disease warps his mind – he descends into a cat-and-mouse game of chase with Police Inspector Datti (a typically skewed and bewildered performance from Donald Pleasance, well known for his role as Doctor Loomis in the Halloween franchise), whose obsession at one point drives him onto the streets to scream out “Where are you, bastard?! I kill you!” over and over in front of a passing crowd of perturbed Italians.

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Also starring the gorgeous giallo gem Edwige Fenech (under-used as Robert's lover, and previously seen in the likes of The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, and Strip Nude For Your Killer), and featuring genre legend Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Phantom of Death boasts a handful of gore-soaked kills where, in typically Italian fashion, blood never oozes, but rather explodes in a crimson geyser. That said, it isn't all sex and death – far from it – as Deodato chooses to focus more keenly on Robert's months-long suffering at the hands of his terrible affliction. It is a transformation vividly cast upon the screen thanks to Fabrizio Sforza's make-up, which turns the Basil Exposition we all know and love (before Austin Powers rolled around, of course) into a grotesque and decrepit shadow of his former self.

However, being that the viewer knows quite early on who the killer is – and indeed why he's killing – there is a noticeable lack of tension for the most part. On the plus side though, there are a couple of beautiful sojourns to Vienna, and focusing on Robert's personal tragic story of gradual decay, makes up for the lack of tension and occasionally sparse moments of sleaze that you might be expecting more of, initially anyway, from a film called Phantom of Death.

This was Shameless Screen Entertainment's second release (dating back to 2007), and as such the restoration of the film – both visually and aurally – isn't quite up to the same standard as many of their later releases. That said, an element of grain is always welcome with fare such as this, and being that the film is presented here fully uncut for the first time on UK shores, fans of Italian killer thrillers should be served well, even if the final result isn't quite as exuberant as you might have hoped – but it's definitely worth checking out.

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