Color, 1987, 91 mins 57 secs.
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Starring Michael York, Donald Pleasence, Edwige Fenech, Mapi Galán, Fabio Sartor, Renato Contesi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Cauldron Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Mediacs (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Shameless Screen Entertainment (DVD) (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
After ticking off censors around the world and going on a three-year hiatus following his infamous one-two punch of Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park, director Ruggero Deodato lightened up for the remainder of the '80s with a string of genre-hopping confections like The Barbarians, Body Count, Dial Help, and Raiders of Atlantis. Fitting snugly in that company of films is his 1987 offering, Un delitto poco comune (or An Uncommon Crime), which was sold worldwide in English as Off Balance and ended up going straight to VHS in America as Phantom of Death (in R-rated and unrated versions, though the latter was technically still missing some chunks of footage). It isn't much of a surprise to see Donald Pleasence here since he'd been paying the bills with Italian films on and off going back to 1974's Watch Out, We're Mad! and really amped up his output there after Phenomena. Much more unexpected is the fact that it stars Michael York, whose career in the U.S and U.K. had gone almost entirely dormant by this point with him going off to star in a handful of West German films right before this. The result is a fascinating giallo (more or less) with a medical / monster spin, highlighted by extremely splashy gore and some effective makeup effects as well as a terrific score by Pino Donaggio (understandable given it's partially set in Venice).
Esteemed concert pianist Robert Dominici (York) enjoys mingling with Europe's high society as well as a romance with the beautiful Suzanna (Galán), though he's also in close proximity to the temptations of fashion designer Helene (Fenech). When a scientist is brutally slashed to death, Inspector Datti (Pleasence) is stymied by an insufficient description of the culprit -- which is compounded when the killer strikes again at a train station and doesn't seem to look the same. As it soon turns out (not much of a spoiler), Robert is suffering from a rare form of adult progeria causing his body and mind to age at a rapidly accelerating rate. Suffering from what seems to be an emerging murderous personality, he taunts the inspector with phone calls as his body count continues.
Relatively speaking, Off Balance finds Deodato in classy horror mode with York getting to offer an effective range of emotions as our tortured, murderous protagonist. It's an effective bit of casting compared to how someone like Anthony Perkins might have tackled the role (see Edge of Sanity for a pretty good idea), and Deodato, who also pops up in a very amusing cameo early on, shows off plenty of visual flair with elegant decor and stylish murder scenes showing the giallo wasn't quite on life support yet. Of course, the presence of Italian cinema royalty Fenech doesn't hurt (stepping in for Deodato's original intended choice, Kelly LeBrock!), and a small role for the reliable Giovanni Lombardo Radice in one of his multiple priest roles is just the icing on the cake.
After its run on VHS into the early '90s, this film largely fell into neglect until a 2007 DVD from Shameless in the U.K. (representing its first uncut release there). The transfer wasn't great, but it was the best we had at the time. In 2023 it was issued in Germany on Blu-ray and DVD (not available for comparison here), while Cauldron Films gave it a deluxe Blu-ray release in the U.S. almost simultaneously as a limited edition (1500 copies) with a double-sided poster, CD soundtrack, and slipcase with art by Eric Adrian Lee. The 2K restoration from the original negative looks excellent and easily surpasses the bland transfers it's suffered from in the past, and the DTS-HD MA 2.0 English track sounds great with nice separation throughout. The Italian track is also included for comparison, but it doesn't sound as punchy and obviously doesn't feature the vocal performances of the lead actors so it's more of a curio. English SDH and translated subtitles are also included. A new audio commentary by Eugenio Ercolani and Troy Howarth covers all the bases about the film including its lengthy gestation period as a script by Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino (linked to what morphed into New York Ripper) and the process that led to the final product we have now during a difficult transition period in Italian cinema. "An Uncommon Director" (32m50s) is one of the interviews conducted with Deodato before his passing, and he's a good subject as always explaining his path to getting back to commercial viability during the decade, his working relationship with names like Luciano Martino, and his positive and negative assessments about this film in particular. The English and Italian trailers are also included.
Reviewed on December 18, 2023.