Friday, May 18, 2012

Reviews From an MMB (The Phantom of the Opera - 1989)

There's quite a few versions floating around, you see...even a slasher version!

It's pretty much the same story with a few pointless changes... Modern-day singer Christine Day is in the middle of an audition when there's a freak incident with a sandbag and a mirror, and we are whisked back to Victorian London, where we learn that disfigured composer Erik Destler is obsessed/in creepy love with singer Christine Day and tutoring her as an angel--but this one doesn't go into that bit too much. He's also dubiously "employed" as the legendary Phantom of the Opera, but the only thing is, ghosts don't run around skinning people, do they?

Where to start? I deliberately kept my expectations low; it's an eighties slasher movie, after all. That being said, I was expecting more, well, slashing. There were a couple "ew, that's gross" parts, but they were few and far between for me. That's not to say someone else wouldn't be more grossed out than I was...I'm just sayin'... I expected a bit of cheese; it's an eighties slasher movie, after all. That being said, I wasn't prepared for Robert Englund's awesome portrayal of the Phantom. He was just so freakin' intense, it was unreal! Even when he was relatively calm, you just KNEW he could still go ballistic and take someone's head off. No, wait...oh well. Anyway, he instantly made it to my ever-growing list of favorite Phantoms in the span of ninety minutes, no second thoughts and no questions asked. I know he played Freddy Kreuger, who from my understanding is just straight-up evil, but he made Erik very human and very sympathetic...up until the last half of the movie, during which he goes off the charts with villainy. And the delivery of some of those awesome lines! The menace behind "I never forget a face!" The near-bashfulness of "Everyone dies. I simply choose the time and place for a few!" Holy crap! My only problem is the non-singing one. Who ever heard of a non-singing Erik?! (Unless you count the Dario Argento version...but I'd prefer not to...but Claude Rains didn't sing know what, forget I ever said anything...)

Also, the music was fantastic. I'd heard wonderful things about it, and was looking forward to wonderful things. Boy oh boy, was I ever excited to hear it wasn't just hype! The scene in the graveyard with Erik playing the violin for Christine--incidentally, the only film version to include this scene from the Leroux novel--was easily my favorite part. It was eerie and otherworldly, and sounded like something out of a dream, which is just how it should be. The use of Gounod's Faust was a salute to the book as well, and they took it even further and incorporated some of the elements into the plot. Jill Schoelen as Christine was beautifully dubbed, but it still couldn't touch Susanna Foster for me. Finally, I just can't get the aria "Your Eyes See But My Shadow" out of my head. It's just so haunting, and rather more so as you only ever hear the same verse repeated throughout the score.

Like every other Phantom movie I've seen thus far, this one was pretty to look at (minus the icky stuff, of course). The sets were great--again, I refer you to the graveyard. I also cite the Opera House itself, the alleys of London, and Erik's lair in the sewer. As for the cinematography, I know for a fact I'm not the first to say something about it, but all I'll add is that it's more consistently beautiful than what we get from Joel freakin' Schumacher...that of course, is another conversation altogether.

Right, so, what didn't I like? The time-travel, flashback stuff. Like so many things, it only made sense so long as you didn't think too carefully about it. It mostly had to do with past and present Christine's memories, but I'm afraid of boggling you with the details if I get too far into it. God knows even after watching the movie, they still boggle me. What else? Loose ends! I understand from the well-informed Phantom Reviewer that there was a sequel planned, but this one did so bad at the box office they dropped the idea. What does this have to do with anything? Well, without giving too much away, the modern-day crap at the beginning and the end was only included to tie into this projected sequel-that-never-was. Yet, without it, the ending of this one was pitiful and made no sense whatsoever (is he dead, or isn't he!?). And what in the name of Gaston Leroux happened to Inspector Hawking back in the day?! He was just there, right in the middle of the action, then we never found out what happened to him! Did Erik flay him alive, or did he survive the whole thing? Alas, they don't tell us this...drat.

Now onto the big important detail...Erik's horrible disfigurement. To be honest, Freddy looked a lot worse. What the hey is it with these filmmakers all downplaying the deformity? We're supposed to believe that this man's face has led him to live his entire life unloved because no one could stand the sight of him! Maybe looking through the eyes of a modern viewer doesn't help, thanks to being so "enlightened" and exposed to so much worse, but still...can we up the ante just a tad?

Oh, wait! Almost forgot! What I didn't like was how Erik's character was handled. I'm not whining about Englund's performance, but Erik's backstory. I like the Faustian subplot a lot, but again, it detracts from the tragedy of his life story. And giving him (in a gruesome, roundabout way) a seemingly normal mask was at once a good thing and a bad thing in my book. Good thing: he gets to stalk the city streets after dark and tango with thugs and prostitutes. Bad thing: I dunno, he just feels less like Erik. This is supposed to be the man so gruesome to look at his own mother wouldn't let him kiss her! What in the world is he doing picking up hookers? That scene was a little more heart-wrenching than it sounds, but still!

From what I hear, this version is the most faithful to Leroux since the Lon Chaney version, and I can see where that comes from, but in other places they've completely twisted it around. Big step away from the book--OMG WHERE IS THE FALLING CHANDELIER?!?! It's weird that for being the only version to include the graveyard scene, they leave out the iconic one...peculiar...Overall, though, I liked it a lot more than I expected to. I might even (wait for it)...

...have to add it to my collection. It's cheesy in places and ridiculous in others, and yet there were some really good points to it. Also on my list: that soundtrack! Here, have a listen!

Your Eyes See But My Shadow
Cemetery Violin

That's all for now, peeps!

Your modest movie buff,

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