REVIEW: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DWIGHT H. LITTLE / SCREENPLAY: DUKE SANDEFUR / STARRING: ROBERT ENGLUND, JILL SCHOELEN, ALEX HYDE-WHITE, BILL NIGHY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The oft-filmed Gaston Leroux novel, tarnished by the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, gets a full-blooded makeover thanks to this forgotten late '80s version.
In a deviation from the original story, Erik Destler (Englund) is a composer, so obsessed with having his work heard forever that he strikes a deal with the Devil. Unfortunately, the price for this pact is he is horribly mutilated, forcing him to live in the shadows, deep under a Victorian London opera house. He becomes infatuated with a young understudy, Christine (Schoelen), tutoring her (unseen through a dressing room mirror) and doing everything he can for her to land the lead role in the latest production of Faust. Be this killing off the leading lady, critics, stage hands or anyone else who gets in the way.
Despite lapsing into slasher territory at times, this is actually a rather sincere re-tread of the classic text. Sure, some elements have been changed and there are few 'Freddy-esque' quips from Englund early on, but for the most part it works well. Erik's scarred face is often hidden under layers of grafted human skin, a procedure he does himself in sickening close-up. Wearing this skin-mask he almost resembles a psychotic Barry Manilow, but don't worry, that's not the only horror to be found here. The murders are suitably gory, albeit very brief. The film is bookended in modern-day New York, when aspiring singer Christine discovers the ragged pages of Erik's score, before being knocked unconscious by a falling sandbag at an audition. We can assume what follows is a dream of sorts, but the transition is not too jarring, even taking into account some dodgy English accents (they must be easier than trying to do French, as the original story takes place in Paris).
Accents aside, the acting's solid, and it's lavishly directed by Little (who recently helmed an episode of From Dusk till Dawn: The Series), providing adequate tension and some creepy atmosphere in the dank sewers and underground labyrinth of Erik's home.
This newly-released Blu-ray looks fine, if not spectacular, but certainly better than all previous formats, but is a bare-bones disc.