Ruins, The (2008)

The Ruins (2008)

Terror has evolved.

A group of friends on holiday in Mexico are invited to a remote archaeological dig in the jungle by a fellow tourist. He wants to go and see his brother who is heading up the dig and thinks a trip into the jungle will be a good laugh. However when they get to the site – an ancient Mayan temple – they are attacked by the local villagers who refuse to let them leave. Stranded on the ruins of the temple, the group soon realise that the villagers and their lack of food and water aren’t the worst of their problems.

 

Apart from The Day of the Triffids, I can’t name too many films which feature killer plants. Maybe there’s a good reason for that – the idea is rather absurd. So with this in mind, The Ruins is a tough one to call. The poster seems to put it over as another generic teen survival horror where a group of tourists fall victim to a bunch of nasty locals. Whilst there is some truth in that plot, The Ruins is actually a more effective psychological horror in which the gore isn’t in abundance, the special effects are kept to a minimum and the situation is handled as mature and believable as possible (but we are dealing with killer plants at the end of the day!). This is a horror film where you need to like the protagonists and get into their heads before the plot starts to force them to make difficult decisions and screwing with their minds. And it does just that.

The first thirty minutes of The Ruins are pretty lacklustre and are simply the generic ‘getting to know the characters’ phase. The characters are well fleshed out during this time and we get to know them all a little deeper than usual. They’re not too far from bordering on stereotypes but each character has a little something extra which allows them to rise above the norm. The Ruins gives the illusion that it is going to be another bland teen horror with lots of footage of the group partying, acting immaturely, getting promiscuous and the rest (at least it gives us the sight of the glorious Laura Ramsay without her top on). The characters all seem too stereotypical and lightweight and a little poorly motivated – if I was lounging in the sun next to a pool and with Laura Ramsay at my beckoned call, why would I want to go hiking in the middle of nowhere and get all hot and blistered?

However once the film feels that we’ve ‘bonded’ with the characters enough to like them, and to be fair to them they’re all decent and likeable, then the rug is pulled away and the proverbial hits the fan. The characters are all put through the grinder at some point with difficult moral decisions, ever-increasing panic and paranoia and the inevitable madness in the face of death. It’s a credit to the group of actors that they all managed to prove me wrong. They’re not just pretty faces with model looks, these young men and women can actually act. The focus of the film is always on these characters and it never strays away with any sub-plots or events that occur elsewhere. So you’re with them every step of the way – with each scream, each reaction, each cut of the skin and each break of bone, we feel their pain and suffering. Most of the film is confined to the one location of the ruins. And not just around the ruins but on top of them. There’s no escape for the characters as the local villagers lay in wait if they leave the ruins. Despite being confined to the same location, the film manages to work the suspense down to a tee.

What may sound like a very ridiculous premise with killer vines actually turns into some horrific as the plants are made out to be a very major and very deadly threat. As they begin to get under the character’s skin (quite literally), little is spared to the imagination as they slowly eat away their victims, keeping them alive as long as possible. The characters must go to extreme lengths if they want to survive this ordeal and end up trying to cut off their skin, eventually resulting in the hacking off of limbs to prevent the vines from eating them alive. The film doesn’t shy away from the gore and its right up there with the realistic excesses of the first Saw film. It’s just the thought of having these things growing under your skin which will make you scratch your arms and legs a few times whilst watching. The film pushes the boundaries for what it can and the unrated version is even more graphic – but you never feel like it’s obligatory but rather essential to the story. Only seeing the full effects of what will happen to all of the characters can you truly appreciate just what must be going through their heads when they are trying to make rational decisions.

I only found out after watching that The Ruins is based upon a novel by Scott Smith. It’s a good job that the film rights were snapped up long before Smith had finished (as the studio based the success upon his last novel which was turned into A Simple Plan) because Stephen King came out and named the novel as the best new horror work of the decade. I may have to check it out sometime soon. Thanks to the source material, The Ruins does come off as original despite the number of Hollywood-isms present. Smith even wrote the screenplay to make sure that as much of his source material was included which would make it a spectacle as sometimes stuff works in books that doesn’t on-screen. Having creative control over this side of the film really helps the material to stand out as something a bit different and fresh.

 

The Ruins is a decent effort. A lot of the story is par for the course and has been played out many times in the past whenever a group of tourists end up in the wrong place. Whilst the end result is usually the same, it’s the journey there that matters and The Ruins takes you through the ringer from the moment the friends arrive at the temple. Do you know what the best thing is about this? It’s not a remake, a sequel or based on a Japanese horror film! A truly original horror film which deserves at least a whole star solely for that mantle!

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ice Road Terror (2011)

Ice Road Terror (2011)

When workers at a diamond mine located at the end of a long ice road in northern Alaska decide to plant explosives deeper than they ever gone before, they aren’t aware that in doing so they will awaken a dormant prehistoric creature which proceeds to terrorise the camp. This isn’t good news for two ice road truckers taking the dangerous trip up along the road to deliver explosives to the mine and are about to encounter the beast for themselves.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any Sy Fy Originals and boy, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Another one off the monster movie conveyor belt, it’s no real surprise for me to want to wind the clock back and retrieve the valuable ninety minutes I spent watching. Presumably filmed as a response to the international popularity of reality TV show Ice Road Truckers, Ice Road Terror features the usual Sy Fy tropes in abundance and makes sure it ticks pretty much all of the boxes on the ‘Original’ checklist.

Forgetting any plausible reasons why this prehistoric monster has been completely alive for millions of years (like what has been eating?) and is able to quickly scarper out of the uncovered cave when it’s blown open (without any hint of being blinded by the sun or a bit of stiffness in the legs for being caged so long), the story doesn’t really go any further into explaining what it is or why it’s there, save for an obligatory Native American nick name that it’s given later in the film. Whilst this may appease some, I was wanting to know more about the creatures as I’m getting sick of being taken for a ride.

Ice Road Terror does the usual Sy Fy trick of showing us the monster within the opening few minutes of the film. It looks awful, like some sort of komodo dragon, and does the usual things that a Sy Fy monster needs to do: eat all of the minor characters; be unable to break down weak obstacles when the main characters are in peril; seems to hang around the same location for the entire film in order to re-use animation; growls or roars like a normal animal; and is never satisfied with the copious amount of food it gets. The monster is badly animated but it’s only what I’ve come to expect from Sy Fy now. Whilst its design looks fairly unique (though given the climate of the film, you’d expect something cold-blooded rather than a warm-blooded lizaerd), the way it is brought to life through computer animation leaves a lot to be desired. As is the case with a lot of these films, there’s only so many frames of animation and the same shots are repeated over and over again, sometimes using movement which makes no sense given the different situation. But hey, it saves some money!

Bargain basement effects coupled with lots of quick editing and camera shaking to give you the illusion that everything is more exciting than it really is. Thankfully, I’m not that gullible and can see through it. Ice Road Terror is surprisingly dull. There are enough action scenes in the film but as I’ve already said, they’re pretty badly put together with the effects and lack of excitement. You never feel as though any of the main characters are under threat despite the best efforts of the screenplay to throw in some perilous moments. It’s just a case of seeing them survive one scene and getting themselves into another predicament where the monster will kill them if they screw up. We never really get to know of them either as the film just goes straight into the story, unleashing the monster within the first few minutes and then having the undeveloped trio of main characters arrive at the site shortly afterwards. Given Sy Fy’s track record, I don’t think it will have made much difference in the long run but a bit of characterisation would have been nice. It’s for these reasons that the film is unengaging. You literally don’t care what happens to anyone. You won’t remember their names. The film ended and I was sat there shrugging and thinking about the next film I was planning to see. See it, move on.

The monster is well fed at the start, with the construction workers providing a healthy source of protein. Sy Fy do allow their films to get bloody when needed and the red stuff is on show here. Nothing too major but enough of a splattering to keep genre fans happy. There’s even a few shots of intestines and the like but it looks like a lot of the decent practical make-up effects are ruined with daft CGI blood smears on the camera and the use of a red lens when needed.

I’m not even going to bother covering the cast. Never heard of them before watching. Most likely will never hear from them again after watching. They were given impossible tasks to begin with as their characters aren’t developed in the slightest. I didn’t care for any of them. They’re never put into any real danger. And by the end of the film, everything is wrapped up into a neat little package as far as attempted story arcs go. Same old Sy Fy.

 

Ice Road Terror is one of Sy Fy’s worst efforts. Cashing in on a popular television show and recycling the same monster movie garbage that it’s been spewing out for years now, Sy Fy is really scraping the barrel. The formula is stale, the execution is uninspiring and devoid of life and the end result is just a complete waste of time. So I guess the next one off the conveyer belt will be along soon….

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Vacancy 2: The First Cut (2008)

Vacancy 2: The First Cut (2008)

If the camera is on, you’re dead

Gordon and Reece, the owners of the Meadow View motel, have an illicit operation of secretly filming young couples having sex and then selling the tapes. This is thrown into chaos when they tape a serial killer murdering a prostitute in one of their rooms. Knocking him out, they debate what to do next but their only evidence lies on their illegal tapes and handing him over to the police would incriminate them. The killer persuades the duo to allow him to continue his work, filming his murders and then selling it on as snuff footage. This is unfortunate for a trio of young friends who arrive at the motel.

 

Vacancy was a passable entry into an overcrowded torture porn market, perhaps a little more well known that it should be due to the casting of A-listers Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale as a middle-aged married couple. Shock of horrors – no teenagers in sight! This was about the only thing which made it stand out from a slew of Saw and Hostel wannabes as the promising start quickly descended into a never-ending routine of chase and hide sequences. Inevitably, a follow up was bound to happen and even more inevitably the strongest point of the original, having older characters and decent actors playing them, was to be replaced by bickering teenagers. You knew it was coming.

Vacancy 2: The First Cut is a prequel to the events that happen in the original and it tells the story of how the snuff operation came into being. It is somewhat interesting to see how everything fell into place and at least this part of the story is a little bit different and makes a lot of sense too. But there’s not a whole lot of back story to tell in all honesty and after skipping through it quite quickly, the film shifts into simply being an inferior remake of the original where a few people are terrorised in the motel. No attempt is made to explain why two of the three conspirators are different to those who featured in the original. Maybe they got caught out and the other guy went into business for himself? Who knows? Certainly not the script.

The trouble with this prequel is that the killers have no aura about them. They’re not a mystery to the audience anymore because we’ve seen them before. In the original, we had no idea who these people were or why they were trying to kill. Now, they’re introduced at the start of the film so once they don those rather eerie Perspex masks and get about their business, it’s a little late for the audience to pretend that they’re shocked at the revelations in the finale when they take the masks off. Shocking for the new teenage characters who don’t realise they’ve stopped at a motel run by psychos, not so the audience who know who is behind the killing from the first few scenes.

Once this back story has been skimmed over, the film quickly moves to cover the necessary bases of having more people stay in the motel and end up being chased and killed (actually with this being a prequel, they become the first ones to end up the victims of the new scheme). Vacancy 2: The First Cut then just runs like an inferior remake of the original, producing the same sort of set pieces only without any of the tension or suspense that was present before hand. With the addition of the back story, there’s not even as much time to run through the necessary bases in a steady manner and everything gets rushed along so that the film can finish within a comfortable running time. It’s not like any of it is remotely exciting or scary, in fact just the opposite. Vacancy 2: The First Cut manages to be extremely dull and boring, aimlessly going from room to room or location to location without any real sense of urgency or excitement. There’s some violence and blood on show but it’s all perfunctory and does what it needs to do to tick a couple of boxes.

As I’ve stated, I found it pleasantly surprising that the original chose to focus on a married couple as opposed to some teenage lovers as few horror films showcase older actors in that type of role (I say ‘older’ actors though both Beckinsale and Wilson were in their 30s when Vacancy was made – still elderly as far as horror films go!). So it really grinded on me to find out that the new victims would purposely cater to the younger market like every other slasher and torture porn film out there. I’m probably being too harsh on the teenagers here because it’s not their fault. They try their best and do alright in their roles, it’s just that their roles are one-dimensional and we’ve seen them a million times before. Not least there is the fact that the trio of killers tend to get more screen time than they do. Are we supposed to care for the victims when we know little about them? Is the reason that the killers are given so much screen time is that they’re supposed to be anti-heroes? I don’t get it.

Vacancy 2: The First Cut is kind of a pointless prequel. Apart from a little bit of expansion to the original story, it is too content with rehashing the same routine to be effective. It’s clear that the sole reason for its existence is to make a bit of money upon the name the original. I’m sure teenagers who haven’t seen the first one will no doubt have a blast but anyone with half a horror brain can see the well-worn path that Vacancy 2: The First Cut takes.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Deadly Eyes (1982)

Deadly Eyes (1982)

Tonight they will rise from the darkness beneath the city… to feed!

Corn grain contaminated with steroids produces large rats the size of small dogs who begin feeding on the residents of Toronto. Paul, a college basketball coach, teams up with a local health inspector to uncover the source of the mysterious rat attacks. It is a race against time to find the rats nest before the opening of a new subway line unleashes them upon an unsuspecting city.

 

Based upon the novel by James Herbert, Deadly Eyes starts off with a great ten minutes or so which really made me wake up and take note – this film wasn’t going to take any prisoners, not least the infant who is the first one in the film to encounter the giant rats. They wouldn’t get away with that in today’s market! However the problem with Deadly Eyes is that it can’t do anything remotely as interesting as this for the rest of its running time. In fact, the handbrake is slapped on and the film comes to a grinding halt about a third of the way in as the romantic sub-plot is introduced.

The love triangle between Paul, health inspector Elly and one of his students, Trudy, is dull. Paul is hardly a catch yet these women seem to be falling over backwards for him. It’s hardly a love triangle either as Paul does the honourable thing where Trudy is concerned (though I did question his sexuality when he catches her in his bed and tells her to get out!). He is not exactly gushing with love and affection for Elly either and seems to be just going with the flow. I guess its this sub-plot which made Herbert disown the film upon release and proclaim that they had a terrible job of turning his novel into a film!  The rats are put on the back burner, given an odd random attack every ten minutes or so to remind us that they’re growing more deadly as the running time progresses. Then the stories all come together in the final third where Deadly Eyes picks up steam again.

Even though the sight of rats might get some folk screaming for the nearest high ground, they’re hardly life-threatening animals like snakes, sharks or crocodiles. But the prospect of being helpless to prevent yourself being gnawed to death by a whole pack of rats is a grim thought. Deadly Eyes does a great job of making this thought come to life. Whilst it is not overly gory, there’s enough blood to get across the message that these rats are hungry. There’s a decent body count, you don’t have to wait too long between attacks and the fact that it’s so dark really enhances the mood of some of the underground kills. Attacks get more ambitious as the film progresses, with the highlight being an effective set piece inside a cinema in the finale as the rats launch an assault on a group of people watching a Bruce Lee film.

The giant rats were actually Dachshunds dressed up in rat costumes and guided along by the smell of meat and blood to ensure that they went where they were supposed to go. The effect sounds daft in theory but the film is that dark at times that it’s really hard to see the dogs up close. So the illusion of these being giant rats is maintained throughout. The gorier moments are done with the use of rat puppets which look terrible but do what they are required to do. The fact that the filmmakers went for feasible approaches to solving the dilemma of how to portray giant rats shows just how more practical everyone was back in the 70s and 80s, instead of just putting everything through a computer like today. The cheap effects give the film a nice retro feel to things.

Sam Groom is probably one of the most actors I’ve seen given a leading role in a horror film. As I’ve already said, it’s hard to see why the females in the film are attracted to him. He rarely raises a smile, he has a monotone delivery and he parades around with his hairy chest quite a lot. Lisa Langlois is really pretty as student Trudy but is hardly in the film and is rather inconsequential to the eventual ending. Scatman Crothers, fresh off his appearance in The Shining, is given a large billing despite his glorified cameo role. Listening to him trash-talking the rats in the sewer before having the tables turned made me wish that his role had been expanded as he injects a much-needed dose of life and energy to proceedings before his untimely demise.

 

Deadly Eyes holds up fairly well despite its blatant shortcomings. Maybe it’s the old school “let’s create our monsters using any method possible” approach which helps it connect with the audience in an affectionate way or maybe it’s just the fact that there’s a decent amount of carnage, the rats are well fed and there’s some effective moments down in the sewers. It’s not perfect but a healthy dose of 80s monster movie fun is always a welcome tonic to today’s CGI saturated snooze-fests.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)

Pinocchio's Revenge (1996)

Evil comes with strings attached

Defence Attorney Jennifer Garrick acquires a Pinocchio puppet from a condemned serial killer. Her little daughter, Zoe, finds the puppet and, believing that it is a birthday present, begins to grow attached to her new puppet friend. Suddenly, accidents begin to happen around the house and at school and Zoe blames Pinocchio. However no one will believe her. As her behaviour deteriorates and people start to go missing, Jennifer begins to wonder just what is going on with Zoe and her puppet.

 

I don’t think that Pinocchio’s Revenge could try any harder to be Child’s Play if it tried. Clearly out to ape the successful horror film that introduced the world to Chucky, Pinocchio’s Revenge tries to turn everyone’s favourite ‘wooden puppet who wanted to become a boy’ (unless you can name another wooden puppet) into a similar sort of slasher-thriller. The comparisons between the two are inevitable and being the later, lower budgeted one, Pinocchio’s Revenge suffers right from the start.

It’s impossible to shake the feeling of Child’s Play at any point. Pinocchio’s Revenge rips it off so bad it’s a wonder that the studio didn’t pursue legal proceedings. However unlike the latter, Pinocchio’s Revenge fails to deliver any consistent scares, tension or thrills though it does deliver some sporadic moments of decency. Director Kevin Tenney was the man behind classic 80s horror-comedy Night of the Demons so we know he’s got the ability to make something entertaining. Sadly, Pinocchio’s Revenge is not that something. No matter how hard Tenney tries, he just can’t make the notion of a killer wooden puppet seem scary because of the associations we have of the character from the animated Disney film. Pinocchio is just not a psycho killer, he’s a cute little wooden puppet who just wants to be a boy.

We’re given very little information as to the background to the puppet. In fact we don’t even know how the puppet came to live in the first place. Is it possessed by the spirit of the killer, Gotto? Did Zoe’s rage and anger cause the puppet to come to life? There’s no sense of ambiguity despite the film trying to mislead the audience a few times. Is the puppet alive or is it really Zoe who is doing the killing? Well the clue is in the title after all but on the few occasions when the boundaries between the two become blurred, the film tries to punch above its weight. The final twists and ending to the film make me wish that the rest of the film had been more deserving. Pinocchio’s Revenge is such a misleading title too because there’s no real need for the puppet to start killing people. He’s not out to get revenge on anyone, just killing people who get in the way of the relationship between Zoe and her mother for some reason.

It doesn’t help that Pinocchio doesn’t start his ‘revenge’ until the final act and even then it’s not that bloody or violent. The first half of the film is drawn-out to try and create some mood going in to the kills later on but it doesn’t do a great job of creating it. Once people start winding up dead, the pace picks up a little more but even then there isn’t a massive body count. So many potential victims and so little carnage. But what would you expect from an alleged killer that looks as ridiculous as the chap on the poster. The Pinocchio puppet looks awful. It’s big, crudely carved, its eyes can only roll left and right and its mouth doesn’t even move when it talks, surely the easiest of effects to achieve. What’s worse is that the puppet is a foul-mouthed little bugger but the voice is not intimidating in the slightest. You just want him to shut up.

Brittany Alyse Smith, as Zoe, delivers a mixed performance. On some occasions her overly cute, sweet little girl delivery is so adorable that you can’t help but empathise with her. But in other scenes, her delivery is loud, forced and too energetic, showing her lack of maturity in delivering the lines. Rosalind Allen is better as her mother but this is hardly an actor’s film, especially when she’s forced to talk to and deal with a killer puppet! To write any jokes about ‘wooden’ acting at this point would be pretty pointless. Also, there is a shower scene featuring some full frontal nudity and I will avoid the whole ‘Pinocchio gets wood’ jokes too.

 

Pinocchio’s Revenge is derivative and, at times, just a drag to sit through but there are a couple of good moments and Tenney does at least try to play everything as seriously as possible. Whether that was the best option or not remains to be seen. Thankfully we were spared a sequel.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

IT CRUSHES! KILLS! DESTROYS!

A nuclear submarine on its maiden voyage is attacked by a mysterious object from the depths. A large chunk of rubbery tissue is pulled from one of the vessel’s propellers and examined by two marine biologists, who conclude that it came from an enormous octopus. The military dismiss their findings, until the creature begins sinking ships and making its way toward the west coast of the United States.

 

Well in 1950s America, a giant radioactive monster wouldn’t go anywhere else, would it? (Well, maybe except for Godzilla!) This was a decade dominated by ants, locusts, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions and space monsters all growing to enormous size and attacking America. The nuclear monster era was here, in a time dominated by the very real threat and fear of atomic bombs being used by the Soviet Union. Capitalising on this fear and paranoia, cinema churned out a ridiculous number of varying quality B-movies during this decade, spanning the likes of Earth Vs The Spider, The Black Scorpion, Beginning of the End, Them! And The Deadly Mantis to name but a select few entries. Devastating attacks on mankind weren’t just confined to the land and air though and It Came From Beneath the Sea stands up in the corner of the sea monsters to make a name for itself.

Cult stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen had made his first solo effects feature film two years earlier with classic The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the earliest of the 1950s atomic monster B-movies. Seeing how popular these films had become, he jumped at the chance to make another one when approached by producer Charles H. Schneer. This was Harryhausen’s first collaboration with Schneer and it was to be the making of a fantastic partnership which would change the way cinema looked at special effects, with the two men pioneering work in classics such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts within the next ten years. Schneer was fully supportive of Harryhausen’s talents, often exceeding budgets in order for the maestro to finish his work to the best possible standards – you just wouldn’t get that level of trust in today’s film market.

With only one man producing the special effects, it was clear that the octopus wasn’t going to be on screen for a lot of the time and so other filler was needed to keep audiences hooked. Sadly, It Came From Beneath the Sea fails to engage the viewer when the monster isn’t around. There’s a really awkward romantic love triangle sub-plot between the main characters and it’s so tedious that you don’t care who gets who by the end. The usual military types spend plenty of the film bickering about the best course of action to prevent disaster from happening and there’s a team of scientists racing to find a way to stop the monster before it’s too late. I’m all for a bit of plot development but seeing the same faces standing around talking isn’t a great use of time. The addition of a news reporter-style narration to proceedings adds nothing to the film except a few extra minutes of running time and a cheap way to provide the exposition that the boring dialogue fails to get across.

When the scenes of destruction arrive, they are pretty good but are over far too quickly. The octopus only has six tentacles (an infamous fact down to Harryhausen not having time or money to animate eight) but this doesn’t stop it from doing some damage, taking out ships before arriving in San Francisco for a very famous attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s more action than the majority of the aforementioned giant monster movies provided but still seems somewhat lacking. Sadly the final confrontation with the octopus doesn’t deliver a knock-out blow when it needs to and the film ends on a rather a weak note.

Kenneth Tobey was a familiar sight in the 50s, starring in two of the decades greatest sci-fi films in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and The Thing From Another World and lends his usual gung-ho schtick to the military role he is required to play again. Co-star Donald Curtis also popped up in another Harryhausen film a few years later, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and portrays the same military role. You’d think that everyone back in the 50s was in the army with the way they get all of the main roles in these films! They’re both bland in parts that require nothing more of them but to regurgitate military mumbo jumbo to each other.

 

It Came From Beneath the Sea is never built up as one of Harryhausen’s best and there’s a good reason for that – it’s not. Whilst the animation is excellent, the excitement is lacking and there’s not enough action to keep the film from sinking. However, it was another learning curve for Harryhausen and another showcase to craft his art, which he would refine over the coming years.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Phantom of the Opera (1989)

The final curtain is about to drop.

While onstage at an audition, opera singer Christine Day is knocked unconscious by a falling sandbag and transported to 19th-century London. With the eagerly awaited premiere of a new opera headlined by diva Carlotta draws near, disfigured composer Erik Destler is instantly bewitched by her understudy Christine. Driven by maniacal desire, he vows to do whatever necessary—including commit murder—to make her the star of the show.

 

Phantom of the Opera was the fifth cinematic version of Gaston Leroux’s famous novel. Made at a time when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical version was going strong and lead actor Robert Englund was still riding high as Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, this version is the most violent and bloody to date. Jokingly referred to as ‘Freddy of the Opera’ in some quarters, it is clear where its influence lies: the UK posters featuring Robert Englund’s hideously scarred and burned face as the Phantom look uncannily like a certain Mr Krueger. The film hardly registered at the box office, making a pitiful $4m in the US and has become an obscure curiosity for fans of Englund or the classic story.

So it’s to my surprise that Phantom of the Opera fares a little better than just being a sub-par A Nightmare on Elm Street knock-off and comes across as more of an 80s version of a Hammer horror film. The Gothic vibe runs right through this, with superb period sets, exquisite costumes and a great soundtrack which gets across the operatic tone just right. Shifting the location of the story allowed the filmmakers to utilise a stunning Victorian theatre in London and, as a result, it makes the budget appear far more lavish than it actually was. These cultural elements certainly give the film the right classical literature touch to do justice to Gaston Leroux’s novel. There are some really striking scenes in the film, particularly the finale inside the Phantom’s underground lair filled with all manner of tunnels and passages to get lost in.

Director Dwight H. Little was no stranger to the horror genre, having helmed the decent Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers a year earlier. He peppers The Phantom of the Opera with a number of decent kill scenes and some impressive gore effects. Whilst the set-ups may be a tad contrived and there’s no really much in the way of tension or suspense leading up to them, the Phantom is a dab hand at offing his enemies. It’s these elements which sit a little uncomfortably with the classical Phantom-style as the two don’t mesh together well. The Gothic approach gives the film an elegance and class that few 80s films had yet the slasher elements reduce it to little more than another by-the-numbers body count film. Some of the gore even had to be cut to make the rating.

Robert Englund gets to dig his teeth into the role a little bit and away from the cartoon villain he had been playing. He’s basically a more cultured and theatrical version of Freddy here, still armed an array of dodgy one-liners ready to hurl at his victims as he brutally slashes his way through the cast. A Nightmare on Elm Street make-up effects man Kevin Yagher followed Englund across from the franchise for this outing and its evident where the inspiration for the Phantom’s disfigured look comes from. Englund, perfectly at home in layers of make-up, gets to play Freddy 2.0, peeling off parts of his face and stitching them back on whenever he needs to. His Phantom attempts to be a more tragic, poignant character but his instantly-unlikeable demeanour means he never gets the sympathy of the audience like some of his predecessors.

Jill Schoelen is the object of his affections and whilst she looks the part, she’s not got a great delivery and comes across sounding rather flat and tired. I had to cringe when she started singing – not because she’s a bad singer but because I didn’t want to watch a musical version but rather a gory slasher. The musical numbers are few and far between, thankfully. A young Bill Nighy pops up in a brief role as the owner of the opera house.

 

At times, Phantom of the Opera is an unconvincingly mix of old school period horror, tinged with a hint of poetry and classic literature, and gory 80s effects-driven slasher. When it sticks to either sub-genre, it works pretty well, though the transitions between the two are abrupt and awkward. It did deserve to do a lot better at the box office and whilst it not a hidden classic, it’s still decent enough to watch.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆