When 1989’s “The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture” came out on this day 22 years ago, it should have come with the tag line “This Isn’t Your Parents’ ‘Phantom!’” Maybe that would have led more of the right people to see the film, giving it a better chance to make a bigger impact than it did at the box office.
Horror fans were drawn to “The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture” by the casting of Robert Englund, who at the time was riding the crest of popularity. He had starred in one “A Nightmare on Elm Street” film a year as Freddy Krueger since the debut of the series in 1984. He missed one year in 1986, but that’s it.
Unlike the original movie and Broadway musical, “The Motion Picture” had a supernatural aspect to it. Englund’s Destler had sold his soul to the Devil to have his music heard and made immortal. The only way he could be killed was if you destroyed his music. He also had his face burned away by the Devil and wore a mask he had made out of his victims’ skin.
“The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture” also had a time-traveling element added to it. The woman the Phantom falls in love with lives at first in modern times but when she’s hit in the head by a sandbag is transported back in time to the 1880s. For most fans of the original film and the Broadway musical, this was probably too much of a fantasy/sci-fi component to take in.
In some ways, “The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture” was more accurate to the original novel written in 1910 by Gaston Leroux. First off, there is no scene featuring a falling chandelier. The Faustian element from the original book is more prevalent in this film version. It also includes the rat-catcher and the mysterious violinist in the graveyard from the book. The Phantom is also much more brutal and evil than he is in the Broadway play.
Dwight H. Little directed “The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture.” Little has had quite an interesting career helming films and television. He gained a reputation as a horror director by working on projects like “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,” “Freddy’s Nightmares,” “The X-Files,” and others. At the same time, he’s known for his work on several mainstream films and TV shows like “24,” “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home,” and recently “Castle.”
The cast of this “Phantom of the Opera” had some up and coming actors in it. It starred Molly Shannon before she was on “Saturday Night Live.” It also included Bill Nighy, who went on to star in the “Underworld” films, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.”
“The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture” was a box office failure. The movie grossed under $4 million and suffered from bad reviews by the majority of top critics. It didn’t help that it was released when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway version was at its highest in popularity. The year 1989 was also overloaded with the release of horror films, which included entries from some of the biggest genre franchises like “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Halloween,” and “Friday the 13th.” You could say Robert Englund helped kill himself in a battle between The Phantom and Freddy Krueger that year.
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Eric Shirey is the founder and former editor of Rondo Award nominated movie news websites MovieGeekFeed.com and TheSpectralRealm.com. His work has been featured on Yahoo!, DC Comics, StarWars.com, and other entertainment websites. Eric has interviewed and worked with actors like Harrison Ford, Brooke Shields, Gerard Butler, Brendan Fraser, Selena Gomez, and many more.