Billed as a horror film but more of a backstage comedy, PHANTOM OF THE RITZ proves slightly more successful at the latter than at the former. In any case, it needed a little more ritz and a lot more Phantom.
The story opens in 1958, when a drag-racing accident causes the teenaged brother of one of the participants to be horribly burned. He ends up haunting the local Ritz movie theater, remaining even after the place has closed down. In the present day, the building, now fallen into grave disrepair, is
bought by Ed Blake (Peter Bergman of the Firesign Theater), who hopes to renovate it and turn it into a 1950s rock 'n' roll club as therapy for his midlife crisis. With the help of his girlfriend, Nancy (Deborah Van Valkenburg), he sets about getting the place in shape, taking on the caustic Sally
(Cindy Vincino) as his secretary and eloquent Black muscleman Marcus (Russell Curry) as his head of security. Meanwhile, detective Lassarde (Steve Geng) has been investigating the dismemberment deaths of bums in the area, little knowing that the Ritz's unseen inhabitant (Joshua Sussman) is behind
them. He's upset at the new invaders on his turf, and soon the violence is spreading inside: first Dutch (Frank Tranchina), one of the workers, is murdered, and then Sally is kidnapped by the hulking fiend.
Ed is so caught up in his work on the Ritz that he begins to neglect Nancy, who responds by hanging out with an Elvis impersonator, one of many awful acts that Ed has been auditioning for the theater's opening night. They are later reconciled, however, and the opening is a smash, though Ed is
later notified by Lassarde that two teenagers vanished from the vicinity of the theater (they were, in fact, killed by the Phantom). The following night marks an appearance by the Coasters (who sing their old hit "Yakkity Yak"), but in the midst of the festivities, Nancy is kidnapped by the
Phantom, who spirits her to his underground lair. There, he reveals that he is also holding Sally, and that steroids he took while recovering from his burns have resulted in his monstrous state. Ed, Lassarde, Marcus and the security cops manage to find the secret room, and after a violent
struggle, Nancy and Sally are saved, the place catches fire and the Phantom is left to die in the flames.
PHANTOM OF THE RITZ is a disappointment both in general and given the fact that its premise could have been worked into a scary and lively film. Brian De Palma, in fact, proved in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE that Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera could be transplanted into the world of rock 'n'
roll with memorable results. But far too much of this film has nothing to do with either the horror of its particular Phantom or the 50s rock that its protagonist wants to provide a venue for. Instead, the increasingly tiresome screenplay focuses on all the problems and petty personal disputes
surrounding the refurbishing of the Ritz, with intermittent laughs but no real comic momentum. By the time the Phantom makes his presence known in the climactic scenes, he almost seems to have wandered in from another movie.
The cast seems capable, but they're given little to do, with the exception of Russell Curry as the bodybuilder who also possesses an Ivy League vocabulary. He has the movie's best line, as he explains to Ed that he's gotten so educated just to startle people who think there's nothing to him but
muscles: "How many people do you know who can benchpress 410 and know 30 English words beginning with 'x'?" There's an early suggestion that the filmmakers are savvy about B flicks when Ed notes that Nancy's video library contains "Klaus Kinski bloopers," but when her collection of awful movies
also turns out to include director Allen Plone's previous film NIGHT SCREAMS, it should be taken as a warning. (Violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Billed as a horror film but more of a backstage comedy, PHANTOM OF THE RITZ proves slightly more successful at the latter than at the former. In any case, it needed a little more ritz and a lot more Phantom. The story opens in 1958, when a drag-racing acc… (more)