Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mask-Off: Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Everybody loves the Phantom right? What do you mean that he is known mostly for that stupid musical where he is supposed to be a romantic icon? Have we forgotten his roots? He is a scary character that is most famous for his portrayal by Lon Chaney Sr! He is not some guy who looks cute and fences like Errol Flynn! Never mind the fact that he was played in the 2004 film by Gerard Butler, who later went on to play Leonidas in 300. He's still a wuss. We need to remind people that there was a big, scary villain that lived in the sewers. I have just the man for the job too: Robert f-ing Englund! Let's take a look at the '80s version of the story produced by the King of Sub-Par Cinema in his day: Menahem Golan. This is...
Our story begins with a fake quote from a man's last words- good start. They give us a present day (of 20 years ago) location in what looks like Chicago or New York. Thank you, vague camera work and night shots! We meet our heroine and her friend...Molly Shannon of SNL fame?!? I guess you have to start somewhere. She has discovered a rare copy of an old sonata by the same man who they quoted earlier. While her friend is away, our friend finds a copy of his masterpiece- 'Don Juan Triumphant'- and begins to sing the words. This causes the text to turn into blood, but it only lasts for a moment and no evidence is left. Um, Big-Lipped Alligator Moment anyone? The pair go to some auditions the next day for an opera. As she sings from the piece, a sandbag swings down at her...causing the space-time continuum to crash. She wakes up in 1885 London and is greeted by her friend...who is not Molly Shannon anymore. Anyone going to ask questions here? No? Alright then.
Everyone just sort of goes along with this as our heroine is the understudy to a Diva of the highest sort. A mysterious man talks to her through her mirror, which she has no problem with. Wow, you really question nothing, do you? We get our first bit of horror as the Phantom kills the man who dropped the sandbag. Why? Didn't he set this all up for you? He brings the guy up on a rope and cuts the man open, causing him to have what I refer to as a 'kill-gasm' face. That night, he dumps the body in the star's room, who oddly comes alive. Who survives being skinned like that, only to die when a lady shows up? This fright causes the Diva to lose her voice and a new star is born. By the way, the boss is played by Bill Nighy, before he got typecast as a vampire. Our heroine does very well, although a critic the next day is extremely rude. That man runs into the Phantom and gets his head bashed into a wall. Everyone's a critic...killer, I guess. She takes the criticism badly and goes to her dad's feel better. The Phantom meets her and takes her to his lair, but not before using violin music to stop her fiancee. Huh?
The movie only gets weirder and bloodier as it goes by. The girl insists that the Phantom play his sonata from 'Don Juan' and sings along. When it ends, he asks how she knows the lyrics, to which she has no answer. Didn't you send her...I thought you...oh, screw it. He lets her go when she agrees to do the show once more. Does this actually happen in the movie though? Nope- only one opera per film. She meets up with her fiancee, but cannot see him for fear that the Phantom will kill him. Why? He's only killed one worker, three thugs and a critic already. Despite her concerns, she goes to a ball for all the people involved in the show. Oh and remember that great reveal of the Phantom's face in the Chaney version? We get that, only in a weird segment where he removes all of his make-up and himself! That's not the same! He goes undercover as the villain from 'Faust' (the opera being performed), but also with a touch of Death from The Masque of Red Death. He pulls the Diva aside when she hears that the woman wants back in the show. They pull the food out and reveals the soup...which has her head in it! Still hungry? He takes the starlet back to his lair and the rat-catcher leads the police to there, with the fiancee in tow. A long battle takes place, which end with the lair set in flames and the Phantom shot several times. Movie over? No.
Not knowing when to quit, the movie has our heroine wake up. She is told that she got the part and will get to meet the backer...who is Robert Englund with no make-up. Ahh, he's still scary! He takes the woman back to his place in order to get ready for a party. He goes upstairs, while she goes through all of his stuff. We get the 'shocking' reveal that he is the Phantom still. Yeah, that makes sense. She plays a floppy disc of his which plays the same part from 'Don Juan' again. Way to make the most of this song, movie! He uses the same line from earlier, which leads her to pull of his false face! After a struggle, she stabs him and walks off with his music. Our Phantom is a wuss in the present day! She rips up his music and dumps it in the sewer, which causes him to die. It all makes sense in the story...kind of. Later still, she walks down the road and a man plays 'Music of the Night' on the violin. Do they follow up on this? No. The End.
This movie is honestly pretty good, but the wrap-around story is just so pointless. On top of that, the symbolism is really forced. Consider this: the opera is 'Faust' and, during the performance, they show us a scene where Englund's character sells his soul to the the form of a midget. I guess it has to do with Twin Peaks' popularity at the time. On top of that, he dresses like the Satan character near the end. We get it, movie! The big thing about this movie is the gore. It is pervasive, dramatic and generally-well done. The only problem is that some of it is completely and utterly pointless. Did we need two scenes of him sewing and un-sewing his face? I didn't think so. I will say that this film is criminally ignored though. It is an 80s horror film starring Robert Englund and it is obscure? How did that happen? Give this one a rent if you love some bloody, old-school horror.
Up next, a famous horror director takes his shot at it. Will he do any better or will nepotism get in the way? Stay tuned...


  1. Sounds better than Argento's version at least, I have always wondered about this one but never gave it a shot, really happy you got a review up for it because I believe this is the first one I have ever read. Added to wishlist.... now!

  2. Like I said, if you can get around the stupid time-travel/dream/magic thing, it is not bad. The way they do the London setting is good, but pretty low-fi.

  3. I've seen different musicals many times and Phantom of the Opera was one of my best attended shows ever…I got a pretty good seat after comparing prices for Free via this:
    It was really one of the most memorable shows with a beautiful, smooth-flowing set, gorgeous music and a super talented cast.

  4. I'm with ya on this one... in fact, I go so far as to call it classic. I've always loved the garish purple n' red poster for it, too.