Tag Phantom of the Opera

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.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Phantom of the Opera, The (1962)

The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Out of the hell-fire of horror unimaginable rises the figure of terror incarnate!

A poor composer, Professor Petrie, is angered when he finds out that the slimy Lord D’Arcy is stealing his work by printing his own name on the top of an opera he had composed. Petrie sets out to try and put an end to the printing but an accident in the press horribly burns his face with acid and he escapes into the sewers, forced into hiding. Years later, D’Arcy is about to start production on one of Petrie’s plays. But Petrie has not died and decides to terrorise the opera house to make sure that the play doesn’t go ahead.

 

Hammer struck gold with their reinventions of classic horror icons Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy so it was inevitable that the studio would turn to other famous literary characters to keep the bandwagon rolling. In their second wave of remakes, Hammer gave the Gothic treatment to the Wolf Man in The Curse of the Werewolf, Dr Jekyll in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll and here with The Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately this second wave was not as commercially successful as the first and these films tend to be overlooked within the Hammer canon. Most people will associate the Phantom with Lon Chaney in the 1925 silent film but the story and character has since gone on to become one of the most adapted works of all time. Would Hammer’s trademark Gothic spin make any difference?

Well Hammer didn’t exactly produce a dud with The Phantom of the Opera but the film falls way below the high expectations that it set itself with previous successes. I think it’s just because, as a character, the Phantom himself is never mentioned in the same top-billed breath as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy (and even the Wolf Man too) and that instantly makes him become something of a second class movie monster. Perhaps this is made more so with the fact that neither Christopher Lee nor Peter Cushing star, the two names most synonymous with the glorious Hammer Technicolour horror revolution of the late 50s, were signed up to star and lend the film some much needed star power. Hammer rustled up some decent names for the film but none with the same marquis value as the two legends. Hammer’s most famous director, Terence Fisher, was once again tasked to breath new life into a Universal classic but even he can do little with the film. It looks good and flows perfectly fine but never really kicks into life like the earlier horrors did.

The film itself is one of Hammer’s more sedate films – its low on violence and gore (we don’t get a clear shot of the Phantom’s disfigured face which I had been hoping for) and it drags quite a bit in places as the plot unravels slowly. The focus is on melodramatic elements, not the horror aspects, and getting the audience to sympathise with the character of the Phantom, even though he isn’t given too much time on the screen. And as the film is based around opera, you’re going to have to sit through quite a bit of singing as well (though obviously not as much as any of the musical stage adaptations!). I just get the impression that Fisher and the production team were playing it safe here. Far from ground-breaking gore and Gothic flavour in The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, where Hammer took some risks which paid off, The Phantom of the Opera is too plodding to ever really set the world alight.

Herbert Lom is great as the Phantom and the script focuses a lot more on his psychological state. It doesn’t quite know whether to treat him as mad or misunderstood as he’s built up to be a villain throughout the film, only to show his true colours towards the end. As the actual ‘Phantom’ he doesn’t have an awful lot to do but in person there’s a lengthy flashback scene which shows us how he came to be in the state he is. His lair looks superb for a low budget set and is one of the best that Hammer ever designed. There is a sewer running through it as well as a massive organ as its centre piece and everything is sculpted around the rocks. Bond villains didn’t even get real estate as beautiful as this!

Michael Gough steals the show as the slimy Lord D’Arcy. I don’t know whether it’s just me but I’ve always thought that Gough looked a little sinister and creepy and this film really plays on it. He chews his scenes with glee, firing employees, lusting after female opera singers and, of course, stealing music. There are a whole host of other character actors on show including Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton and Hammer cameo regular Michael Ripper makes an appearance too. It’s a solid cast and I wouldn’t expect anything else from Hammer. It’s just a pity that what they have to work with is so, well, lacklustre.

 

Hammer’s version of The Phantom of the Opera does contain a lot which is worth viewing. If you like your films a little more sedate (and with plenty of opera singing no less!), then check this out. It’s not a Hammer classic in the same vein as The Curse of Frankenstein but it’s still worth at least one viewing.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆