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Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Well, I’ve finally encountered a DVD more cursed than my grainy, badly-cropped transfer of Zatoichi vs. Flying Guillotine: 21st Century Film Corporation’s The Phantom of the Opera, starring Robert Englund and produced by Menahum Golan (former co-owner of The Cannon Group, which brought the world such gems as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace).

This one requires elaboration. Right around Halloween, shortly after I’d fallen in love with Suspiria, I was researching Dario Argento’s infamously awful adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel when I stumbled across a few fleeting scraps of information regarding this 1989… let’s be charitable and call it a reinterpretation of the material. “This sounds absolutely bonkers,” I thought (for reasons that will soon become clear), before promptly putting it out of my mind. Fast forward to two days ago, when I threw open a random cupboard and just happened to find a copy of MGM’s home video release of the film, still factory sealed. Now, the obvious rational explanation for its unexpected presence in my own childhood home is that my mother or grandmother mistook it for Joel Schumacher’s musical version and simply neglected to return it to Target or Costco or wherever… but the convenient timing forces me to consider more sinister alternatives. Did some malevolent force cause it to materialize between Mamma Mia! and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where it oh-so-patiently awaited discovery?

Whatever the case may be, I watched it with my brother tonight, and we had an absolute blast. As previously mentioned, this is a rather colorful (primarily very, very red) take on Leroux’s gothic romance, featuring time travel, reincarnation, and demonic possession, just to name a handful of the more bizarre narrative revisions. Whereas Andrew Lloyd Webber emphasized the title character’s sympathetic qualities, screenwriters Gerry O’Hara and Duke Sandefur transform him into an outright supernatural monster—and Englund (who knows a thing or two about portraying disfigured serial killers) attacks the role with relish. Whether he’s sewing a mask of human flesh directly onto his face or deriving a little too much pleasure from his victims’ suffering, the veteran actor is never less than convincing (too bad I can’t say the same about the makeup effects). And although his fellow thespians (including an upsettingly youthful Bill Nighy) can’t quite hold a candle to his thoroughly committed performance, The Phantom of the Opera remains a delightfully absurd cinematic experience. Sure, I probably have a death hex on my head now, and the police will find my flayed corpse stuffed into a closet seven days from now. It was still worth watching.

[Originally written December 22, 2017.]

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