Monday, October 27, 2014

The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Title: The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Cast: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Bill Nighy

There’s a couple of cheesy versions of Phantom of the Opera out there, I’d say that the most incredibly outlandish version I’ve seen to date is Dario Argento’s Phantom of the Opera (1998), which had the titular Phantom raised by rats. In that one The Phantom also had these crazy surreal visions, which translated into some really crazy Ken Russell type visuals, you might want to check out that version of Phantom of the Opera, just for kicks. If you’re in the mood for seeing something out there, plus it’s a bit on the gory side. Another outlandish version would be Phantom of the Paradise (1974), which is this crazy rock and roll version of Phantom of the Opera that feels like Rocky Horror Picture Show’s long lost brother (or sister). That version of Phantom of the Opera I’ll be reviewing today was directed by one Dwight H. Little, the director behind such horror classics as Halloween 4: The Return of the Michael Myers (1988) and  Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (1995). This version of Phantom of the Opera is runner up for first place as the stupidest version of Phantom of the Opera ever made. This doesn’t mean it isn’t watchable, on the contrary, it’s highly watchable in its cheesiness and goriness.

This version starts out in modern times with a young would be soprano named Christine Day, trying to get her big break in a new play. She’s looking for an impressive piece to sing for her try out, so she goes to this old book store where she finds this ancient opera composed by a guy called Erik Destler. The opera? Something called “Don Juan Triumphant”. So anyways, she makes it to her audition and as soon as she starts singing it, a sand bag falls from the rafters of the theater, hits her on the head; this for some reason magically sends her back in time to 19th Century London, or is she just remember a past life? I don’t know, the filmmakers don’t make it very clear, but I’m going with the ‘it’s all happening in her head’ theory. Anyways, when she wakes up in 19th Century London she’s part of a theater group practicing for ‘Faust’. On this theater group, Christine is not the star of the show, she’s just the understudy, she wants to be a star, but she’s just an understudy. But wait, the mysterious Phantom of the Opera is in love with Christine and wants to make sure she ends up being the main attraction because her voice is “like the voice of an angel”. Who will the Phantom kill in order to assure Christine’s success?

What sets this version of The Phantom of the Opera apart from all others is that Robert Englund, a.k.a. Freddy Krueger, plays the Phantom, and he does a good job at it too. In this version the Phantom doesn’t just wear a regular mask on his face; he uses human flesh (which he sews onto his own face) as his mask! Another distinctive feature of this version of Phantom of the Opera is that it’s gory. Argento’s Phantom of the Opera is the goriest, but this one is a close second. Why is this version so gory? Well, it was made in 1989, when gory, make up effects filled horror movies where the norm. Wait, scratch that, gory horror movies were making huge loads of cash in theaters is what I meant to say. Freddy Krueger was a house hold name, so where Jason Voorhees, Pinhead and Michael Myers. I’m guessing that Robert Englund made this film to try and get away from playing Freddy Krueger, unfortunately, the producers had other plans. What they really wanted to do was exploit the fact that Englund was known for playing Freddy. This is evident in the makeup effects work for The Phantom, which looks exactly like Freddy’s burned face.   The promotional work for this film also makes it abundantly obvious; they wanted to make people think this was another Nightmare on Elm Street film.

Certain elements will remind you of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, for example how the entire film is supposed to be a dream? Like the fact that the main character is a boogy man of sorts killing people in morbid ways while cackling away? So yeah, expect some similarities with the Nightmare on Elm Street films, they are no coincidence, in fact, I’d say they were entirely intentional. This does not surprise me when we take in consideration that the film was produced by Menahem Golan, an exploitative producer if there ever was any. He’s part of the team who made all those Missing in Action movies back in the eighties, which were made to exploit the popularity of First Blood (1982) and Rambo II (1985). The same exploitative logic applies with this version of Phantom of the Opera; it wasn’t made because Phantom of the Opera adaptations were particularly ‘hot’ during 1989, it was made because Nightmare on Elm Street movies were making millions and the producers wanted to make their own cheesy version of A Nightmare on Elm Street, which they did in the form of this movie.

Like most Cannon Films, the ideas and situations on this version of Phantom of the Opera are so ludicrous that they end up being funny. For example on this version of Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom actually sells his soul to the devil so he could become famous; the twist comes when the devil gives him his fame, but burns his face as well. Oh and the ludicrous angle? The devil is a midget? Okay, not enough craziness? How about having The Phantom have intercourse with a whore to release his sexual frustrations with Christine? And that’s without counting all the gory deaths, of which there are many. Actually, this movie was so gory that the MPAA had the producers edit a huge chunk of the film down, so there’s tons of gore actually missing from this one! In the end, what we ended up with is an entertaining, cheesy, gory movie, that will horrify Phantom of the Opera purists and entertain the horror fans, cause its freaking Freddy playing The Phantom. I thought it was funny that at one point The Phantom is wearing a suit that has the exact same colors from Freddy Krueger’s famous black and red sweater; a nudge to the Nightmare on Elm Street films? Sure it was! Then Christine wakes up and it was all in her head and yet again, it feels like a Freddy film.

Rating: 3 out of 5


Maurice Mitchell said...

The idea of turning a classic villain into a slasher was an interesting one, but I'm glad the trend never continued.

Franco Macabro said...

Argento did it in his version of Phantom of the Opera as well, that one is also a gore fest. This version with Englund tries to be classy with its production values, but its b-movie quality shines through and through anyways, no matter how hard they try.


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