Posted by: Trey | 07/12/2010

Only Love And Music are Forever

Review: Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Trey’s Rating:  3 falling chandeliers (out of 5)

I don’t know what persuaded me – genuine interest, morbid curiosity, or sheer boredom – but for some reason this film made its way to the top of my Netflix queue.  Released in 1989, I would bet money that this version of The Phantom of the Opera was intended to cash in on both the popularity of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical which opened a few years prior and the success of Robert Englund’s memorable performances as Freddy Kreuger.  In fact, many of the film’s problems can be traced to an inconsistency of tone that oscillates wildly between serious (albeit very loose) adaptation and hammy, Nightmare on Elm Street-esque slasher film.

This film has almost nothing to do with Gaston Leroux’s original novel, apart from the very basic premise of a phantom in an opera house and various character names (which were Anglicized to reflect the change of setting from Paris to London).  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because the film actually begins in then-contemporary (i.e. late 1980s) New York City, where aspiring opera singer Christine Day discovers a copy of “Don Juan Triumphant” on a shelf of rare books, which she then uses for her next audition.  As she sings the piece, a sandbag falls and hits her on the head (which I must admit left me laughing more than would be considered appropriate), and so ends the first part of the unnecessary contemporary framing narrative.

To be perfectly fair, the film is very inconsistent.  Robert Englund manages to simultaneously deliver the best and worst performance in the movie.  He never comes close to replacing Lon Chaney or Claude Rains (let alone my personal favorite film Phantom, Herbert Lom), but when he stops channeling his scenery-chewing Freddy Kreuger persona he is actually surprisingly intense.  But then there are the late-80s slasher movie death scenes, which kill any atmosphere that may have been created – before dispatching one worker by hanging him from the catwalk above the stage, Englund’s phantom cracks, “You’re suspended!”  The other performances are not terrible, but they are also not particularly memorable.  One pleasant and unexpected surprise was Bill Nighy, who briefly appears as manager of the opera house.

Plotwise, the movie contains very little of Gaston Leroux’s novel – the chandelier doesn’t even fall!  The setting is England, and the plot combines bits of Leroux with the Faust legend and Jack the Ripper-style murders.  I don’t begrudge it these changes, since some of my favorite versions of Phantom of the Opera deviate pretty far from the source.  However, in execution the plot makes little sense and functions mostly to facilitate the various slasher-style murder scenes.  Also, hammering home the Phantom-Robert Englund-Freddy Kreuger connection, this Phantom wears no mask.  Instead, he makes himself appear more normal by stitching human flesh to his scarred face.  Finally, everything is brought full-circle when the film returns to the present for the conclusion of the contemporary bookend segments.  Unfortunately, the effect this has is to give the movie two or three extra endings, with the connection between the bookends and the main plot being laughable.  During these concluding scenes I found myself checking my watch more than once, and when it finally ended the closing “twist” (if you want to call it that) left me giggling.

I’m being more than a little hard on the plot here, but I want to be perfectly clear that this is not what I would call a “good” movie.  However, there’s more than one way to enjoy a genre flick, and I did enjoy watching this one.  It’s not great, but even the silly parts were campy enough to be enjoyable, even if on a completely different level than the more atmospheric gothic elements.  Only occasionally does it try to rise above its slasher movie trappings, but if you like horror movies like I do, then it’s at least worth adding to the Netflix queue.

© Ralph Lawson III, 2010, All Rights Reserved


  1. You write good reviews from the heart, and that’s that.

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