The Phantom's Visage

Artwork by FdeLO

What did the Phantom Look Like?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I have encountered by people who are new to the story. According to many versions of the story, the Phantom never liked having this discussed. It reduces him to nothing more than a "freak show" while his story, his genius, and his music go ignored. On the other hand, there is always the inevitable curiousity even by those who love him (or claim to love him). Even Christine could not keep her curiousity at bay.

When I first started participating in forums in 1999, someone who had seen the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber more than once blatantly asked "What was wrong with the Phantom's face?" To my suprise, a lot of the other participants did not seem to have a clear idea themselves. They should not feel bad for not knowing. There is a lot of confusion on this matter.

Some of the confusion for readers and audiences alike has come about because of the various portrayals in movies, novels, and musicals. A noticeable number of characters in each version are just as confused. For instance, in Leroux's novel, some believe he has a head made of fire, others that he has no head, and so forth. The ballet girls conclude he has many heads which he changes around as he pleases. In the 1925 silent film starring Lon Chaney, a ballerina claims she has seen the phantom and that he has an enormous nose. In the 1943 film starring Claude Rains, Buquet insists that the Phantom has a long nose and a long red beard. In the 1962 movie starring Herbert Lom, Maria describes the Phantom, who had just been in her dressing room, as "black, all over black" with one eye in the middle of his forehead. In the 1990 mini-series starring Charles Dance, a now mad Carlotta, upon seeing Phillipe de Chagny enter the room, cries out in fear, "The Phantom!"

Below is a list of the various versions of the story, what sort of ailment and/or disfigurement the Phantom suffered, and a description of the mask(s) he usually wears. You will have to read my reviews/synopsis if you are wondering how on earth the poor guy gets into some of these scenarios in the first place.

SourceDescription of Incident, Face, and Mask
1911 novel by Gaston LerouxErik is born with a deformity that makes him resemble a living skeleton. He is very thin, pale, and gaunt. His dark-colored eyes are sunken and he has no nose. As the Opera Ghost, he wears a full-faced black mask. He also has a prosthetic nose and a mask that makes him "look like anyone else" when he has to wander away from the opera house.
1925 movie starring Lon ChaneyIn every other version of the story, the reader (or audience) is told what ails the phantom. This is the only time in which nobody knows, not even the audience. He has bulging eyes, no nose, a gaunt face, and large protruding teeth. His mask, which only comes down to his upper lip, is attached at the top to a fez cap (aka tarboosh). On the bottom of the mask is a cloth that covers the bottom half of his face. It seems like the mask is designed to resemble a regular citizen from a Middle Eastern country.

There is More!
1943 movie starring Claude RainsErique's face is burned by etching acid. The results are one of the most mild of all the retellings. It almost resembles a strawberry birthmark across a fourth of his face, and his right eye is now red. He wears a pale green mask that only covers the top half of his face. Most of the time he also wears a broad-rimmed hat with the mask, usually whenever he walking about the opera house.
1962 movie starring Herbert LomProfessor Petrie tries to put out a fire with what he thinks is water, but turns out to be nitric acid. The chemical fire burns and disfigures him from head to toe. The results are the most horrific of any version I have seen. His left eye is melted shut, his skin takes on a bluish-green color, and what is left of his hair is solid white. He wears a gray cloth mask that covers his entire face, with only one hole cut out for his right eye.
1974 movie starring William FinleyLeach's teeth had already been removed and replaced with stainless steel while in prison. Later, his head gets caught in a large press in a vinyl record factory. The results leave him blind in his right eye (something has punctured itself into his eye socket but I do not know what it is). The right side of his face is badly burned, and he is mute. As the Phantom of the Paradise, he speaks with the help of an electronic device. His mask looks like a silver helmet that comes halfway down over his face. As the Phantom, he also starts wearing black lipstick and has a black circle drawn around his undamaged eye.
1983 movie starring Maximillian SchellSulfuric acid spills onto Korvin's face, followed by Korvin's clothes catching on fire. The results are severe. His complexion is yellowed, his eyes sunken, and his nose and part of his upper lip are missing. Most of the time he wears a full-faced black mask which looks like paper machet. He also made a mask that resembles his face before the traumatic incident.
Musical by Ken Hill (1984)Erik is "Born with a Monstrous Countenance," as described by the Persian in his song. Erik resembles a skeleton in dress clothes. He wore a white mask that covers the top half of his face in the production I saw.
Musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (1986)The Phantom has been inflicted with a facial deformity for as long as he can remember, according to his own words. Only the right side of his face is disfigured. The right eye is a very pale blue (almost white), his lip is swollen, red, and puffy, and there is a huge scar on the side of his head that I do not know how to describe to this day. The phantom wears a white half-mask with a hair-piece attached to the top of it.
1987 Animated Video for ChildrenNo reason is provided, but it appears again that Erik has suffered his ailment at least since early childhood. With yellow eyes and greyish skull-like head, he resembles a skeleton in dress clothes. He wears a full-faced mask that looks like a regular face.
1989 movie starring Robert EnglundErik's scars are the result of a demonic curse after signing a contract with the devil. The results are gory. He resembles a freshly dead zombie whose face is beginning to decay. He is missing a nose and flesh from parts of his face, and these ulcers and blisters are oozy and gooey. His mask is composed of real human skin tissue, taken every night from some poor victim, which he sews onto his face for his nightly outings.
1990 movie starring Charles DanceRemaining loyal to the Kopit teleplay, Erik's face is never shown in this movie and his face is never described. This movie also has the brief comment Erik gives to Christine about having only the semblance of a face. Erik is born with this disfigurement, which may have been the result of his mother's failed attempt at an abortion. He is seen most of the time in a plain white mask that covers the top half of his face. He wears other interesting masks as well, depending on his moods and intentions.
Musical by Maury Yeston & Arthur Kopit (1991)Defying convention and curiousities, Erik's face is never shown and his face is never even described. The closest description comes from Erik himself when he tells Christine, "I do not have a face, only the semblance of a face. No one should have to look at it." Erik is born with this disfigurement, which may have been the result of a fever that killed his mother not too long after he was born. He wears a plain white mask that covers the top half of his face.
1991 novel by Susan KayErik's countenance is the same as described by Leroux, but the mask is the same is in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
1993 movie starring David StallerHow the Phantom is disfigured is unknown. Only the right half of his face is deformed and it resembles a skeleton. He wears a black half mask that completely covers the right side of his face and a large broad-rimmed hat.
1994 novel by Sam SicilianoAs in Leroux and Kay, Erik is born with his disfigurement. His condition is further aggravated during his years in the Middle East when he caught leprosy. The leprosy has eaten away his nose, ear lobes, and part of his upper lip. He wears a full-faced black mask made of porcelain.
1997 recording of Theatreworks MusicalYears ago, there was a fire in the opera house. Erik had been severly burned in this fire and was presumed dead. Because it is a recording and I never saw the play, I do not know for a fact what the mask looks like. Judging by the CD cover, it is a brown mask that covers the top half of his face.
1997 novel by Bridgitta D'ArcyThis story is obviously inspired by the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, so for now I conclude that the visage and mask are the same.
1998 movie starring Julian SandsIn the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Christine makes a comment to the phantom that it is in his soul where true distortion lies. In Dario Argento's radically different and blatantly defiant movie, the phantom's handsome face is his mask. He is horribly disfigured in thought and in spirit. Abandoned as a baby, he was raised by rats and now lives as a creature of the darkness in the catacombs beneath the opera house.
1999 novel by Frederick ForsythAs a sequel to the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, visage and mask remain the same.
2000 Graphic Novel by FdeLOErik is missing a nose. Otherwise, he has quite a handsome face. His equally attractive mask covers most of his face. The mask is white with thin, black eyebrows painted across the top of the mask and dark circles around each eye. The bottom of the mask, around the mouth and jawline, is cut to the shapes of decorative swirls.
2000 novel by Nancy Hill PettengillSame as Forsyth
2004 movie starring Gerard ButlerAs a cinematic adaptation to the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the mask and hairpiece remain the same as in the live show. His visage, however, more resembles that of the 1943 movie but with the bright blue (almost white) eye instead of a red eye.

Trivia | Faust | Face | Christine | Erik Who? | Dies Irae | Buquet | Carlotta

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