The Phantom Of The Opera – 1989 (Blu-ray Review)

Phantom-Of-The-OperaSometime in the later 1980s, the famous books and story of The Phantom Of The Opera fell into public domain; meaning anybody could make their own cinematic, televised or stage rendition of it without having to jump through hoops to get the rights.  Coming of the success of Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers, director Dwight H Little wanted to get the first one done before countless others threw their cards in the hat.  He snagged up fright icon Robert Englund at the peak of his pop culture popularity as well as one of the “it girls” of the moment Jill Schoelen to do his own take on the story.  Largely forgotten, this was a pretty hyped and anticipated film back in 1989.  Not just in the horror community either.  The film wound up being a crushing disappointment both from a critical and box office perspective.  However, through the annals of home video, the film first began finding itself an audience of appreciators on VHS and even more when it was released on DVD.  Here it comes to the next format, where it hopes to find even more new fans.  This makes it the perfect candidate for a Scream Factory release.

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Christine Day is a young Broadway singer in New York City auditioning for a show, who comes across an old piece of music written nearly 100 years before by an unknown musician named Erik Destler. Destler, it seems, had made a pact with the devil (maybe by accident) so the world would love his music. The catch was Erik’s face would be left horribly disfigured forever. Once Christine sings his music for an audition, she is hit with a sandbag. Thus follows a presumed flashback into the past roughly around 1881, where she was the star in the London Opera House. There, she is coached by a mysterious “Phantom” who will do anything to make his protégé a star, even if it means murder. Christine soon finds out that her teacher is in fact Destler, whom she comes to loathe.

Some have criticized this film of having an imbalance.  That its too much a beautiful period piece to satisfy the horror-gore hound that it has too much graphic violence for the period piece fan to stomach.  This assessment doesn’t understand at all what the film is going for.  Dwight H Little’s take on The Phantom of the Opera is a love letter to horror of a different era.  He’s basically done The Phantom Of The Opera as if it was produced by Hammer Horror.  But, with a more modern touch on the effects and what they’re allowed to show.  I’m guessing most of those who saw this film weren’t familiar with Hammer or not picking up on this.

Speaking of the film’s gore, its absolutely rich and outstanding.  Phantom ’89 is a brutal film.  Robert Englund sews skin to his face, a guy gets his head sawed off with a knife, buckets of blood fill the cobblestone streets and much more.  Apparently for as much as we see, there was a ton excised from the film due to MPAA cuts.  It makes sense, as 1989 was one of the years the MPAA went crazy on neutering the horror genre.  The makeup work from Kevin Yagher is also terrific and holds up as well.  Englund brought him over from the Elm Street films to do his work here, and its looks marvelous and squeemishly real.

There are some good performances here in this film as well.  Highlighting it all is of course Englund, who shows he capable of being a great horror actor, not just one character.  He really relished in the importance of this role, and the film history of it too.  And he doesn’t let it down.  He’s devious, sinister and seductive in the part of the Phantom.  Every time he’s on screen he’s chewing the scenery and having a wicked good time.  Its also a unique situation for him in that he’s playing a character with much more romantic lead quality as opposed to ones that are normally more based in subtext with romance if at all to begin with.

Dwight H Little’s Phantom isn’t an unheralded masterpiece, but it sure isn’t garbage.  Its a very interesting and amusing take on the story.  This London Gothic tale has its heart in Hammer and delivers the thrills of the 1980s slasher film.  All set to some under appreciated pieces of music crafted for the film.  Add to that, we get another solid mark on Jill Schoelen’s Scream Queen resume.  I remember not being to keen on this one when I saw it as a wee lad, (You guessed it, I rented it cuz the box said Robert Englund and tried to make it sound like it was better than Freddy) but after all these years I found a solid appreciation for this.  Something I definitely look forward to looking over again.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  This is a nice cinematic classic print look.  The film is a tad soft, but features plenty of impressive detail and looks incredibly cinematic.  It tries to keep with a period “look” so things appear very candle or lantern lit for the most part.  If you have seen Halloween 4, this film looks very similar to that for the most part, mainly because the director of both is Dwight H Little.

Black Levels:  Blacks are natural and a big player throughout.  I didn’t think there was any crushing or detail incredibly hidden that didn’t go further than the film’s intended look.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are kind of downplayed.  And because its a period piece, things a re a bit muted and more dingy.

Flesh Tones:  Natural and consistent.  Details of Englund’s face are fantastic without looking like they’re revealing too much of the trick.  It holds up really well.

Noise/Artifacts:  A nice healthy layer of grain along with some dirt and pecs throughout.

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  This is a solid track that does the trick quite nicely.  There’s a good balance of score, vocals and effects in the mix.  Some really good crisp slicing and dicing effects take center stage in this mix.  There are also lighter sounds that are clearly defined and complimentarily heard in this mix nicely.

Low Frequency Extension:  Some light enhancements, but it isn’t a real strong outing for the subwoofer.  Attacks and big score strikes get a nice boost.

Surround Sound Presentation:  There are some good moments from the rear speakers with musical bits, but mostly its ambiance.  The front speakers do a nice job of accurately representing what’s on screen.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is at a nice volume in the mix, clean and clear.

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The reverse side of the cover art insert features promotional images.

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Dwight H Little and Star Robert Englund

Behind The Mask: The Making Of The Phantom Of The Opera (HD, 37:43) – A wonderful history of the production through interviews with Dwight H Little, Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Kevin Yagher, John Carl Buechler and others.  Robert Englund always amuses me with his memories and passion in discussing his horror projects.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:53)

TV Spot (HD, :31)

Radio Spots (HD, 2:04)

Still Gallery – 65 images that consist of promotional stills and the poster.

More From Scream Factory – Trailers for Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh, Phantom Of The Paradise, From A Whisper To A Scream

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The Phantom Of The Opera from 1989 is another one in a long line of films from horror past that didn’t set the world on fire or were widely panned upon release, but years later come back to show they deserved another look or didn’t hit their audience right away.  Its solid riff on Hammer films of the 60s blended with the brutality of a 1980s slasher film.  Scream Factory gives this one a very nice Blu-ray release.  I really liked the look of the video transfer quite a bit and the 5.1 audio does a solid job (The 2.0 is very satisfactory too).  The extras don’t look like much, but I love vintage trailers and the Red Shirt documentaries on making of are worth at least a 3 star rating alone.  This one is terrific and brings back all the film’s major players.  It doesn’t say Collector’s Edition on it, but its about as close to can be without being, I supposed.  Definitely grab this one when it comes out.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

1 Response to “The Phantom Of The Opera – 1989 (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Nice! I want this!