Italian horror specialist Dario Argento has always cited his first viewing of the 1943 film version of Gaston LeRoux's gothic melodrama Phantom of the Opera as a seminal experience, and Phantom remained one of his favorite classic horror stories. Unfortunately, this adaptation of the classic tale is one of his least successful films. Paris, 1881: The reclusive Phantom (Julian Sands), who lives in the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House, becomes entranced by a young soprano, Christine (Asia Argento, the director's daughter), and vows to make her a star. He begins by terrorizing Carlotta (Nadia Rinaldi), the diva in whose enormous shadow understudy Christine has toiled in obscurity, and goes on to murder anyone who might impede his protege's progress. Though this Phantom wears his scars on the inside, his pallid skin, long white hair and peculiar manner set him apart from normal society, so he sets about seducing Christine who already has a more conventional suitor in Raoul (Andrea Di Stefano) by practicing an insidious form of mind control. Argento's touches include a back story for the phantom that's uncomfortably reminiscent of the Penguin's tale as told in Tim Burton's BATMAN RETURNS (1991); in both films, a couple set their baby adrift in a basket, hoping it will be adopted by kind strangers. The Penguin is famously adopted by penguins, while Argento's little Phantom-to-be is taken in by sewer rats. This motivates one of the film's most baroque set pieces the grown Phantom kills the theater's resident rat catcher after he invents a new rat-killing machine (which resembles a riding lawn mower with spikes) but it's really silly. Argento also contrasts the film's obvious monster, the Phantom, with the grotesque, perverted aristocrats who lust after little ballet girls (in a sequence that echoes the rehearsal paintings of Degas, who appears as a character as well) and loll around steam baths stroking half-naked prostitutes, and the Phantom clearly comes off as the lesser of two evils. Though Asia Argento looks lovely in the period costumes, her character is underwritten and her lip-synching (Raffaella Milanesi supplied her singing voice) is distractingly terrible. Argento's OPERA (1988), a sadistic, modern-day spin on LeRoux's tale, is a far superior piece of work.
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- Released: 1998
- Review: Italian horror specialist Dario Argento has always cited his first viewing of the 1943 film version of Gaston LeRoux's gothic melodrama Phantom of the Opera as a seminal experience, and Phantom remained one of his favorite classic horror stories. Unfortuna… (more)