The Phantom of the Opera Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
DVD released by 101 Films
Directed by Dwight H. Little
Written by Gaston Leroux (novel), Gerry O'Hara and Duke Sandefur
1989, 93 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD/Blu-ray released on 21st April 2014
Robert Englund as Erik Destler/The Phantom
Jill Schoelen as Christine Day
Alex Hyde-White as Richard Dutton
Bill Nighy as Martin Barton
The Phantom of the Opera is here, inside your mind. Literally, geddit, because he’s played by Robert Englund of A Nightmare On Elm Street fame. Eighties era Englund (the best Englund of any era) trades in Freddy Krueger's battered fedora and blades for fancy silk, a bone mask and a symphonic organ in The Phantom of the Opera, a gory reboot of the classic story.
As classic horror villains go, few are as underutilised as The Phantom. Maybe it’s that his romantic story makes him a little too sympathetic for some, or that filmmakers are scared cinemagoers will flee, fearing a musical. Maybe it’s the stigma of that terrible, terrible Gerard Butler version (this coming from an avid fan of Grease and The Wizard of Oz), but there are fewer Phantom of the Opera adaptations out there than one might expect. This glossy late eighties version of the tale goes some way to readdress the balance, even if it is unjustly underrated and forgotten by many. Released through 101 Films' increasingly decent Cult Horror Collection, it's ripe for re-visitation, particularly in this age where cult Blu-ray re-releases are all the rage.
Make no mistake; Englund’s Phantom is but a sad, angry variation on Freddy Krueger, right down to the horribly scarred skin and damp basement hideout. Obsessed with talented young singer Christine Day, the Phantom sets about murdering everyone who stands in the way of her fame, from clumsy stagehands to rival singers and dismissive critics. His admiration comes at a price though, and Christine is quick to discover that the Phantom is not a believer in hands-off management. Bandying together to rescue Christine from his clutches, a police officer and Christine's would-be beau prepare to do battle with The Phantom Of The Opera. The fight which follows is violent and nasty, giving Englund ample opportunity to do what he does best – overacting, massively.
There's no classic literature here, with Englund taking little time to get into full-on scenery chewing mode and claiming the film as his own. The young, pretty cast does well to stand up against him, but they'll be forgotten as soon as the credits roll. All, that is, except for a young Bill Nighy, made memorable simply by virtue of being Bill Nighy, who is typically fantastic, despite not really being given much to do.
The ending offers promise in a Darkman kind of way, opening up the story to a very different avenue – suggesting a franchise which never emerged – but it comes a little too late. Slick, violent and entertaining, this nightmare isn't quite new enough, but it will stick in the mind for a few weeks afterwards, all the same.