The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Director: Dwight H. Little (1989)
Starring: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Bill Nighy
Find it: IMDB

Robert Englund is the Phantom of the Opera in this very eighties retelling of the classic horror tale. An often forgotten member of the classic horror icons club, it's surprising that the Phantom isn't a bigger screen presence. While Frankenstein and Dracula have many a movie to their name, the poor Phantom has but a couple of classics and a horrible musical. This gory, garish horror feature attempts to right-side the balance by giving the Phantom his own franchise. And, with Freddy Krueger himself in the title role, it gets off firmly on the right track.

With Freddy at the height of his popularity (this film was released a year after the third Nightmare on Elm Street sequel) the timing should have been spot on for this re-adaptation. Scarred, cackling and wearing a hat, his Phantom isn't even that dissimilar from Freddy as a villain. The plot, as with previous adaptations, sees The Phantom/scarred composer Erik Destler obsess over Opera singer Christine Day (Schoelen) as she appears in a popular new version of Faust. Rival singers, incompetent set designers and snotty critics are all high on The Phantom's hit list. To be fair, I once ripped up an issue of Official Playstation 2 Magazine after they poo-pooed KT Tunstall's singing voice, so I can dig it. Just stick to reviewing Tomb Raider, assholes.        

This is a nastier, more sadistic Phantom than we've seen before, stalking and slicing up his enemies like some sort of slasher villain. The finale, set in his sewers, gives up any pretense of it being anything else, and transforms into full-on slasher film. Englund plays the Phantom as a sadder variation of Krueger, dressed up in his Sunday best. Although that's hardly a bad thing - he's at his most entertaining here, delivering a deliciously camp performance throughout.

Elsewhere, young Bill Nighy pops up in a small role (Bill Nighy, however, young, is always appreciated in any role) while Jill Schoelen is a sweet, likeable heroine. The ending offers promise - in a Darkman kind of way - but, alas, The Phantom's franchise was not to be. This 'all-new nightmare' isn't quite 'new' enough to win its audience, but it is a delightful spin on an old tale.   

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