THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989)
Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
Robert Englund is the composer Erik Destler, the Phantom who lives in the sewers below the London Opera House (the novel's setting was actually in Paris). Instead of a mask, he sews dead skin on his charred, rotting face every night before getting his own seat at the Opera to hear for the umpteenth time, Gounod's "Faust." The story goes that Erik sold his soul to the Devil (played by the late John Ghavan, a dwarf with an alarming, echoing voice that must have been dubbed) so that his music would become immortalized - part of the bargain dictates that no one will ever love Erik himself and so the Devil burns his face. I actually enjoy this revisionist take on Leroux's novel - Brian De Palma's electric, rock and roll version called "Phantom of the Paradise" also aimed for a Faustian subtext. I do object to the movie's bastardization of the Phantom, making him a newly supernatural character - he can materialize anywhere, he decapitates people, he hangs them with rope traps, he utters Freddy Krueger lines ("You're...suspended!"), but he does love the new opera singer in town. That would be Christine Day (Jill Schoelen), who can sing like no one's business provided she is guided by Erik himself.
The movie's bookends feature Christine in modern-day New York City, finding the lost musical notes of a forgotten opera called "Don Juan Triumphant." She is ready to perform the piece for an audition but is hit on the head by a sandbag. Then we travel back to London in the 1880's. The movie never makes it clear if Christine is having a fever dream from being hit on the noggin' or if she in fact does time travel back to the 1800's. Who needs a Delorean or H.G. Well's time machine when all you require is a sandbag? It is hinted in a line of dialogue that the Phantom had been around for centuries but a tinge more backstory would've been beneficial.
Footnote: This was the only Jill Schoelen film I saw in theaters, after becoming a fan of hers when I saw "The Stepfather."