1. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
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It’s best to begin at the beginning. This is, as far as we can tell, the beginning of the story. Phantom was adapted into a silent film before Universal’s, but, alas, it has been lost to time like so much of the sad silent cinema of that era. Despite this, the film is considered a classic by many.
There would be no Universal horror legacy if the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney Sr. in the title role, had not been released. With its groundbreaking make-up and special effects, it ushered in a new era of horror cinema that would influence generations of filmmakers to come. Every Phantom film after this one has taken inspiration from this one. Indeed, without The Phantom of the Opera’s ominous presence, the history of horror cinema would be very different.
Similar to Nosferatu, much of the film still holds up to modern scrutiny. The lavish opera house set and swarms of extras show that Universal put a lot of money into this production. Many subsequent adaptations would shy away from the book’s horror elements, but this one embraces them wholeheartedly.
Lon Chaney Sr. serves as a timely reminder of why he is considered a silent film legend. He applied all of his own make-up, and despite the crude prosthetics he’s wearing, he still puts on an impressive show. You can see why the famous unmasking scene frightened modern moviegoers, who reportedly screamed in horror.
While The Phantom is clearly the bad guy in this film, he is still a character that viewers can empathize with, thanks in large part to the work of actor Lon Chaney. There is only one major change to the story’s poignant climax, which is turned into a full-on Hollywood chase scene in this otherwise very faithful adaptation. But the reveal of the Phantom in his majestic Red Death outfit, a flash of color in the otherwise monochrome film, is one of the most breathtaking moments in silent film history.
2. Phantom of the Paradise
Phantom of the Paradise shouldn’t work in any way. A rock-pop version of Phantom, Faust, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, directed by emerging auteur Brian de Palma in the 1970s, features songs written by the guy who wrote “The Rainbow Connection” for The Muppets (and who also plays the villain). The story revolves around the music industry’s corruption, with a subplot about selling your soul to Satan.
To be fair, it was a flop when it was released, failing to find an audience anywhere but Winnipeg. After a while, it became the cult classic it deserved to be, influencing filmmakers like Edgar Wright and electronic music pioneers Daft Punk. Phantom of the Paradise is a great new midnight movie musical to keep on your shelf next to Rocky Horror Picture Show.
This is the adaptation that most closely captures the novel’s feverish pulpiness, despite the fact that it is only loosely based on the source material. Although there are significant changes to the original story — the Phantom is now scarred as a result of events rather than being born with it — Paradise has the best grasp on the creative mania.
A cantata of Faust, written by songwriter Winslow, is stolen by evil producer Swan and reworked into whatever musical fad is popular at the time. This is where the Phantom comes in. After all, the story is a blistering indictment of the music business in the 1970s, when everything from glam rock to Happy Days-inspired nostalgia was shaking things up.
Like its inspiration, it makes a sincere effort to understand the agony of a creator who can’t bear to part with his masterpiece and will do whatever it takes to make it live up to his full potential. This story’s complexities never end: Even though it’s an over-the-top campy rock satire about corporate greed and the perils of selling out, it’s also a lot of fun!
Compared to other Phantom adaptations, this one comes the closest to conveying both the intensity of the novel’s central message as well as genuine sympathy for the character (Winslow kills a lot of people in this movie, and always with a maniacal laugh). In addition, this is by far the best soundtrack for a Phantom film ever. Please accept my apologies to Andrew Lloyd Weber.
3. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera
It’s easy to minimize the mega-cultural musical’s impact, thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber. In addition to being one of the most successful pieces of entertainment ever made, the show is still running on both Broadway and the West End.
Phantom has been seen by everyone and their mother. There are some fans who have seen the show dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times and keep coming back. There was something in the source material that Lloyd Webber was able to tap into and amplify to the point where it inspired millions of die-hard fans. It’s a very simple formula: use the Phantom’s lust for Christine as the basis for a high-concept romantic drama.
Eric’s fantasies are presented by Leroux as something to be feared and pity rather than something to long for in the book. He’s a tragic figure, but he’s still a bad guy. According to Lloyd Webber, the character was elevated to the status of a misunderstood seductress, and is frequently portrayed as a better romantic choice than Raoul.
In addition to his lovely suit and immaculate underground layer, he also composes amazing music and has an incredible singing voice, and he’s even thoughtful enough to have Christine’s wedding gown ready for her! The Phantom isn’t all that bad if you ignore the kidnapping and murders, as well as the significant damage to a historic building.
No one has escaped the similarities between the show and its creator (Lloyd Webber wrote this show for his then-wife Sarah Brightman, a young soprano and dancer whose career he tried to boost at every turn.) The show’s central gender politics have gotten a lot of flak over the years, but it’s hard to deny the show’s inherent appeal, the secret to its formulaic success.
Mega-emotions abound in this mega-event. To make it work, everything is turned up to the point of being “just a little bit too much.” One could argue that this version of the story is better known than the original, and it’s easy to understand why. When the story is simplified, the themes are condensed, and loud electric guitars are added, the appeal is much easier to grasp. There’s no denying Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera changed the game, whether you like it or not. I hope it’s still going strong in 30 years.
4. Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera
Before we could wrap up, we had to mention Joel Schumacher’s big-budget film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. Given how big of a hit the show was when it premiered, it was surprising that the film took so long to make. You might as well use the director who put breasts on the Batsuit if you’re going to make an expensive film adaptation of a ’80s melodramatic high-romance musical.
Schumacher’s work in this film isn’t as disastrous as what he did in Gotham. Instead, it’s drab and flimsy-looking in places. The costumes are stunning, but the sets are bizarrely small, and the filmmaking is a complete disaster. Although it tries to create a dream-like logic, it can’t separate the moments of dreaminess from the moments of realism because it doesn’t know how to do it. Except for Minnie Driver as Carlotta, who has the savvy to know what kind of film she’s in, the casting is all wrong.
In addition to that, you’ve got Gerard Butler on your hands. Gerry, you poor thing. You made an effort that was commendable. Unless he is punching someone or shooting lasers at the weather, this actor does not appear to be at ease on screen. To emphasize the sexual chemistry between the Phantom and Christine, Schumacher opted for a younger version of the character. He does, however, look fantastic in his Red Death garb. However, when he opens his mouth, the real horror begins. The term “tone deaf” does not adequately describe my situation. We need to bring back dubbing for movie musicals after this and La La Land.
As a result, Schumacher makes movies that feel like music videos or prestige films, and his attempts to blend the two don’t work. It’s melodrama, but it’s afraid to embrace it when it’s called for, and bad dinner theater drowns out the moments that call for emotion. No matter how you feel about the musical as a whole, it deserves a better film adaptation. A theater fan who wanted to direct a live television production of The Phantom of the Opera got his wish. Rian Johnson is the author. Lloyd Webber, give him a call! It’s the least we can do for the Phantom.
5. Love Never Dies
Making musical sequels is a terrible idea. History has shown them to be critical and commercial duds, and there is simply no way to please your huge fan base with an additional story to the one they loved. At the very least, Andrew Lloyd Webber should be commended for having the guts to follow up on his most successful show to date, one that has a massive and intensely loyal following.
This could have been avoided had Lloyd Webber’s cat not deleted his owner’s work in progress score from the keyboard (yes, really). The show did, in fact, make it to London’s West End, where it received a dismal reception. The show was infamously dubbed “Paint Never Dries” by one blog.
So, what’s wrong with this show? When you consider how much Lloyd Webber and his team changed the way people think about The Phantom of the Opera with their original production, it’s amazing how much he misses in the sequel. Christine has been invited to perform at the Phantom of the Opera, which is run by Frederick Forsyth, the unofficial sequel to Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of Manhattan, in Love Never Dies.
She has her young son with her, as well as the now-drunk waste of space Raoul, and the Girys now work for the Phantom as spiteful confidants who are ever so jealous of Christine’s beauty. Also, a whole song is devoted to the Phantom and Christine’s steamy night together. Of course, they’re related through their son. From there, things only get weirder, like in a soap opera.
With Love Never Dies, Love Never Dies takes The Phantom of the Opera’s story to new heights of absurdity before playing it all completely straight. Because of this, the Phantom is forced to revert to his possessive man-child status, which undoes every character growth beat from the original show.
At the show’s climax, he finally realizes that just because the world has been cruel to him, it doesn’t give him the right to treat others the same way. Christine’s act of kindness serves as a reminder to him that he loves her as a possession, not as a person. Then to have her return for a one-night stand goes beyond the realm of fanfiction fantasy and into the realm of outright sexist absurdity. She has sympathy for his plight. However, Love Never Dies decides to remove that nuance and have him be even worse while still winning Christine’s love.
It’s understandable why audiences in the West End were unimpressed. The show has, however, gained unexpected popularity in recent years as a result of extensive North American tours. I wonder if this will ever end up on Broadway?
6. Robert Englund’s The Phantom of the Opera
With his iconic performance as Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Robert Englund became one of the greatest horror villains of the 1980s. The character of Freddy Krueger had evolved by the decade’s end, moving away from the gory terror of the first film and adopting a more comedic tone. Consider the witty one-liners and knowing winks to the audience about how ridiculous things have become.
In Englund’s version of Phantom, Freddy is all over the place in an unsettling horror time travel mashup that still finds time for a couple of morbid death puns. As a result of selling his soul to Satan, Erik’s face has been disfigured, so he goes around killing people and sewing their flesh to his as a mask. Christine has arrived in London in 1885, but she could be hallucinating or experiencing a relapse into a previous life.
Englund appears to be having a blast in this adaptation, which has plenty of fresh ideas. When he portrays the Phantom, he practically leaves teeth marks on the furniture from chomping on the scenery. The show as a whole, on the other hand, is strangely lifeless and unsure of itself. Neither a gleefully bloody bloodbath nor a deftly drawn piece of fantasia, it appears to be. Englund can rest easy knowing that the unmasking scene in his film is by far the most gruesome.
7. Hammer Horror’s The Phantom of the Opera
In the 1950s, Hammer helped revive cinematic horror with blockbusters like Dracula, which returned the genre’s scares (and blood) to audiences. They adapted classic BBC sci-fi like Quatermass and Sherlock Holmes as well as Robin Hood and even did a gender subversion of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but their vampiric exploit is their most well-known. Christopher Lee played Frankenstein’s monster as well as The Mummy. The fact that they took a stab at Phantom in 1962 was a foregone conclusion.
The problem is that it lacks the iconic elements that make Hammer Horror so beloved.
A notable absence of blood, sensuality, and scares can be found in this film. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are also absent from the cast. This is, by and large, a dull experience. However, it doesn’t do much with the Phantom premise other than introduce an evil killer small person, which has degraded horribly over the years.
There is a strong call for Lee to embody the regal presence he is capable of without even trying. Of course, the presence of Christopher Lee elevates any horror film to a higher level.
8. Phantom of the Opera (1943)
Universal’s horror boom was sparked by The Phantom of the Opera, so it’s only fitting that the studio would return to it after becoming the genre’s undisputed kings. Using full-force Technicolor and a much larger budget, the studio was able to bring the Palais Garnier’s opulence to the screen.
Even though the auditorium set from the silent film is reused, as are many of the costumes, this remake from 1943 has very little in common with either the original film or the source material it was based on.
The Phantom is introduced as Erique Claudin, an opera violinist who loses the use of his left hand due to illness. Even though he never really explains his interest in her, he remains Christine’s secret benefactor, secretly funding her singing lessons. When he submits his concerto for publication as a way to make some money, a ridiculous and extremely minor misunderstanding leads to him killing a man and being permanently scarred by acid. When the hauntings of the Phantom begin, it’s too late.
I applaud them for not retreading ground already covered by their groundbreaking first Phantom film, but the viewer is left wondering why certain creative decisions were made throughout much of this film.
Even though Claude Rains (as The Invisible Man) is excellent as Erique, there is no emotional connection between his struggles and his feelings for Christine. The reason he snaps and strangles a man to death over nothing is also left unexplained.
She appears to have no idea who he is at this point. This is primarily a tale of squandered opportunity. The Phantom was originally envisioned as a World War I veteran with PTSD who, despite being physically unharmed, had delusions of mass scarring. The Phantom’s secrecy in this reimagining would be more understandable if the original director had envisioned him as Christine’s father. This film, like many remakes, makes you want to go back and watch the original again.