PHANTOM OF DEATH - unrated US Vidmark release
3 stars   
"How do you catch the uncatchable ..."

directed by: Ruggero Deodato
starring: Michael York, Donald Pleasence, Edwige Fenech, Mapi Galan, Fabio Sartor, Renato Cortesi, Antonella Ponziani, Carola Stagnaro, Daniele Brado

(back of video blurb):

"Enter the world of madness in this intense psycho thriller where an incurable disease is the catalyst for a murderous rampage.

Michael York stars as a brilliant pianist stricken by a rare disease causing him to age with alarming speed. Angry at the world for his misfortune, he sets out to kill those who remind him of his youth.

In the meantime, he plays a nightmarish game with the police, calling, taunting, challenging and threatening, perhaps out of a desperate wish to be caught. His disease is his disguise. This baffles the police as the description of the murderer is never the same.

To make matters worse, he discovers that his mistress is pregnant and intends to keep the child. His twisted mind pushes him to try and kill the mother to prevent transmission of this dreadful disease to his unborn child.

Will the police succeed in stopping yet another brutal murder?

The rage of a man forced to die has no limits!"

choice dialogue:

"Where are you, bastard? You fuckin' bastard - I kill you! You murdering bastard!"

Pleasence rages at the elusive Phantom.

slash with panache?

An effective blend of giallo and traditional horror elements from the Italian director best known for the infamous CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979).

A brief warning, however, before I go on: reviewing a film like this it would be impossible not to give away the identity of the killer, seeing as, although the film briefly plays as a whodunit, the killer's identity is quickly revealed.

Edwige Fenech admires Michael York's pianist; and the blood flows ...

Michael York plays the central character of Robert Dominici, a hugely successful classical concert pianist who's at the height of his success. The opening moments of the film show him playing in front of an audience, intercut with footage of Japanese Samuri warriors practicising sword play - and then a woman, who is first glimpsed looking through a microscope at cells; who is then shown receiving a blow to the neck with a sword, unleashing a geyser of blood (in the first of the film's gory set pieces). After the concert Dominici is congratulated by his girlfriend, Suzanna (Mapi Gallan), and friend, fashion designer Elaine Martell (Euro legend Edwige Fenech); also at the concert is the daughter of police inspector Daddi (Donald Pleasence), Gloria (Antonella Ponziani), who is suprised to see her father turn up when he brings the news of the murder of the woman glimpsed in the prologue.

The Phantom gets to work ...

The police are baffled by the killing of the scientist - as they only have an indistinct description of a 30 year old man, from an elderly eye witness. Soon, however, they have another body to contend with as Suzanna is murdered at a deserted train station on her way to meet with Dominici (again, another outstanding gore set piece where the woman first has her neck impaled on a sword and, whilst the blood flows, is pushed head first through a window.)

Seemingly devestated, Dominici begins a relationship with Elaine, before leaving for Venice to visit his Mother. Whilst there he becomes weak and it soon becomes clear that he is suffering from some malaise. On return from Venice he attacks a man, and almost kills him when he comments on his prematurely aged appearance. It turns out that Dominici is suffering from a rare degenerative desease, which normally appears in children, which causes accelerated aging and supposed dementia - and this was the catalyst for the murders which, it is revealed, that Dominici committed when faced with the diagnosis.

As the Phantom ages the cat & mouse games begin.

As I said, PHANTOM OF DEATH is not a whodunit. The majority of the film follows Dominici as he degenerates, both physically and mentally, and his attempts to kill Elaine, who is carrying his unborn child - a child, he reasons, will be born with the same condition as himself. The film also essays his relationship with affable Inspector Daddi, who he taunts mercilessly via phonecalls ("You'll never get me, so I can kill as often as I like. I'm going to drive you crazy!"), and who, along with the police, are baffled and unable to arrest Dominici as the description of the killer is different with every killing a he inexorably ages.

Yet more mayhem!

Admittedly, PHANTOM OF DEATH doesn't hold up to much scrutiny plot wise. York, however, does surprisingly well in a role which demands he runs the gamut of emotions and guises - from suave playboy to embittered old git - which could have easily have become ridiculous in lesser hands. Kudos, also, to York for taking the role - it's certainly against type! Pleasence, too, is as usual a pleasure to watch - although he's noticably frail and probably a little too old to play the father of the teenage, flute playing Gloria. It's nice, also, to see Fenech to step back into the kind of role she bloomed in back in the heydey of the giallo. And, talking of the stars of Italian exploitation cinema, eagle eyed viewers will spot John Morghen (aka Giovanni Lombardo) as a priest, at who Dominci rages: "Your God has made me rot - inside and outside!".

Certainly this film doesn't measure up to the violent excesses of Deodato's 70's movies, like HOLOCAUST or HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, but, at least in its uncut version (the version under review), it more than delivers when it comes to the red stuff.


BODYCOUNT 5   bodycount!   female:4 / male:1

       1) Female has neck hacked gorily with sword
       2) Female has neck imapled on spike and then pushed through glass
       3) Male decapitated with sword (dream sequence)
       4) Female has throat impaled on bedside lamp!
       5) Female has throat slit with razor