Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Nadia Rinaldi and Asia Argento
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (aka Il fantasma dell'opera/1998). Director: Dario Argento.

"You will not sing Romeo and Juliet. If you defy me, you will suffer, you fat cow." -- the Phantom to Carlotta.

Early in this version of Gaston Leroux's "Phantom of the Opera" a workman in a shaft in the opera house begins to scream, and when his body is pulled up by the others, the top half of it is missing. Yep, this is "Phantom of the Opera" as filtered through the mind of Italian goremeister Dario Argento. Frankly the performances, script, and production values reveal a not bad film that doesn't need the gratuitous mayhem, but Argento was a slave to some of his fans -- not to mention the gore geeks who loved the Friday the 13th series and their extreme splatter effects [hence we have the Phantom unnecessarily biting and pulling the tongue out of a screaming victim]. In this version there is nothing about composers and greedy music publishers, but instead our phantom (Julian Sands) floats into the Paris underground as a baby and is raised and nurtured -- by rats! [In one scene the unlucky Sands has the little darlings crawling all over him as he fondles and kisses them.] As in most versions we have the obnoxious older soprano, Carlotta (Nadia Rinaldi), and the young understudy, Christine (Asia Argento, the director's daughter), who takes her place when disaster strikes. Unlike earlier versions, the Phantom is not disfigured, but this attempt to turn it into a love story is a mistake. There are handsome settings in the Paris of 1877, interesting art direction of assorted underground chambers, and some striking images, such as the Phantom imagining his naked enemies shrunken in size and caught in a rat trap. Unfortunately, the chandelier scene lacks real suspense, and what happens to Carlotta is treated like a black comedy (but is undeniably amusing). One sequence takes place in a 19th century Plato's Retreat-type sex club, and there's a zany bit with two weird hobos who build a rat-killing contraption that backfires on them. The ending is dragged out and this could have used a stronger script, but Ennio Morricone's music is quite effective and there are some good performances. Previous versions of the film include the clasic silent with Lon Chaney, the 1943 version with Claude Rains, and the 1962 version with Herbert Lom.

Verdict: Take it on its own terms and this is entertaining if a little too gross at times. **1/2.

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