Friday, February 15, 2013

Phantom Of Death (1988)

A female doctor is brutally murdered and the killer is on the loose. Robert Dominici (Michael York) is a successful piano player in love with 2 beautiful women, Susanna and Helene (Edwige Fenech). After Susanna is killed the detective on the case Inspector Datti (Donald Pleasance) begins to suspect Robert. Datti's suspicions run into road blocks over the course of the case that draw the attention away from Robert. After Susanna's death Helene comes onto Robert and he gives in to her temptations, impregnating her in the process. Robert soon learns of a rare disease he has had since childhood that was laying dormant until now and his body begins to rapidly age and his mind and sanity begin to decline. As the bodies pile up and the killer is playing cat and mouse games with the inspector it is only a matter of time before Helene is put in fatal danger and Datti's clues finally come together to solve the case, but is it in time?

Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) directs this giallo that has trouble deciding exactly what style it wants to portray. On one hand the first half hour or so are very much a body count slasher film, filled with blood. The rest is driven by the characters, namely the relationship between Robert and Helene, who longs for him to return to her and become ready to be a father, and Robert and the inspector who has his eye on the pianist. The relationship between Robert and Helene is held together just enough by a few sparse scenes of Helene watching videos of Robert's performances or talking to friend's about her love of him. Datti's suspicions of Robert are fueled by phone calls from the killer taunting him, almost begging to be caught despite the clues leading away from Robert. The interactions between the three leads are interesting it is just a shame there isn't more to them and it feels like we've only scratched the surface on a much bigger picture that lies beneath. The timeline of this movie takes course over a year, the sloppy editing does no favors to this fact and only Robert's declining health and his outward statement to the timeline helps us determine it. Well known and respected composer Pino Donaggio (Carrie,  delivers a largely unremarkable score which is a major let down after seeing his name in the credits and expecting something better.

The alternate title to this film is OFF BALANCE which fits it to a T. Not only is our main character off balance but so is the film itself. An intriguing story is marred by not going far enough in to it and poor editing and weak music. I even felt a bit off balance while gathering my thoughts on PHANTOM OF DEATH, despite the issues within the film, I liked it, but it was hard to determine right away just how much. I feel confident in my thoughts now that it could have used an extra 15-20 minutes so that the violence wasn't so rushed toward the beginning and we could dig deeper into the relationships so that they have more consequence when they finally payoff.

The story is good, but we don't get enough. The violence is extreme but it feels separated from the rest of the movie. Yes dear reader, this film is indeed OFF BALANCE. It is worth checking out though.


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