I hope I'm not bumbing against people's cart when I say that with having just watched PHANTOM OF DEATH his directorial skills somewhat became a bit more questionable again to me. I mean, the man undeniably is a master in depicting 'jungle mayhem', with CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST arguably the best cannibal movie ever made (except no substitute - it is actually a very good movie with the most effective set-up I've ever witnessed in such films) and CUT AND RUN, again, one of the best efforts in the genre I've ever seen (and one of my personal favorites). Deodato is at his best anytime he's free to go over the top in any genre (THE BARBARIANS, anyone?)... But put him in the director's seat of a movie that's a bit more serious and demanding on the (international) cast's behalf, and he's bound to slip. As is, in my opinion, the case with PHANTOM OF DEATH.
The Italian title, by the way, doesn't exactly encourage viewers to go see it, so I don't know what the producers were thinking. Literally translated, it means "A crime a little bit common (ordinary)". Sounds a little bit dull, doesn't it? Regardless, the basic synopsis does sound interesting enough: A successful pianist - why exactly a pianist is totally irrelevant; I suspect it was to lend the movie a bit more 'class' - starts suffering from a disease that rapidly ages him. Aside from not being able to cope with this affliction, it also starts affecting his mind and he can't resist the urge to kill women any longer. All this wrapped up in a Giallo-style film. This idea is put to good use in the plot, as his rapid aging makes it quite difficult for the police to determine what the killer looks like.
Further more, Deodato (or the screenplay?) does have a good sense of pacing regarding the unfolding of events and presenting us a necessary killing on regular occasions. The murders are also pretty bloody & squirty, so that's a plus. One killing even has a girl bursting through a glass door in slow motion. But face it, as far as originality goes, Dario Argento had been throwing girls through windows in slow motion since 1977 already. So, nothing too special there either.
But now for the two main things Deodato completely messes up. He has absolutely no clue on how to make an effective transition from one scene to another. And on a few occasions he sometimes even makes the cut from one shot to another look bad. Now, when you're wildly shooting a movie in a jungle, you can get away with that and the audience just doesn't notice it. But when you're shooting a stylish crime thriller and trying to tell a decent story, then you better fine-tune your directing skills in that department too. Deodato just jumps and cuts from one scene to another, including often too short and seemingly pointless scenes. It often results in a character's lines barely having come out of his mouth, and wham-bam cut to a different scenery. Doing it like that, might get you on with the story, but it also causes more than one problem for other aspects of the movie. Some might think I'm nitpicking, and I might be, as in some other movies (pulpy exploitation flicks, for example) I wouldn't point out these things. But you can feel PHANTOM OF DEATH tries to be a bit more ambitions on several levels, so I'm holding these flaws against it. However, the mise-en-scène is more polished than I would have thought. So at least the movie looks good enough.
The other problem I have, is that with a movie of this type, Deodato just can't move his cast to give a decent performance. A given is, of course, that the supporting cast is downright abominable (actingperformance-wise). But it's worse than that. Donald Pleasance looks exhausted and uninspired and I suspect the main cause of this being that he has been given bad material to work with (so not necessarily his age at the time). The dialogue is poor and one scene has him go shamelessly over the top, running into a crowd on a square, shouting stuff like "Where are you? Show yourself, bastard! I kill you! You bastard! I kill you!!!". Very funny, yes. Very sad too. Same goes for Edwige Fenech. She's got her on-screen charisma and looks great. But she has not much to do or say. In the second half of the movie, she basically sits at home all the time being pregnant and waiting for her lover (the killer) to return. Michael York somehow does pull it off on some level, but his character is loaded with so much pathos - man, those scenes when he's talking to the blind dog - that it sometimes becomes painful to watch. And his slow motion death-scene at the end was plain laughable, to put it mildly. Attentive viewers can spot a cameo by Giovanni Lombardi Radice. And no, don't get your hopes up: He doesn't die a painfully bloody death.
But this movie is memorable for at least one scene alone. Freaky & creepy sh!t, I tell ya. Two words as a teaser: Old kid.
And yes, there's female nudity coming from more than one cast member.
Let me end it here by saying that PHANTOM OF DEATH (or OFF BALANCE, as is the title I prefer) is certainly of interest to Giallo fans.
Review by Vomitron_G from the Internet Movie Database.