Robert Dominici (Michael York) is a world-renowned concert pianist, and tonight he is playing for a select Italian audience which includes his girlfriend Susanna (Mapi Galán) and a fashion designer he has his eye on, Hélène (Edwige Fenech). However, also in the audience is the daughter of police inspector Datti (Donald Pleasence), and he is late for there had been a brutal murder of a doctor tonight and he has had to investigate. The doctor had been seeing Robert, so could it be that he has something to do with the killing? Surely not...
Well, for the first half hour Phantom of Death, or Off Balance, or Un Delitto Poco Comune if you're Italian, it looks like we're in for a late period giallo along whodunnit lines. But then, all of a sudden it's as if director Ruggero Deodato and his writing team (Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino and Gigliola Battaglini) thought "Sod this for a game of soldiers" and let the cat out of the bag. There are only really two suspects anyway, and one of them is Susanna's other boyfriend Davide (Fabio Sartor), but either of them could have also done in poor old Susanna.
After her early exit from the film, Robert turns his romantic attentions to Hélène, who doesn't seem bothered that he should shrug off the murder of his potential fiancée so easily. They enjoy a (significant) night of passion, and cop Datti tightens the screws on the bad guy who he believes to be Robert. A word about Pleasence here: isn't there a retirement age for policemen in Italy? It couldn't be that the then-elderly actor was hired for his name alone? And that he looks as if he would rather be settled down with his feet up in front on Countdown accompanied by a nice cup of tea?
Not only that, but his character has a teenage, flute-playing daughter - how old was he when she was conceived, for heaven's sake? This is relevant to the story, in a roundabout way, because Robert is suffering from a rare form of progeria, the ageing disease. In fact, it's so rare that it has the hitherto unknown consequences of turning him into a psychopathic killer, as we see when he is goodnaturedly joshed about losing his hair by a patron of a motorway service station only to fly into a rage and beat the would-be comedian up.
Talking of comedians, Robert opts to torment Datti with telephone calls in a voice not unlike that of the late, great Tommy Cooper, yet, and here's the only real spark of originality in the script, he is ageing so fast that nobody realises it's him committing the murders because they don't recognise him. This means that after a while York is playing cinema's most decrepit serial killer, latching onto an equally past it dog for company in between trying to kill other characters. There's a lapse in judgement here, and it's in the time scale, because it seems as if a few days have gone by when all of a sudden Hélène is reaching the end of her pregnancy and Robert is burbling about his deterioration taking months. If you can ignore that, then you can probably ignore the rest of the silliness in Phantom of Death. Music by Pino Donaggio.
Italian director best known his ultra-violent horror work, but whose filmography takes in many genres over a 40-year career. Worked as an assistant director on a variety of films during the sixties, and made his first credited directing debut in 1968 with the superhero yarn Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen. Throughout the following decade Deodato made erotic dramas (Gungalar, Waves of Lust), musical comdies (Man Only Cries for Love), and comic book romps (Zenabel).
It was Ruggero's horror films that gained him an international reputation however. The trashy Last Cannibal World was followed by 1980's notorious Cannibal Holocaust, and the likes of House on the Edge of the Park, Cut and Run and Bodycount were popular amongst video audiences during the eighties. Other films during this period include the action fantasy The Barbarians and bizarre thriller Dial Help, while Deodato's work during the nineties was largely confined to Italian TV.