Blu-ray Review: Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture

What is the whole “creative conflict” business that makes hundreds of projects fall apart? Deep down, the conflict is a clash of motivations between producers and major actors. Actors always want to stretch. Producers always want to not go broke. Think of all the times that a comic actor performs a serious film role. Sure they get major buzz from the critics, but quite often the audience doesn’t care. Adam Sandler didn’t bring in Big Daddy dollars for Spanglish. So what hope is there when a horror star craves a different genre?

During the mid-80s, Robert Englund was the star of the successful Nightmare on Elm Street movie series. His knife-fingered Freddy Krueger was bigger than Jason & Michael. They even launched an anthology TV series called Freddy’s Nightmare. But Englund wanted to do a little bit more than only play the horrific burn victim that terrified teens. He needed to be a romantic lead. But what producer wants to base a project around Englund being a suave heartthrob? Turns out the legendary Menahem Golan (ex-Cannon Films genius) figured out how to make Englund a lover and a slasher. Pop culture was getting overwhelmed by the musical Phantom of the Opera opening on Broadway. Gaston Leroux’s novel had entered public domain. Golan had built elaborate sets for his version of The Three Penny Opera. It was a Roger Corman-esque moment of creative creation for Golan. The pieces were perfect for Englund to don the mask of the Phantom of the Opera except to not confuse people with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s production, Golan would produce Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture.

The movie re-imagines the classic tale. The action starts in 1989’s Manhattan where Christine Day (The Stepfather‘s Jill Schoelen) auditions for an opera. She and her friend Meg (Superstar‘s Molly Shannon) uncover a forgotten score for Erik Destler’s “Don Juan Triumphant.” This music will get her noticed by the producers. In the middle of her performance, she gets knocked out by a flying sandbag. She wakes up in 1881 London in an opera house. In this bit of time travel, she becomes an understudy for a diva. She also has a new admirer in the disfigured Destler (Englund). He wants her to be the true star of the musical. Nothing will stop him from making this dream happen on stage. Can she resist his promise of stardom at all cost?

Immediately viewers can tell that this isn’t the usual Phantom of the Opera since there’s plenty of gore on the screen. The blood flows faster than the music. Along with a lot of stabbings, one of the Phantom’s victims gets skinned alive. Englund plays the mysterious character with a passion for Christine with a bit of charm. He also scares the living daylights out of the audience by cutting up his victims. Instead of the iconic mask, Destler covers his face with human flesh like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The movie isn’t complete gore. The musical elements sound great. Christine sounds like she should be the lead of her opera. This version of Phantom of the Opera is a Nightmare on Broadway.

Director Dwight H. Little (Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home) pulls off the incredible feat of allowing Englund to be a romantic lead without repulsing his horror fans with mushy scenes. His Phantom is passionate for both love and vengeance. Englund gets his emotional stretch without reducing the body count on the screen. Even with this joyful result of horror and romance, the theatrical release of Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture wasn’t a hit. But don’t cry for Golan. The VHS box seemed to be on the shelves at most videostores next to the row of various Nightmare on Elm Streets. This was a great way for horror fans to find something classy for the ladies to enjoy.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The lush production design and the dripping blood glows in the 1080p transfer. DTS-Master Audio Stereo brings out the gasps of victims and the notes of divas with equal joy. The movie is subtitled.

Audio Commentary with Robert Englund and Dwight H. Little allows them to express their passion for the film.

Behind the Mask (37:43) explains how this film came together. Everyone enjoys how classy the production became. The cast and crew really enjoyed working on the film. This isn’t the usual tales from a Golan production. Little gets described as a guy who came out of film school with a lot of buzz. The composer speaks of how he avoided the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical to not even accidentally crib musical cues. Englund loves this film.

Theatrical Trailer (1:53) was taken from a video release. They do a good job teasing the film with a great series of clips.

TV Spot (0:31) links the film to Nightmare On Elm Street.

Radio Spots (2:04) goes for the horror audience with audio about the violence.

Still Gallery (5:26) is a montage of production photos and promotional materials.

Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture allows Robert Englund to play a classic romantic character with a little bit of Nightmare on Elm Street gore.

Scream Factory presents Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture. Directed by: Dwight H. Little. Written by: Gerry O’Hara & Duke Sandefur. Starring: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Alex Hyde-White, Bill Nighy and Molly Shannon. Running Time: 93 minutes. Rated: R. Released: February 17, 2015.

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