The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera ★★★★

🎃👻🧛🤡🔪😨SHOCKTOBER 2020😱⚰️🧟👽👹💀 CONTINUES!

“I am human like other men — I will not be cheated of my happiness!”

Somehow I have managed to avoid seeing any adaptation of Gaston Leroux's Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, one of the most famous novels in all of horror and melodrama. I don’t know how that happened. Well, I vaguely recall seeing an abridged version of Webber’s Phantom in high school, but that hardly counts. I’m starting with the 1925 classic, the movie that prompted Carl Laemmle to adapt other Gothic works Frankenstein and Dracula, thus birthing the iconic Universal Monsters franchise. This is supposed to be one of the more faithful adaptations, the main differences being the political backstory is ridiculously simplified (requiring Ledoux to be completely rewritten in post) and the highly melodramatic ending (the Phantom dies of heartbreak? srsly?) has been replaced by death at the hands of an angry mob, which would become a very familiar monster movie trope.

If this is more or less faithful, I cannot see how one could spin a romantic story out of this without retconning quite a bit of it. The Phantom is an abuser, plain and simple. His thirst for revenge by haunting the Paris Opera House (a symbol of the empire that made him a monster) has basically turned him into a fanboy gatekeeper, demanding that entertainment be made to suit him. He is literally a basement-dwelling incel. He doesn’t love Christine, she’s just the performer in the play he’s directing in his mind. He’s not just grooming her as a mentor would, he’s grooming her as a predator would. Christine, to her credit, sees that. Only during the first abduction does she briefly entertain the notion that he is a pitiful creature who can be admired for his passion, but she quickly realizes there is no denying he’s a monster.

So, yeah, legacy aside, this is a just dark thriller with heightened drama. And even though it was made in simpler times, it’s still a pretty great one. The production is amazing, with massive and beautiful sets (the Opera House was so impressive and sturdily built that it wasn’t dismantled for 90 years when Universal finally needed to raze the soundstage) and great use of multiple tinting and coloring processes; only his darkened dungeon is in black and white. The Technicolor "Bal Masqué" has an otherworldly, appropriately nightmare quality, and the color in the rooftop sequence is straight out of a comic book from decades later. It’s nearly a century old and still looks wonderful. Chaney gives one of his typically amazing physical performances - even his shadow effectively expresses his desire, even the back of his damn head is imposing and threatening. The changed ending is perfect for this adaptation, as I wouldn’t buy his villainous Phantom being defeated by a kiss. No, this ugly asshole can only be beaten senseless and tossed in the Seine.

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