Monday, March 23, 2009

Phantom of the Opera (1998)

Reviewed by JM

Unrated. The word holds so much promise. Will there be scenes of gore left out of the theatrical release? Will there be nudity? Is it European and contains something even better than nudity?

Or is it simply that the movie was never given to the MPAA for a rating?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dario Argento’s Phantom of the Opera- The Unrated Director’s Cut… or as I like to call it, the only version available. That is right. As far as I can tell, no rated version is out there. And the director’s cut seems to be the only cut ever released.

So, while nothing on the box is untrue… it is not a good way to start the conversation. You know, it is a little like repackaging Hello Mary Lou Prom Night 2 as just Prom Night 2 and hoping the kids will think it is a sequel to the newest version of Prom Night. It is a bit misleading.

Well, at least Dario had the decency not to call it “Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera”.

I’m looking at you Robert Englund.

Dario Argento’s Phantom of the Opera begins with a very pleasant score by- now are you sitting down?- Ennio Morricone! Yes, the same Ennio Morricone that scored The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. The same man who scored Once Upon A Time In The West.

The same friggin’ guy for whom a tribute album was made by John Zorn… with the reissue featuring a track with Mike Patton!

This guy is Big League.

So, although I understand that Dario Argento is a bigger name in Italy than in America, I am baffled as to how he roped Ennio Morricone into composing for this. My guess is that Ennio thought he was composing a theme for Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera.

Sorry pal. You have to look more closely. No Leroux here. Just Argento.

Well, we find out pretty early on just how this phantom came to be. This phantom is played by Julian Sands and has no facial disfigurements. He is handsome.

So, why hide in the catacombs? Because- and I am embarrassed to even write this- he was raised from birth by rats. This guy, who looks like Bret Michaels in a Dracula cape, was raised by rats, can communicate with them, and uses them to kill people. He can apparently use his mind powers to control people, too.

Christine is played by the director’s daughter, Asia Argento. She exemplifies Eurotrashiness. Look her up on the internet. Virtually every picture of her has her nearly to fully nude and smoking a cigarette. So, watching her flit around the stage hitting high notes Mariah Carey never dreamed of is… is… well let’s just call it what it is. It is ridiculous. This is the worst lip-syncing put to film since…well, since Jill Schoelen played Christine in Robert Englund’s version. But, where Asia does Jill one better is in the facial expressions and head movements. I guess she is going for sassy. She looks like she is trying out for American Idol.

Of course, the Phantom becomes convinced that the beautiful understudy, Christine, should be the lead in the Opera. He goes about killing people to impress her and make sure that this happens.

But, why would a guy who can, with the power of his own mind, make people put their own hands in rat traps need to do any of this? Why can’t he just hypnotize the director into giving Christine the part?

These questions are never answered.

He does, however, use his special powers to seduce the young starlet about an hour into the movie.

This movie really goes crackers, though, when an exterminator and his dwarf assistant start riding around the underground tunnels on some sort of vacuum cleaner/ rat killing mini car thing.

What can I tell you? This movie can only be categorized as a best/worst. In the same way that Out For A Kill is the best/worst movie of Steven Seagal's career. Or, the way One Wish: The Holiday Album is the best/worst record by Whitney Houston. This is the best/worst movie in Dario Argento’s catalogue. And, as such, I will give in a rating directly between best and worst.

Three fingers!


  1. JM,

    Actually, I'd say "One Wish" is a best-best. It never, EVER gets better than ad libs during "The CHRISTMAS Song" that discuss Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.


  2. Morricone and Argento have worked together on a couple of movies (including Once upon a time in the west) and Morricone has also done quite a few other Italian horror and exploitation movies, so I don#t think it's all that surprising (Not that it makes the movie any better though).