Saturday, 22 October 2016


When I first saw Dwight H. Little’s version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1990), on video, I was not expecting much. Pantomime at the Opera, or Sing-along-a-Freddy, was about the best I’d hoped for. So it came as a great surprise to find this was a quite enjoyable change of scenery for Robert Englund, who acquits himself with a measure of confidence and makes the often played title character his own.

Beginning in present day New York, this update is curiously time-warped, with young hopeful Christine (Jill Schoelen) getting knocked backwards in history, during her audition on a theatre stage. She wakes up in the foggy cobble-stoned London, and finds she’s got the part, after the resident diva (Stephanie Lawrence) loses her voice, dumbstruck by the sight of a flayed man in her wardrobe. 

Accepting her position as understudy like she knows it’s just a dream, Christine makes the most of her opportunity on opening night. The skinned stagehand isn’t the only one to die, though, and pretty soon the hapless cops are finding bodies (and parts of them), all over the place. The Phantom wants to marry Christine and hides his disfigured face - the result of a pact with Satan - under a Leatherface-styled mask, made from the skin of his victims, of course. 

This is a grand, lavish production, with colourful period settings and strong direction. Some graphic effects work of stabbings, beheadings, and skin-grafts in close-up, will keep the gore-hounds happy, while the slightly mushy romantic saga remains this type of movie’s major difficulty. How to make the swooning and gothic stylisation palatable for modern audiences? This is a valiant attempt to provide answers for the many problems found in adapting classics and, although it fails on some levels, there are enough inspired moments that this 25-year-old version of POTO remains a success overall. 

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