Phantom of Death (1988)

Starring: Michael York, Donald Pleasence and Edgewige Fenech
Shameless Screen Entertainment
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: 18
Available 01 October 2007

Robert Dominici is a piano virtuoso who, at a young age, is diagnosed with a very rare rapid ageing disease. Within a year he degenerates from a good-looking and musically skilled thirty year old with the world at his feet to a slow and sick deranged man of eighty. When he kills to cover his secret, Police Inspector Datti is assigned to investigate. But it proves more difficult than he first thought, because witnesses give completely different descriptions after each incident. As time goes by Dominici becomes increasingly unbalanced and phones the inspector to taunt him. Then he learns that a woman is pregnant with his child, and he is suddenly determined to kill the unborn baby to prevent it suffering his own devastating fate...

Off Balance, aka Phantom of Death, is an early release in the Shameless Screen Entertainment collection, which aims to release a number of violent horror or exploitation films, many of which will not have been seen in the UK before. This film's claim to fame (or should that be infamy?) is that it was helmed by Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato. That knowledge doesn't help the first fifteen minutes which is an absolute agony to endure. An overlong mimed piano piece precedes some forced acting and non-linear set pieces which cause you to lose interest before the film has really got going. The curious thing is that I changed my opinion of this movie several times in its duration, but it did gradually grow on me to a certain extent.

I'm not a fan of exploitation or gore-fest movies which have no agenda other than to shock and disgust, I consider them in bad taste. I'm not averse to violent horror, as long as what takes place is conducive to the plot, rather than a series of tedious set-pieces. The Shameless releases are marketed as depraved, vile, disturbing, etc. In this case I was delighted to discover that Phantom doesn't fall into this category. Granted, there are violent murders, but they are over in scant seconds with a small splash of theatre blood and positively no glorification in the acts. This makes you concentrate more on the plot and particularly the characters, which is as it should be.

Donald Pleasence reprises his role of Loomis from John Carpenter's Halloween in all but name, and Michael York appears to grow into his role as he goes along, as if the older his character appears the meatier his acting part should become. When Robert finds out about his rapid-ageing disease, we find out that the film isn't quite linear in it's plot. The short scene in which he visits the house of someone with a more advanced stage of the rare disease is the most meaningful of the entire film - and it doesn't last more than a few seconds.

In conclusion, a better film than I was expecting, and worth a look if you can stay awake through the opening scenes.

Ty Power

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