‘Phantom’ fails to hit that high note

By Vittorio Carli

I went to see “Phantom of the Opera” with high expectations. I thought that it would be intriguing to see a film combine the the Faust legend with the phantom story. I also believed that it might be refreshing to see a film that artfuly blends together horror, music and romance. Instead the movie turned out to be another mindless mad slasher film with arty pretensions.

There have been at least three film versions of “Phantom of the Opera.” The role of the phantom has been played by Lon Chaney Sr., Claude Rains, and Herbert Lom. Robert Englund plays the role in the new version and his portrayal is by far the most one-dimensional. His version of the phantom is like a second rate Freddy Krueger. His only functions in the film are to deliver one liners and hack people to bits.

The film’s problems are indicative of what’s wrong with many of today’s horror films. Since all of the characters are so underdeveloped we never really care when they die.

The new breed of horror villans (like Jason, Freddy and the new phantom) are never really fleshed out so they never inspire the same combination of pity and fear that the old horror figures evoked. They are so all powerful that none of their human opponents can ever present a serious challenge. The existence of ultimate evil implies the existence of ultimate good yet we never see a force for good that rivals them for power.

The plot begins in the present but it quickly flashes back to the past. A modern opera singer named Christine Day (Jill Schoeler) sings a powerful song that was written by the phantom. She is horrified when the the pages squirt blood foreshadowing the carnage to come. When she sings the same song in an audition she is knocked unconscious. Somehow her song manages to resurrect the past and the film flashes back to the events which will affect the present.

The phantom acts as the protector of her previous incarnation. He kills anyone who poses a threat to her career. He dispatches his victims with a savage relish and the film is filled with an abundance of unpleasant violence. Christine sees the phantom as a guardian angel but he is actually a character spawned by Satan.

The devil (in the form of a dwarf) offers him the power to create eternally lasting music in exchange for his soul. Satan also disfigures his face and apparently gives him supernatural powers. The phantom has a crush on Christine and kidnaps her in order to marry her. This leads to an inevitable violent confrontation with the heroes.

“Phantom of the Opera” was based on the famous Gaston Leroux opera. In the movie version, the music definitely takes a backseat to the gore. The film has impressive production values and it is a veritable feast for the eyes. Unfortunately, this cannot make up for the film’s lack of inspiration. “Phantom of the Opera” is a film that is as soul-less as it’s main character.