JULY 24, 2008
I remember my mom renting Phantom of the Opera for me when I was like 10, telling me “It’s Freddy!”, which was good enough for me. I had no knowledge of the Gaston Leroux story, so for me it was like seeing Freddy kill some dudes in the 19th century, which was more than enough to entertain me. Now, having seen like 5 or 6 other versions of a story I simply don’t care for, it’s a completely different enjoyable experience. This version does away with all of the goth-y sympathy (Argento), the music numbers (Schumacher), and the mall (Friedman) and simply makes it into a slasher movie. It’s not particularly great or anything, but it’s a fun take on the over-exposed tale of Erik Destler. And according to Wiki, it's actually pretty faithful apart from the gore. Maybe I'll read the book.
Of course, the other fun aspect to seeing it now is recognizing some of the co-stars. Bill Nighy, long before subjecting himself to excessive makeup in Pirates and Underworld movies, plays one of the opera house owners, and Molly Shannon plays Christine’s friend, long before appearing on SNL. Also worth noting is that Christine is played by Jill Schoelen, in one of her last horror roles before disappearing from this mortal coil (by making Lifetime movies).
The elaborate death scenes are also pretty gory and fun. I bet Leroux is rolling in his grave for never writing a sequence where Erik is attacked by some dudes in an alley and proceeds to kill them (at least I don't think - I can't recall this scene in any other version), or having blood splatter all over his face as he guts a guy caught on one of those movie-only ropes that instantly wraps itself around a foot and proceeds to send him careening into the air. And there is NO chandelier scene, which is also great to me. It's like the usual centerpiece or whatever, so seeing them skip it entirely is definitely preferable than seeing it staged yet again.
Not as elaborate are the sets, which I kind of liked (this IS a Golan/Globus affair). Yeah, it’s nice to have a film that acts as a production designer’s demo reel, but when the opera house, backstage areas, sewer tunnels, etc are only as detailed and complex as necessary, it’s easier to focus on the story and performances. Plus, it's just kind of endearing when you see things like an "iron" gate made out of painted wood.
Unsurprisingly, Englund is pretty goddamn great as the Phantom. The movie was shot around the peak of Freddy’s popularity, and since that means he was cracking jokes and wearing Superman costumes, Englund is obviously happy to play a scary character again. He has a few Freddy-ish oneliners, and the burn/skinless makeup is pretty much a ripoff of Freddy’s (during the face ‘reconstruction’ sequence), the character is otherwise different enough for it to not feel like a cheap cashin, which is probably all it was designed to be in the first place. In other words, Englund elevates the film, and you will probably wish he had gotten a few other meatier villain roles in his prime (since nowadays he primarily plays smaller, quirkier roles). He’d probably be more well-known as an all purpose movie monster legend like Lon Chaney or Bela Lugosi, not simply “Freddy”.
Another thing that had no bearing on me as a kid was that this film was Dwight Little’s followup to Halloween 4, my introduction to Michael Myers (and in turn John Carpenter) and the film that remains the high standard for Halloween sequels. Along with his other movies (most of which are action films like Seagal’s Marked for Death), you can see that he’s not exactly an auteur, but he knows how to deliver the goods nonetheless. I’ve seen this story told too many times for it to have any real suspense, but that said, its still a pretty fast-paced and more or less effective version of it. And the stuff that this version adds (the modern time bookends, slasher sequences) are definitely the highlights. Maybe they should have had him do, I dunno, Phantom of the Haddonfield Actor's Playhouse.
I got this movie for 1.99. The DVD is devoid of extras, but it’s still a damn good value. I would have gladly paid, like, 2.99.
What say you?