The Phantom of the Opera

Starring Robert Englund as Erik Destler

21st Century Film Corp, 1989, Horror/Film Gore

Pray for them who giveth their immortal soul to Satan, for each is damned to relive that wretched life through all times.

~St. Jean Vitius of Rouen, written the day of his execution on March 7, 1544

The Freddy Kruger Phantom

The movie starts during the 1980's in the United States. Christine Day (Jill Shoelen) is eager for an excellent, original score to sing for an important audition. Her friend finds a fascinating piece in a rare and out-of-print bookstore. It is titled Don Juan Triumphant. As she sings for her audition, a stage prop falls and knocks her unconscious. I'm guessing either her soul or her hidden reincarnated memories travel back to 19th centuy London where she is the eager understudy to the vain egotistical Carlotta (Stephanie Lawrence). She wants very much to sing the role of Marguerite in Gounod's Faust but has to be content with the role of Siebel. Her young lover is not the Viscount Raoul de Chagny, but instead a young businessman named Richard Dutton (Alex Hyde-White).

Erik's visage is acquired while a young man in 19th century London. He confides in the Devil, disguised as a dwarf, that he would do anything to be loved for his music. He would even sell his soul. The Devil takes advantage of the moment, providing Erik immortality as a gifted musician in exchange for his soul. He then lays his hand on Erik's face and says, "They will love you only for your music." His face burns and melts into visage resembling that of a partially decomposed corpse.

There goes that pesky dwarf again. Bad dwarf!

From then on, Erik goes through a nightly ritual of sewing human flesh onto his face before he goes out. According to Leroux, Erik indeed has a mask which "makes him look like anyone else." He uses it to run errands. According to the Persian, however, it is not made of human flesh but of paper maché. This is one of the very few movies to acknowledge that the Phantom knew how to go about in public whenever necessary. (In the 1983 film, Korvin as a skilled sculptor is able to make a mask that resembles his face as it was in his pre-Phantom days.)

While in her dressing room, Christine sees and hears a mysterious cloaked figure in her mirror. He provides singing lessons for her and promises her that she will soon be able to play the role of Marguerite. The major problem is, Carlotta is in the way of Erik's plans for his beloved Christine. As in accordance to Leroux, Carlotta becomes too ill to perform as Marguerite one evening. Erik does not accomplish this task by any subtle tactics, however. He does this by skinning Joseph Buquet alive and placing the poor soul into the Prima Donna's dressing room closet.

With Carlotta too "ill" to perform, Christine enjoys her chance to sing the coveted role. Erik is shown quietly siting in the shadows of Box Five as he gleefully watches Christine sing "The Jewel Song." All is not well, however, for an important critic who also attends this performance is not impressed even though the audience gives her a standing ovation. With the encouragement of the opera house manager (who seems to be having an affair with Carlotta), he gives her a bad review in his newspaper article. He is quickly punished for this misdeed while resting in a spa.

Devasted by the bad review written by the now-disposed-of critic, Christine pays a tearful visit to the grave of her long-lost father. It is the only movie ever to show any kind of graveyard scene. As Christine kneels by her father's grave, Erik begins to play a piece from his Don Juan Triumphant on his violin. Richard bursts in on the scene, but is too late. The music casts a calming, hynotic spell on Christine that entices her to follow the Phantom. The same music has an opposite affect on Richard, who clutches his head in pain and falls unconscious.

Erik then takes Christine to his Lair, located in the sewers of London underneath the Opera House. At Christine's request, Erik plays a piece of music from his Don Juan Triumphant. Too traumatized from the memories of his encounter with the devil, Erik had let his opera collect dust. Christine now becomes his inspiration to finish this work. As he plays at the organ, Christine begins to sing the lyrics. He is baffled at first as to how she knew the words, then concludes that they are soulmates. At Christine's protests, Erik threatens her into becoming a bride to his music first and later to himself.

Meanwhile, Richard is now the mystery-sleuth in light of Christine's mysterious disappearance. The Phantom's background is revealed by Inspector Hawkins (Terence Harvey) who had been investigating the case for many years. The legend, according to the inspector, is that the only way to destroy this Phantom - who goes by the name Erik Destler - is to destroy his music.

Richard's life is in great danger not only for knowing too much about the Phantom but also because of romantic interests in Christine. Christine tries to warn him in her notes she writes to him, but he ignores them as he seeks her out at the Masquerade.

Meanwhile, Erik is able to get rid of Carlotta for good, but he does not use any kind of public humiliation or falling chandeliers in order to do this. Instead, he is able to capture her attention at this Masquerade - dressed as none other than the Red Death, of course - long enough so that she follows him alone into a back room. A few minutes later, her severed head is found in the party soup bowl. During this diversion, Erik abducts Christine, not knowing that the rat-catcher has already agreed to show the police inspector where the Phantom's hideout is.

The infamous unmasking scene occurs moments later when Erik removes the mask himself. Christine does not yank the mask off, he does it himself for the wicked pleasure of terrifying her.

Richard joins the police inspector as they follow the rat-catcher into the Phantom's Lair. When Erik learns of this betrayal, the rat-catcher is killed. Erik then hunts down his hunters and kills them off, one by one, including Richard. Christine herself is now afraid for her own life, certain that Erik will indeed kill her sooner or later.

It is now up to Christine to save herself. As Erik now beckons her to be his bride with the words, "Only love and music are forever," she pulls out a gun she had taken from the body of one of the policemen and shoots him. A fire breaks out, a mirror shatters, and Christine somehow disappears into thin air.

Christine is now back in the United States during the 1980's, waking up from the accident that occured during her audition at the beginning of this movie. A mysterious "admirer" Mr. Foster (Robert Englund, of course) - the show's producer and backer - assists her. She has been hired to play the part. Foster invites her to his home. As he goes upstairs to "freshen up a bit" (ie - change faces, so to speak), Christine finds a recording of Don Juan Triumphant which she proceeds to play on his computer synthesizer. A struggle breaks out between her and Foster. She rips off his mask - revealing a gooey corpse face - and stabs him. She runs off with his sheet music of Don Juan Triumphant which she later destroys as Erik's pained cries can be heard in the background.

A shaken Christine is later seen walking nervously down the sidewalk. She walks by mysterious violinist who is working as a street musician. Suddenly, the violinist begins to play a now-familiar tune from a now-familiar opera......

I had read that there were plans to make a Phantom sequel to this movie as well. This idea was scratched after too much negative reaction to the movie. This would be the third time (before Andrew Lloyd Webber) that a phantom sequel was planned but never made.

The Music

The only fictional opera this time are what survived from Erik's own Don Juan Triumphant. The rest of it, as far as I can tell, is real opera. Like a few of the other movies, this one is very dominated with Faust.

When Christine first wakes up in Victorian England, they resume rehearsals. Carlotta can be heard singing "Il était un roi de Thulé" (King of Thule) from Faust in the background.

The aria that Christine sings during her lessons from the dressing room mirror, and later on stage, is "Ah! je ris de me voir" (The Jewel Song) from Faust.

When Erik is sitting in Box Five remembering his past and how he came to be The Phantom, he is watching "Me Voici" (Here I Am) from Faust. It is the moment Faust sells his soul to Mephistopholes.

My Own Comments and Musings

In this movie, the Phantom is a gory sadomasochistic slasher and immortal slave to the devil. I respect that, but why make him so sloppy? (I feel like Morticia Addams for some odd reason when I say that.) I had always thought that if Erik is guilty of misdeeds, his methods are so subtle that it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove. In this movie, Erik has a blatantly gory way of doing everything. Of course, one could argue that his violent killings and mysterious disappearance rivals a true life notorious criminal of Victorian London: Jack the Ripper.

I had seen this movie within the same week after seeing the cuddly 1990 movie starring Charles Dance and being introduced to the soundtrack of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I was in for quite a shock, but should have known better with Robert Englund (type)cast in the leading role. Needless to say, I hated it at first. Since then, I have grown to like and even admire many aspects of it. The gratuitous gore was a big and unfortunate mistake.

Jill Shoelen is a lovely Christine in both the modern setting and in the Victorian setting. She is young and innocent, but not stupid. Richard, while not as pretty as the blonde aristocrat, appears to be a lot more intelligent, less naive. I think Englund makes an excellent Phantom. His facial expressions, body-language, and even the sound and tone of his voice all make him an excellent choice to play the Phantom. Unfortunately, he is typecast as Freddy Kruger. Englund seems to enjoy it though, much the way Vincent Price played along after his roles in the Roger Corman horror movies.

Initially I did not really "get" the score to Don Juan Triumphant, when I heard it on the piano. When I heard it on the pipe organ later as Christine sang the lyrics, my mood about it changed totally and I wanted to hear more. It has such a sad, lonely sound on the violin, and an almost ethereal sound to it on the synthesizer. It could be possible that Christine would know his music, a trend also seen in the 1943 movie starring Claude Rains, for the same or similar reasons. They were most likely from the same village or from nearby villages in the 1943 movie, but since this one already goes into the paranormal, there may be much more at work. Much to my own horror, I found myself humming it a lot even as I worked on this web site. Too bad they never added more to his opera, but what are you going to do? At least they delegate fictional opera strictly to the Phantom and, when real opera is used, it has extreme relevance to the plot.

It is the first (and so far, the only) movie to stick with Leroux with amazing loyalty on an ever-growing list of topics. One example would be Christine's singing lessons. Besides the film starring David Staller as the Phantom, this is the only movie in which the actual singing lessons through the dressing room mirror are acted out. In other versions, the Phantom teaches her in person or the lessons through the mirror are only talked about but never shown. I myself have always been curious as to how exactly Erik accomplishes this according to Leroux's novel, and so I like watching these kinds of scenes.

The street-fighting scene shows Erik with the closest thing I have seen yet to a Punjab lasso. Yes, they use one in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but that one, for dramatic license on a live show on stage, resembles a large noose. I imagine it working much like in this film, like a whip. Daroga describes a whistling sound as it snares its victims and this design makes sense in context of a courtyard tournament.

There is also the remarkable graveyard scene. I think it is important to Christine's character, to show that she is not some dingbat damsel in distress. She is a strong young woman in many ways, but emotionally vulnerable which makes her easy prey to the Phantom's trickery.

This probably interests me more than it would the more "hardcore" fans of the Webber musical, why Erik is so obsessed with the opera Faust in his later years. It shows his emotional vulnerabilities as well. It also shows an interesting explanation of his love/obsession with Christine and why he wants her to sing Marguerite. While this one gives it a "literal" approach, I imagine it as more subtle and psychological much like in A Double Life starring Ronald Coleman (Othello) or Amadeus starring Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham (Requiem).

Sometimes I feel like the grumpy old man in the Netflix commercial; Mister Puddy and I want to watch a scary movie. This one, like a few others, lets me do that without drifting away from the Phantom. As a gory horror film, I think it's better than most other gory horror films. I've always loved good gothic horror films and, during my teens and early 20's, I became engrossed with filmgore. The more, the merrier. During those years, this would have been exactly the type of Erik I would have expected (especially when I went to that wax museum).

In my eyes, during my teenage years, this would have been seen as a sympathetic portrayal. The trauma he suffers when the devil mutilates his face, the daily pain of sewing on his mask, the teardrop from his eye as Christine sings his music, the bullies in the bar, the muggers in the alley, the way he cries "My Music! My Music!" as the sheet music is destroyed, not to mention dealing with the horribly vain, mean-spirited Carlotta *ARE* all reasons to sympathize with Erik. I see a similar pattern with some American teenage viewers nowadays. In this movie, Erik does a lot of those things that I-as-his-teen-supporter would have wished he had done. Even in the cuddly Charles Dance movie, the Phantom jokes about killing Carlotta and expresses regret at having not killed Christine's young lover. I think he would enjoy watching this movie, a dark angel's dark outlet.

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