The Phantom of the Opera (1989) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The new edition of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series looks at the 1989 version of The Phantom of the Opera, starring Robert Englund

Last Updated on April 25, 2024

The Phantom of the Opera is sometimes considered one of the Universal Monsters. I get it. From the 1925 version that gave us one of the most infamous unmasking sequences ever courtesy of the great Lon Chaney Sr., through the Hammer iteration with Herbert Lom, all the way up to the 2004 film that gave a lot of us our intro to Gerard Butler. Speaking of that movie, its inspiration and reason for its existence was the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical that premiered in October of 1986 and has had runs all the way through as recently as 2021. 1989 was the beginning of its U.S. tour and we got not one but TWO Phantom movies that year. Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge is cheesy and may just be more well known due to our friend Joe Bob featuring it on the Last Drive In recently. Here in the JoBlo Horror kitchen today we are cooking something up for you. Take one part Freddy Krueger, a dash of Cannon Films, and a heaping helping of nonsensical gory fun and you get a recipe for one of the Best Horror Movies You Never Saw.

The other Phantom movie, the one not centered in a mall, is brought to us by an eclectic group of people. (And you can buy it HERE.) The main antagonist is played by Freddy Krueger himself Robert Englund who is at home here under some fun makeup. That makeup is provided by John Carl Beuchler and Kevin Yaeger who had both worked with Englund on Nightmare part 4. Robert does get to play himself sans makeup a few times both in the present and the past, but we will get into that a little bit later. The director would also work with Englund again as Dwight H. Little would go on to direct a few episodes of the Freddy’s Nightmares show. Little is a bit of a genre renaissance man with credits on Halloween 4, Marked for Death, Rapid Fire, both the X-Files and Millennium TV shows, and even an FMV video game from the 90s’. He would go on to stay in the TV realm with shows like Bones and Prison Break amongst others. The writer, or writers, would be Gaston Larue who is credited for the original work, Gerry O’Hara who did the first screenplay, and finally Duke Sandefur. This and the previous year’s Ghost Town are Sandefur’s only feature credits, but he does a good job here.

The movie decides to take the story in an interesting direction. That’s not to say that hasn’t been done before with Phantom of the Paradise, Opera, and Phantom of the Mall all trying their best to make it different and new. This one takes the character of Christine and has an accident that transports her back in time. The Phantom is slightly different than in iterations of the past as a man that sold his soul to the devil. The music would be successful, but the deal is that Erik Destler would be remembered for his music and not his looks. Destler is disfigured and some of the best effects of the movie are Englund putting on or removing parts of his face. Christine is played by channel favorite Jill Schoelen who is somewhat of a forgotten scream queen. She had a hell of a horror run from 87 to 93 that includes the likes of The Stepfather, Cutting Class, Curse II, today’s flick, Popcorn, and the TV sequel When a Stranger Calls Back. She is a solid performer in everything she’s in and that stays true as Christine.

In the present time, Christine is looking for the lost works of Erik Destler with the help of Molly Shannon of all people. Yeah, this was her first role. Christine finds a part of the piece she is looking for and uses it to audition. A sandbag falls and hits so hard that she apparently goes back in time. This movie doesn’t actually have the famous falling chandelier bit that almost every other version of this story has. The reason is that producer Menahem Golan, fresh off of the failure of Cannon Films and into his new venture 21st Century Films, ran out of money and had to change the screenplay around. This also explains the additional writer and why one of them has a based-on credit. The script is based on a script that is based on a book. I still can’t find the budget for this movie, but it sounds like Golan put a ton of money into it and there is no way that it’s 4-million-dollar theater gross covered it.

Christine wakes up shortly after Erik becomes known somewhat as a phantom and we see him systematically go through the standard horror fare. He kills a handful of people in grisly ways and even sets up the new play to have Christine in the lead rather than the admittedly terrible person who currently holds that role. The effects are firmly in the R rated realm, but the movie was originally given the dreaded X rating before making cuts to bring it down a notch. While the gore here isn’t reinventing the wheel, I would love to see what was put on the cutting room floor to push it to the vaunted X certificate. The other important characters are Richard Dutton played by Alex Hyde White, Inspector Hawkins played by Terence Harvey, and Martin Barton played by Academy Award nominee Bill Nighy who is assuredly not a science guy. White has been in over 100 projects but will always be Reed Richards in the Corman Fantastic Four. Terence Harvey was in From Hell in a similar if not more evil version of his role here but also maybe more importantly a 1994 computer game version of Clue as the butler.

Finally, Nighy was first noticed by me as “He’s not my Dad” in Shaun of the Dead but hasn’t shied away from horror or genre. He has also been in the Underworld series, the Pirates series, I, Frankenstein, and The Limehouse Golem. The movie moves along with at least the idea from the original story and the many that have come before it. Heck, the ones that came after it while were at it. The Phantom, or Erik in this case, stacks the deck so that his beloved Christine can take over during the remainder of the production. He kills a critic that review bombed her after her performance, he shows up to a masquerade ball with a callback to both that Lon Chaney classic and the Vincent Price flick The Masque of the Red Death. There he just takes the initiative and kills the original performer Carlotta by taking just a little of the top and its here where the police decide to go full force.

I’ll be honest, I had always seen the cover for this movie on one of those super basic and cheap DVD covers that showed up on your Amazon suggestions list or in the bargain bin in Walmart. I also thought this was the same movie as the Dario Argento version that would come a few years later. I really thought that the two titans of Englund and Argento had made this weird version of a classic tale. I have since seen both and this one is easily the preferred version even though the Italian version is not without its own charms, and Julian Sands of course. The lead inspector and Christine’s love Richard find out where the Phantom resides through the local rat catcher. They go down into the sewers and Freddy takes a page out of Jason’s handbook by systematically hunting them down before the final confrontation. He even gets a few good one liners in while dispatching the rat catcher and extra body police officer.

The final confrontation in the lair of the phantom sees Drestler take out Richard and wound the inspector before being shot by the man. Richard is taken out in glorious fashion when he is stabbed and then set on fire. Christine is able to get the upper hand and crashes a candle holder through a window which is somehow able to send her back to her own time in the late 1980s. She hears the phantom call for her as she wakes up and is able to go meet up with the present-day producer. This take on the story is somewhat original as the director of the play turns out to be Drestler who has been surviving since his accident over a century prior. We see Englund touch up a blemish before Christine figures out that the only way to stop him is to destroy his works. Being in the archaic late 80s, Erik has all his stuff on some sweet, SWEET floppy disk tech.

She destroys it all including a printed version but not before we get some serious Krueger vibes when she tears off his face mask to reveal the final bit of well-done practical effects from Yaeger and team. She passes a violinist who is playing some lines from Drestlers famous work, and we are left, like Christine, to wonder if the phantom is really gone for good. There was talk for the longest time of a sequel to this movie and Englund was all for it. The Phantom of the Opera 2: Terror in Manhattan was written and ready to go and kind of stayed in film purgatory for a long time. Its something that Englund was incredibly passionate about and honestly, straight to video or not, this could have been a blast to experience and see where they took the characters and story. More Jill Schoelen and more Robert Englund? Sign me the heck up.

The movie itself doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it doesn’t need to at all. It takes a ton of interesting and wonderful genre elements and gives us a fun and oft forgotten horror flick that entertains as much as you’d expect from the era. Releasing in November of 89, it ended a decade that is typically the favorite for horror fans while not feeling like a product of its time, well, for the most part. While it isn’t going to end up on any critics list of the best movies of the year or decade, it should be required viewing for horror fans as its random assortment of talents and elements make for a very fun watch. It’s easy to find both streaming and physical and should be one of the next films you cross off your ever-growing list of Best Horror Movies You Never Saw.

A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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