The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture (1989)

Wow, this actually was more or less the Phantom of the Opera meets Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s a pity the movie just doesn’t quite manage to fully live up to that description. Freddy as the Phantom could have been pretty great had they truly gone down that route. Anyway, as a story, the movie really isn’t much. You’ve seen one film version of the story, you’ve seen them all. The Robert Englund version is interesting, but ultimately fails to add anything of note to the story beyond the gore factor, which to be honest the movie bizarrely has too little of despite it clearly being one of the movie’s biggest selling points. So it’s not particularly good, but the schlocky b-list horror mixed with the over the top melodrama of the source material somehow manages to make the movie delightfully entertaining to watch, more than it has any right to be. I had a blast and I can’t really put it to words why, somehow it just becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s not all great though. Though the costumes and set pieces are pretty good looking, Englund’s own make up ends up being enormously disappointing because his deformed face is not as great as the box art leads you to believe. The movie does redeem itself a little in this regard by giving us couple of nasty scenes depicting the Ghost sewing his false face together (from patches of harvested human skin) and later pulling it apart again. I kinda wish they had done more with him skinning his murder victims so he can make himself masks. Shown him keep the spare skins in a room, hanging from hooks or something creepy like that. That would have really added to the spooky vibe they were going for.

There is one thing that really annoys me about the plot. It’s the bit with the rat catcher takes the Scotland Yard down to the sewers to hunt the Phantom. The whole thing is written so moronically that you really have hard time wrapping your head around it. Once in the sewers the rat catcher, out of the blue, just decides to wander off to kill rats instead of leading the police to the Phantom’s lair. Obviously it’s there to force the police separate when they don’t know where they are going and enable the Phantom can kill them one by one, but good God, couldn’t you think of a better way to do it? It’s such a stupid thing when the police don’t even put any effort in trying to stop him, and of course the rat catcher immediately gets killed once he’s separated from the police. Couldn’t you instead just have the police chase the Ghost from the ball and see him dive into the sewers? You could have still had them split up by losing sight of the Phantom and having to cover more ground when they come to an intersection. But now I’m rambling.

In hindsight it was also huge mistake to retell the entire the Phantom of the Opera story as one hour long, linear flashback sequence  between the opening and closing scenes that were set in the modern day. Couldn’t you have done it like the modern day Christine was a reincarnation of the 19th century Christine and Englund uses his black magic to revive  memories from her past life while they were doing a production of the Don Juan Triumphant opera, the very important plot device that plays as a bridge between the modern day setting and the flashbacks? I know it’s a generic and cliché, but so is getting hit on the head and having a dream where you think you’ve traveled to the past. Considering how they went full Faust with the Phantom’s origin, and had the actual Devil be behind the disfigurement, it was pretty peculiar for them to almost completely ignore the supernatural side of the story and play it so straight in the flashback portions. You really could have done more with the mystical side of the character. The movie is filled with odd little decisions like that which downplay things that were very much what make the movie so interesting adaptation. Perhaps they couldn’t get a proper budget, so they pretty much had to scrap the more fantastical elements from the script? I suppose that could be it. Oh well. The movie bombed so we never got a sequel that might have chosen to go to that direction. Alas.


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