Music student Jill Schoelen is knocked silly at an audition whilst singing something from 19th Century British composer Erik Destler. She wakes up in 19th Century London as an understudy in Faust in an opera house supposedly haunted by a Phantom. The Phantom of course is Destler (Robert Englund, AKA Freddy Krueger) who long ago sold his soul to the Devil at the cost of his once handsome face now radically and freakishly scarred. Destler becomes obsessed with Schoelen, giving her private tuition lessons whilst still hiding his horrific visage. But thatís not all heís hiding...heís a violent and volatile murderer, whilst inspector Terence Harvey (quite good) is on his trail.
Some will be put-off by the very idea of it, but this Dwight H. Little version of the Gaston Leroux classic attempts a slasher movie bent on the oft filmed tale. For what it is, it works rather well, and itís always nice to see the underrated Schoelen on-screen, something we donít get anymore. Sheís always been a lovely, sweet, and wholly unappreciated screen presence, and this film is no exception.
I like the idea of downplaying the Phantomís romantic side and upping his sinister side. Not only is it a nice counter to the Andrew Lloyd Webber vision, but it allows horror actor Englund to feel more comfortable in the role. Englundís more than just Freddy (though rarely allowed to show us anything else), but heís no Casanova letís face it. Englund, whilst classically trained, is no Olivier, but heís perfectly fine for this interpretation of the role. Itís not a Freddy film, though. Thereís one or two moments that are deliberately Freddy-esque, but otherwise this is just a slasher film version of 'Phantom of the Opera'. This sledge-hammer driven film wonít win any awards for subtlety, but it works (I love the idea of the Phantom making masks out of sewn human skin, God help me!), and itís directed and shot with quite a bit of style. Iím shocked at how lavish it is for a film by such a normally nondescript filmmaker.
Purists to the tale wonít get this at all and will be offended by the gore, let alone the lack of the chandelier scene! God forbid! Well, thatís their problem. For me, the mixture of gore and high art was actually sickly amusing, and presumably intentionally so. The makeup is by Kevin Yagher with some additional help from a team supervised by John Carl Buechler. Itís actually really terrific, and only occasionally Freddy-like in visual design, and when it does, itís a little annoying.
I do have one big problem with the film, though. Actually, two, if you include the scary revelation that this is a Menahem Golan (he being the co-founder of Cannon Films, the schlockiest production company of the 80s and home to every Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff film you can name) production. I kid, I kid, I jest, though this is surely one of the most lavish films Golan has ever been involved with (this oneís from his 21st Century Film Corporation, though, in association with Harry Alan Towers). No, what really prevents this from being anything truly memorable is the lack of scenes shared by Englund and Schoelen in the first 45 minutes, so that their connection never feels authentic as the film moves to its climax. Englundís Phantom spends far too long in the shadows, watching Schoelen from afar. I also found the modern day wraparound to be unnecessary and rather silly, but thatís a minor quibble.
Is this the best version of the tale? God no, but it has its merits and it has its place. I kinda liked it. If nothing else, itís better than Dario Argentoís disastrous version (thereís no rat fetish in this one), though Joel Schumacherís screen rendering of the ALW musical is probably the best of the lot, cinematically.