Op-ed: Phantoms of the Operas!

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Interpretations of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel are certainly numerous, but each adaptation adds its own musical gloom to the underbelly of the opera. Although listed chronologically, ironically this countdown also ends from best to… WTF.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The Show Must Go On as Lon Chaney (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) removes the lovely Mary Philbin lining (merry-go-round) in this haunting, silent ode to music and chaos. Of course, we never hear anything operatic, and some naysayers may balk at the over-the-top silent film acting style. However, the ballets and backstage scenes invoke a chilling Old World charm. Restored color patches of red, gold and purple hues between the title cards add a more subdued vibe while humorous hints heighten the on-screen wit and soaring crescendos ignite the horror. Period costumes, gothic capes and bizarre Chaney-designed makeup create the spooky, old-school vibe for his sad and possessive portrayal. We fear the deadly orchestrations and maniacal abductions of the Phantom, but mourn the affections he cannot have. Dressed as the skeleton, ironic The Masque of the Red Death himself; The ghost pokes fun at the opera nights above before his famous disfigured reveal – which is still shocking, scary, horrifying and tragic. Every effort should be made to see this wonderfully deadly chain of love, revenge and unmasking.

The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Fired, disfigured and misunderstood, the composer of the Paris Opera Claude Rains (Famous) terrorizes the customers until the beautiful Susanna Foster (Starry rhythm) is allowed to sing in this slightly shrill and dated; but nevertheless delightful Universal spectacle. Oscar-winning designs, costumes, candlelight and flashy capes epitomize melodrama. Action, tragedy and suspense from director Arthur Lubin (The Incredible Mr. Limpet) ahe Oscar-nominated screenwriter Samuel Hoffenstein (Laura) are well-paced, balancing dark implications with full scene numbers and layered love triangles. Although future diva Christine’s suave love interest rivals are one-dimensional and underdeveloped, the obsessed Erique wishes to protect her charming innocence. She pities him, so we also sympathize with his pathetic multi-faceted goals, even to murderous extremes. Suspenseful crescendos accentuate witty subtext and one-liner competition as the climactic action escalates to an entertaining mask reveal and huge luster drop.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

This 1962 Hammer production directed by Terence Fisher (Frankenstein’s Curse) move it Toccata and Fugue in the spooky bowels of London, and turn-of-the-century decor, top hats, gaslights, velvet and lace add flavor. Michael Gough (Batman Returns) for Lord Ambrose is also a surprisingly skilful and arrogant opera director. However, the presentation isn’t as vibrant or colorful as it should be with uninspired Phantom designs and a lined bottom set. Although meant to reflect The Phantom’s point of view, the jerky angles and zooms give a jerky, unpolished feel. The macabre carnival atmosphere is stagnant with a slow pace and few stage numbers despite a short duration. Quality scares and scary moments are rare, and what should be the perfect pairing of studio and spectacle strays from Hammer’s usual flair wrongly. A has to wonder what it could have been with the likes of symphonic bass Christopher Lee and the rest of Hammer’s top stars. The hammer finalists and the Phantom obsessed may find merit here even if this uniquely dark take is flawed and never quite takes off.

The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Robert Englund’s Opera Ghost uses the flesh of his victims to mask his horrific wounds after a pact with the devil in this gruesome 1989 rendition. Contemporary and bloody New York opera auditions Don Juan Triumphant the manuscripts spawned Victorian transitions in London, but the convoluted bookends and confused point of view create confusion in time travel or reincarnation. The opera’s murderous misadventures unfold quickly with sinister brutality and composure. Voyeur stagehands, prostitution or potential rapacity tackle the sexual subtext while devilish make-up designs and bloody slices and dice help viewers ignore plot-laden holes. Erik’s interest in Christine is secondary to his Faustian interview, and although a lengthy skin scrub cashes in Freddie, Englund doesn’t get enough to deliver a multi-dimensional, menacing villain. Inefficient opera owner Billy Nighy (underworld) is also wasted among other nondescript supporting cast, and capable eighties scream queen Jill Schoelen (Here is my baby) is out of place in slow-motion battles and pointless back-and-forth period endings. Atmospheric blue lighting, red highlights, and close-up shots of a crooked eye accentuate the moody score and functional Victorian style. However, the generic costumes and low-budget errors deflate anything grandiose – both proving that a horror update to Leroux is possible but without a cohesive identity as an adaptation. Luckily, Englund fans can have a horrible good time if you accept the late-night lark.

The Opera Fantasy (1998)

Dario Argento (Darkness) directs Julian Sands in this loose Italian adaptation opening from 1998 with our baby Phantom raised by rats in the dark catacombs of the golden opera house. He’s telepathic, not disfigured, and disembowels workers underneath when he doesn’t immediately stroke Asia Argento (XXX) like the provocative Christine. Absurd bosses and useless stagehands dressed as medieval peasants undermine any underworld build, and the story of the bloody rat is jarring amid creepy romantic back-and-forths. Sands does the erotic predator better in Boxing Helen, and the ambiguous romance turned violent sex scenes are uncomfortable to watch because our director is the father of our ingenue. Leaving the audience to ponder a love/hate consummation would have been better than The Phantom unbuckling his pants and stroking his rats while candy offering pedophiles chase little ballerinas. Humorous rocket-riding rat catchers contrast the abuse inappropriately, and the diva-like violence that begins as a slow-burn thriller is also made misleadingly funny. The embarrassing destruction of the chandelier is also played for laughs before Christine inexplicably performs on that same undamaged stage. The costumes are simple, the dialogue dubbed hokey, and while I’m all for full frontal nudity of all genders and sizes, the Turkish baths scene is totally unnecessary. I would have liked a horror story with Julian Sands biting the tongues of busty girls who dare to venture into his domain, but the mockbuster, absurd changes here are not The Phantom of the Opera. It never decides if it’s serious horror or camp parody, and the opera’s lip-synching…LOL.

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