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  Phantom of the Opera, The The Singer Not The Song
Year: 1989
Director: Dwight H. Little
Stars: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Alex Hyde-White, Bill Nighy, Stephanie Lawrence, Terence Harvey, Nathan Lewis, Peter Clapham, Molly Shannon, Emma Rawson, Mark Ryan, Yehuda Efroni, Terence Beesley, Ray Jewers, Robin Hunter, Virginia Fiol, Cathy Murphy
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Christine Day (Jill Schoelen) is an aspiring opera singer who gets a late night call from her friend Meg (Molly Shannon) to head over to a New York library to see what she has discovered. On arrival, Meg shows her a very old piece of sheet music which she believes will be ideal for Christine's upcoming audition, and she is immediately interested, wondering if the composer, one Erik Destler, could possibly have been the serial killer Meg tells her he was. On examining further pages, she has a vision of the notes turning to blood, which alarms her, but not enough to stop her using the music the next day...

Despite the disclaimer on the end credits included to distance it from the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical which had been wowing eighties audiences in theatres from the West End to Broadway, this Menahem Golan production was generally regarded as having been given the go-ahead as a cash-in, and as if to underline its ambitions, one of Webber's regular stars Stephanie Lawrence was offered a role as the domineering diva who its leading lady was understudy to in the film. Although it opened in The Big Apple, the plot didn't stay there as soon after Christine begins her audition she gets whomped on the head by a falling sandbag.

This sends her back in time, not to Paris as most Phantoms of the Opera are situated, but to London (though this was actually shot in Budapest) where Christine is the understudy with a secret admirer, he being Erik Destler, our Phantom. Obviously hired for his renown in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, it was Robert Englund stepping into the character's shoes, though the setting was not the only change from the Gaston Leroux source, as he didn't wear a mask this time, he sewed together pieces of human flesh and stuck them on his face to cover his scars. Which was a kind of mask, and he did sport a proper one for the ball later on, but it did mean the big unmasking scene had been somewhat spoiled.

Make that scenes, because Erik reveals his true visage more than once, perhaps to make up for the fact that the other most famous part of the story, the chandelier crashing down on the audience mid-performance, was nowhere to be seen. Apparently that was down to budget reasons, but it did leave the movie without a big setpiece to hang its dramatics around, leaving a lot of little bits all joined together much like its title villain's countenance. Englund did his best, but for all the gore there was something anaemic about the thrills, no matter how bloody they became, and while it wasn't as much of a travesty as the later Dario Argento version there remained issues with what they did to dress up the story.

This meant that fans of the novel, and in particular the megahit musical, were most put out at what they viewed as a trashing of their beloved original. There was very little romance here, as while Erik is obsessed with Christine (and if her name slips your mind then he helpfully repeats it about fifteen billion times) he seems more prone to baser desires, hiring a prostitute in one scene to pretend to be her, and his habit of skinning people alive is less than endearing (well, he does need material for his phizzog). To add to the ignominy, the filmmakers mixed up the Leroux tale with that of Faust, so the Phantom has sold his soul to the Devil in this telling which explains his supernatural abilities. Notable in the cast was a pre-fame Bill Nighy as the opera producer, looking to be set up as one of the victims but somehow escaping that fate though he suffers in other ways, but it was Englund who was the main draw, unless you appreciated Schoelen's brief time as a scream queen. Music by Andrew Lloyd - oops, I mean Misha Segal.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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