IN THIS VERSION OF THE GASTON LEROUX CLASSIC, ERIK IS NOT THE VICIM OF AN ACCIDENT BUT A MAN WHO SELLS HIS SOUL FOR SUPERNATURAL POWERS.
Trading tragic romance for Faustian malevolence, the 1989 version of The Phantom of the Opera is a surprisingly good example of '80s horror. It was dismissed as gory trash by most critics (no doubt because Kevin Yagher's gruesome makeup effects are effectively revolting), but horror buffs will be more forgiving of this lush production, which ranks well above average for horror films of its time. Set in Victorian London and shot mostly in Budapest, Hungary (for period architecture), the film reunites director Dwight Little (Halloween 4) with "Freddie Krueger" himself, Robert Englund, who had worked together on the Nightmare on Elm Street-based TV series Freddie's Nightmares. It's a good pairing, as Englund does some of his finest work as the Phantom, seen here as a horribly disfigured composer who patches his scarred and mangled face with stitched-on flesh, and makes a deal with the devil to be immortalized through his music. His muse, as always, is the lovely diva-to-be Christine, and the casting of Jill Schoelen gives the film added cachet among genre fans (who will recognize her from the 1987 cult hit The Stepfather). While bearing little resemblance to Lon Chaney's 1925 classic, this Phantom is actually more loyal to Gaston Leroux's original novel, and therefore deserves as much acknowledgement as any other version of the story. Certainly not a classic, but well worth a look. --Jeff Shannon