PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989)
Directed by Dwight H. Little
A young soprano Christine finds a piece of music in the achieve called Don Juan Triumphant, composed by the mysterious Erik Destler around 100 years previously. After performing the piece as part of her audition for a new musical on Broadway, New York, she is knocked unconscious by a sand bag. Upon waking, Christine finds herself reliving a past life where she is performing a small part in an opera composed by Destler and starring diva Carlotta as the lead. Christine soon finds she’s the object of Destler’s affection as those who oppose him or her meet a grisly end.
Dwight Little’s 1989 film PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is the first and only Phantom movie I’ve ever seen, thus I’m not particularly familiar with the story, but what I do know is that this version is a darker spin on the novel by Gaston Leroux. Paris Opera House is replaced by the London Opera House as we travel back in time with Christine as she wakes up in a previous life of hers, nearly a century ago. Erik Destler stalks the opera house behind the scenes, keeping a watchful eye over his muse, young Christine Day. She’s blissfully unaware of Destler and thinks he’s a guardian angel or spirit sent from her father to guide her musical career, but the reality is much darker for he is a man who sold his soul for the success of his music and his insatiable appetite for love in the form of Christine is unwavering.
Horror icon and all-round awesome genre actor Robert Englund stars as the ‘Phantom’ Erik Destler. Whilst his days as Freddy Krueger are pretty much fixed in the terror department, Englund is able to create a personality to shine through the tormented soul that is Destler. Englund creates a character who’s in some ways evil and ruthless, which he depicts in his murders, yet has a sensitive side, as shown towards Christine and prior to him selling his soul. I love to watch Robert Englund when he’s performing his character’s straighter pieces, as we all know he can do evil well which he proves in the film’s many murder scenes. But Robert is captivating in his quieter, subtle scenes and witnessing his more dramatic performances are a true delight to behold.
For horror fans, this version of Phantom of the Opera is the one to watch, along with Dario Argento’s version which apparently strays further from the book than this version. This particular film has quite a unique style to it, with plenty of horrific killings to observe that emit a certain Jack The Ripper feel. Maybe it’s the use of a knife or that Erik strolls down the alleyways in a black hat and long coat/cape that resembles the Victorian serial killer, but this bloodthirsty version of Erik will make your horror senses tingle.
From the opera house interiors to the local public house, the film takes the viewer to a variety of locations as Erik attempts to lure his attractive, mesmerising muse. One of the most vibrant scenes is at a masquerade ball, where Erik disguises himself as a skull-faced gentleman, dressed in a sharp blood-red suit. His suave, enigmatic appearance doesn’t go unnoticed as he catches the gaze of opera house owner Barton (Bill Nighy) and Carlotta, the latter of whom he decides to dance with. This scenes stands out amongst the rest due to its brightness – a contrast to the dark, candle-lit scenes of Erik quietly making his way through the gloomy opera house passages.
An engaging performance by Jill Schoelen as Erik’s love, Christine, as well as some fine supporting cast in the way of Bill Nighy, Alex Hyde-White and Stephanie Lawrence sees Phantom of the Opera an entertaining alternative watch for genre fans who prefer a sinister take on the story rather than the passionate musicals.