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Dustin Putman

The Phantom of the Opera  (1989)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: February 17, 2015) – French author Gaston Leroux's 1909 novel receives a grisly retelling with director Dwight H. Little's 1989 thriller "The Phantom of the Opera." Moving far, far away from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway musical, Little and screenwriter Duke Sandefur shift the setting from France to England and add present-day, Manhattan-set bookends, but otherwise stay fairly true to the literature on which it is based. While singing onstage at an audition, second-year Juilliard student Christine Day (Jill Schoelen) is knocked unconscious by a falling sandbag and transported to 19th-century London. With the eagerly awaited premiere of a new opera headlined by diva Carlotta (Stephanie Lawrence) draws near, disfigured, eternally damned composer Erik Destler (Robert Englund) locks eyes on lovely supporting ingénue Christine and is instantly bewitched. Driven by maniacal desire, he vows to do whatever necessary—including commit murder—to make her a star.

"The Phantom of the Opera" pretty obviously moved the story's central location to London because there were grand Victorian-era sets at the filmmakers' disposal (a notion that is confirmed in the Blu-ray special features), but the upside is unusually handsome production values that make the film look more expensive than it is. Capitalizing on Robert Englund's pop-culture fame as horribly burned dream slayer Freddy Krueger, the actor has been cast here in a decidedly more textured role that also requires heavy facial prosthesis—that of a doomed, dangerous musician who stitches his victims' skin onto his disfigured visage. Englund is great in the part, a villain of many shades with a romantic longing that can never be reciprocated, while Jill Schoelen (one of the most prolific and underrated scream queens of the 1980s/early-'90s) is charismatic as Christine. Also of note, future "Saturday Night Live" superstar Molly Shannon appears (in her very first screen credit) as Christine's best friend Meg.

If "The Phantom of the Opera" impresses with its production design and Misha Segal's classical score, this particular adaptation has a mini identity crisis in the way it uncomfortably moves between horror, romance and tragedy without fully surrendering to any of these genres. In effect, it is never quite as scary, soaring or poignant as it should be, existing on a creative plane of hesitancy. The project, then, is left as a worthwhile curiosity, one that has understandably achieved cult status in the decades since its release. Robert Englund has had a long, illustrious career, but it is in parts such as this, where he gets to twist expectations and be seen as more than just a two-dimensional boogeyman, that truly cement his underrated depth as a performer.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"The Phantom of the Opera" looks very good, if not quite revelatory, on Blu-ray. The 1080p transfer gets off to a rough start with a wildly jittery 21st Century Film Corporation logo, then promptly levels out. There are errant white specks (usually noticeable in darkness) and a couple hairs spotted over the course of the movie, but by and large this is a clean, suitably filmic image. Black levels are healthy, while detail and clarity receive an uptick from the picture's standard-def DVD days. There is some gauziness within the photography, but this is inherent to the source and how it likely looked during its November 1989 theatrical run. Fans should be happy with how the film looks, just as complaints should be minor with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Early on, the mix appears to be a little uneven, with the music loud and the dialogue too low, but this fortunately seems to fix itself within the first few minutes. Viewers should not expect the sonic fireworks of a present-day mega-blockbuster, but for a modestly budgeted 25-year-old horror pic this is a surprisingly active track that reaches an immersive crescendo during the climax. The lush score comes through especially beautifully—a fitting attribute for a story set within an opera house. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also included.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director Dwight H. Little and actor Robert Englund
  • "Behind the Mask: The Making of The Phantom of the Opera" (37:43, HD) - a new in-depth retrospective featuring interviews with director Dwight H. Little, actors Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen and Alex Hyde-White, screenwriter Duke Sandefur, special make-up designer Kevin Yagher, special make-up effects artists John Carl Buechler, Everett Burrell and John Vulich, and composer Misha Segal
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:53, HD)
  • TV Spot (0:31, HD)
  • Radio Spots (2:04, HD)
  • Still Gallery (5:26, HD)
Bottom Line
Scream Factory continues to do the (dark) lord's work with "The Phantom of the Opera," a film that may never have seen the light of day on high-definition Blu-ray were it not for their loving acquisition of titles like this one. The bonus features—an audio commentary and a newly produced documentary—are the bloodied cherry on top. As a film, it may not be the best adaptation of this classic tale, but it is surely the most patently horrific and earns its place in history for the participation of Robert Englund (at the time riding high from his success with the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise) as the murderous, controlling, lovelorn title character. A welcome addition to Scream Factory's collection and the Blu-ray market at large, "The Phantom of the Opera" comes fully recommended.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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