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Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Force Entertainment/Force Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 92 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
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I like a good love story as much as I like drilling holes in my testicles with a power drill, that is to say, not very much at all.

But The Phantom of the Opera is a love story with a difference. Itís the story of a disfigured sociopath, Erik the Phantom (Lon Chaney), who lives below the Paris Opera House and secretly loves prima donna Christina Daae (Mary Philbin).

Loving her from afar (or is that Ďfrom belowí?), he forces the management to replace their original prima donna with Christine, lest he kill everyone in the building. Erik has anger management issues, you see.

Itís your typical Ďlovesick masked psycho meets girl, girl unmasks psycho, psycho goes on rampageĒ story, with everyone living happily ever after, except the people who die grissly deaths.

But as good as the subtle interactions between the Phantom and Christine are, and the deft handling of the horror elements, the best thing about this film is that it wasnít made by Joel Schumacher and doesnít have a score by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

I havenít seen the new version based on Weberís musical, but Iím betting that when the Phantom is unmasked he somehow manages to look disfigured in a ruggedly handsome way, so as not to offend the mid-40ís women in the audience who hate their fat husbands and depressing lives.

Thatís definitely not the case with this version. When Chaney is unmasked, the desired effect is to make those women piss in their polyester pants. Chaneyís makeup, (his own devising) is designed to make him look like a living, light deprived, cellar dwelling skull freak. Itís good, it certainly gets the point across, but unlike some shit modern horror films that believe in Ďless plot, more goreí the effect is brief and to the point. It understands that the idea of whatís beneath the mask (which is eerie in its own right) is enough, kind of like the way an attractive woman will look sexier wearing lacy black lingerie, stockings and stilettos than being completely nude. Itís the anticipation of what lies below that intrigues and arouses.

Just let me think about that point for a moment..

...yep, Iím done.

  Video
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The 4:3 picture, presented in a window (that is, black bars on all 4 sides) is supposedly taken from a remastered 35mm print tinted to original Universal Pictures spec. If the brief look at the before/after quality is anything to go by (as can be seen in the Essay section in the Extra Material) the difference is a vast improvement in clarity, contrast and richness of colour. Indeed, some of the scenes wow you when you remember youíre looking at a film shot in 1925.

Thereís still a lot of mess on screen, with the frame constantly peppered by scratches and specs, and the picture tends to jump around a bit, but it does surprise with its clarity at times. Particularly effective is the Bal Masque sequence, restored to the original Technicolour two strip process (this being one of the first films to use this process), immediately preceded by one of the few strictly black and white scenes in the film for greater effect, the rest tinted either red, blue, green or brown. The effect of the Bal Masque colouring is akin to what audiences might have experienced when Dorothy stepped out of Kansas for the glorious hues of Oz.

  Audio
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Being a silent film, the reliance on the score is greater than ever, and here it has been recreated by composer Gabriel Thibaudeau and performed by I Musici de Montreal, conducted by Yuli Turovsky, with parts bellowed by Soprano Claudine Cote. That sounds impressive, doesnít it? I copied it off the cover, which saved me doing any research. And indeed the score does sound nice, even in DD2.0 stereo. It is suitably stirring and builds a sense of dread when travelling beneath the stage into the catacombs and dungeons that the Phantom inhabits.

  Extras
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Actor Lon Chaney and director Rupert Julian werenít available to do an audio commentary for this release because they are both dead. The best they could come up with was a íMaking of..í Essay, narrated by Russel Cawthorn, who just sounds like heís dead. Itís informative, revealing that there was an alternate ending shot and the original running time ran to 22 reels, only to be cut down to 12 reels and using the ending we have today. A Re-release Trailer is the only other extra.

  Overall  
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Along with Faust, this is another classic of the era, and will undoubtedly be many peoples first exposure to it. Itís certainly worth giving a run to compare with the newest version fouling up the screens currently, but itís safe to say you can expect a vastly different beast. Personally, Iíll be pulling out the Makita power drill again rather than fork over 12 bucks to see what Schumacher's turned this into.


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      And I quote...
    "Itís your typical Ďlovesick masked psycho meets girl, girl unmasks psycho, psycho goes on rampageĒ story."
    - Vince Carrozza
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS730P
    • TV:
          Philips 55PP8620
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB1070
    • Speakers:
          Wharfedale s500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Polk Audio CS245
    • Surrounds:
          Wharfedale WH-2
    • Subwoofer:
          DB Dynamics TITAN
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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