PHANTOM OF DEATH (1988)
A brilliant pianist in his mid-thirties and at the peak of his career is diagnosed with a disease that is quickly eroding his mind and degenerating his body at a rapid rate. Spurned by this disease, the ever maddening Robert lashes out at those who know his secret and are too close to his heart. His murders attract the attention of Inspector Datti, who become obsessed with catching a man whose appearance changes every week. Robert, who knows deep within that he must be stopped, but can not bring himself to merely surrender, eggs Datti on in an cat and mouse in which both the lives of Datti's daughter and Robert's pregnant lover at stake.
To many, the name Ruggero Deodato means only two words - CANNIBAL and HOLOCAUST, with a few less knowing his JUNGLE HOLOCAUST and THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK. But the director has marched on through the eighties and into the millennium churning out lesser quality works as he distanced himself from his landmark pictures. This is one of those flicks, as Deodato works from a trio of screen writers whose work had been previously brought to the screen by Deodato and Lucio Fulci among others.
This psychological slasher is a bit uneven, as the first half hour starts out in strong giallo fashion with two brutally graphic and impressive murder sequences and what appears to be camera tricks to not only keep the killer's identity a secret, but gives several side characters that will serve as false leads for the audience. This is all disposed of though as Robert is revealed to be the killer, and the film switches gears into a tragedy that watches Robert deteriorate, with some quite convincing make up effects. Robert gets several chances to turn back to his killing stylings, and after several false starts and some hammy silloquies about death and savoring life, the film switches gears back into a thriller, as Robert closes in on his final victim.
Deodato unfortunately blows the gore load pretty early on. The first is an jugular gushing sucker punch as a woman's throat is gashed open by a sword. Another woman is then impaled before being shoved through a pane of glass. The two shocking kills should promise of even greater grue to splash across the screen later in the film, but unfortunately never does, despite Robert's menacing threats to kill the young because they have the lives ahead of them and the elderly for having lived a full life.
Michael York, who you'll recognize as Basil Exposition from the AUSTIN POWERS series, stars as Robert. His physical acting here is far better than the cheesy dialogue he has to chew through, as he easily musters up the proper movements and vocalization to match the always aging make up. Donald Pleasance, who returned to the role of Dr. Loomis the same year in HALLOWEEN 4, essentially is Loomis here. His intensity and great character traits that he created with Loomis is alive and well in Datti. He may not have the much of a range, but he is a master of the range he possesses. Also of note to Italian cinema fanatics, this movie marks what is basically Edwige Fenech's final screen performance. She would return in a few television mini-series and HOSTEL 2, but this is where her career basically ends. Her talents are mostly wasted here as well, with little to do but sit on the couch and wait for Robert to come and try to kill her. But in a throwback to many of her pervious roles and the giallo genre, her character does work in fashion.
This hard-to-find title is now available from Bloodwave DVD. As with most rare films, this is a full-screen transfer with the English soundtrack (of which York and Pleasance voices are included) and is VHS quality. Fortunately, to get over the lackluster quality, this is the even harder to find uncut print, with the complete two opening murder sequences in all their blood-spraying and shocking glory.