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Dario Argento's Phantom of the Opera
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
I have nothing against the idea of doing "The Phantom of the Opera" as a splatter flick. But with both Dwight H. Little's 1989 version starring Robert Englund and Dario Argento's effort from 1998 the problem is not the blood and gory but the liberties they take with Gaston Leroux's original novel. For the former it was the idea the Phantom had been marked by the Devil and was pursuing Christine Daae through time, and for the latter it is the idea that the Phantom was raised by rats. If you are not reminded of the flashback in "Batman Returns" where the infant Penguin is dispatched in a basket on a river when the parents of the Phantom do the same thing in the opening of this film when they send their baby sailing away on a Paris sewer then it is only because you have not seen both films. Apparently the rats are telepathic, which explains how it is the abandoned infant grows up to speak, play music, and build a pipe organ in the catacombs beneath the opera house.

Despite the cover art for the DVD this Phantom, played by Julian Sands, does not wear a mask. This is because he does not need to; there is nothing wrong with his face, but inside he is twisted as a result of being raised by telepathic rats. The rats actually become an important part of the story, but more in a "Willard"/"Ben" way than a "Tarzan of the Apes"/"The Jungle Book" way. But before we get to them let us consider the changes in the love triangle that Argento and co-writer Gérard Brach have come up with for this version of the familiar story.

You can easily pick out the trio from the rest of the cast because they are the ones with long hair. This time around Raoul De Chagny (Andrea Di Stefano) seems to be as warped as the Phantom, although this might because he spends too much time with his brother at a local opium den surrounded by naked people of both sexes and all sizes. The Phantom does not spend a lot of time teaching Christine (Asia Argento, the director's daughter) how to sing, because she is sounds pretty good the first time she gets on stage in the empty Opera House and starts singing high notes. But he does establish a psychic link with her so that instead of fetching her down to his lair he can just send out a call. For all those of you who have been waiting for the Phantom and Christine to consummate their love, this is the version of "The Phantom of the Opera" to see. The problem is that I do not know why Christine turns on the Phantom or what besides a hail of bullets drives her into Raoul's arms. But then I do not know why the director wants to photograph his daugher naked (my Italian bloodline has been watered down too much I suppose).

Then there are the rats. Ignace (Istvan Bubik), the head rat-catcher has been around for eight years and has killed over 4,000 rats and counting. He keeps tabs by keeping the tails of each rat he kills in a jar of formaldehyde with the month, year, and tail total written on the label. Given that every time a rat gets killed the Phantom must be hearing the rodent equivalent of a death shriek in his mind you would have thought that the Phantom would have tracked down this murderer well before this time, but that is not the case. Instead Ignace has a bad encounter with the rats and decides the best recourse is to invent a killing machine that can be driven around on the smooth floors of the catacombs while it does all sorts of interesting things to the rats it catches.

You keep thinking that the whole rat catching bit is simply comic relief, and for much of the film it is. But it turns out that it is Ignace and not Raoul that the Phantom has to worry about. Besides, as long as Ignace and that pervert passing out Swiss chocolates to the under-aged girls of the corps de ballet is running around, the Phantom is not the biggest monster running around and/or under the opera house. However, if I had to pick a low point in "Il Fantasma dell'opera" it would have to be the way Argento caps off the fall of the chandelier with a joke. I was already trying to figure out how what the Phantom was doing with the big mallet would bring around the desired result (although I understood the work was hard enough for him to ditch his shirt), so my confusion turned to dismay when the famous disaster becomes just another joke at the expense of diva Carlotta Altieri (Nadia Rinaldi).

Is this the worst version of "The Phantom of the Opera"? I have no problem with the idea that it is the least faithful, even compared to Little's movie, but even if you disagree with the changes there are some things of interest here. The opera house in Budapest is gorgeous and there are some nice gory special effects, although certainly not as many as you would expect from Argento and none of them really standout pieces of blood and gore that are seared into your brain forever. The opium den scene is the most memorable scene and it has the least to do with the plot than anything else in the entire film, relying on dozens of bronzed naked bodies to make its impression. Ronnie Taylor's cinematography makes things look good to your eyes even when your brain is complaining about the story. The performances are all adequate, but I found that for me the most sympathetic character ended up being Carlotta: the Phantom attacks her and she still shows up to sing, the strongest moment of anybody in the movie.

Ennio Morricone is credited with the score, and there is also additional music by Maurizio Guarini, but the film makes nice use of actual operatic arias and overtures fom "Carmen," "Faust," "Lakmé: Air des clochettes," and "Romeo & Juliet." This also makes the film sound classier than it is. This DVD is the unrated director's cut, while you can get the original R-rated version on VHS (I have no idea where it is the gore or sex that makes up the differences). I am not enough of a fan of Dario Argento to be offended by this particular effort and have seen enough liberties be taken with the story of "The Phantom of the Opera" to be rather jaded by what happens here and knock off another star. There are enough warnings here and in other reviews to know whether you want to be disappointed either as a fan or the director or of the story.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
This, admittedly, is a boring, sloppy, embarrassing mess. Easily the maestro's weakest since Inferno (which married gorgeous visuals to the least involving story in Argento's entire career). The flaws here are massive, starting with a surprisingly poor script from Gerald Brach. It's interesting that Argento's first collaboration with an acclaimed screenwriter is also the worst script he's ever filmed. Acting is very uneven, although the dubbing doesn't allow for complete critiques. Sands tries hard, but the phantom has been rewritten in such a silly manner that he's ultimately working in vain. Asia Argento looks great, as usual, but she's just wrong for the part. Idiotic elements abound, the violence is unimpressive and inserted seemingly at random, the material involving the rats is just stupid and silly. Dario's camerawork is shockingly restrained and conservative, as if the period setting caused him to quell his usually baroque techniques. It's those techniques, though, that make him unique and inimitable. Here he seems too mannered. Attempts at comedy mostly fall short of being funny, and there's far too many of them - Dario shouldn't do comedy, as Five Days in Milan ably demonstrated. On the plus side, the cinematography is beautiful, creating probably the most accurate recreation of the period i've ever seen. Ennio Morricone's music is lovely, although not as good as his work for The Stendhal Syndrome. And there's a dwarf. Argento works best with modern settings, attitudes, and ideas, and this failed experiment at a period piece is hopefully just that - a failed experiment and not a new direction. Besides, the director already covered this material in Opera (aka Terror at the Opera) in 1989, giving it an amazingly cold, nihilistic, and misanthropic attitude that's far more impressive than this film's more "polite" approach. Watch that film instead of this one.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2000
Format: DVD
Well, after the pretty poor by Argento standards Trauma and the near-perfect Stendhal Syndrome , Dario Argento pulls off his most expensive in-joke yet!
This is a very difficult film that demands a lot from it's viewers. It is not always easy to read between the lines of an Argento film. It never has been easy after all.
Argento does not care to make a traditional horror film, that's for sure. Instead, he creates a self-ironic film, deliberately balancing between shots of poetic grace (the Phantom's visions of children pierced by mousetraps - chilling) and shots of extravagant kitch (Asia's appearance in the same scene!).
Argento's choice of not to have his Phantom disfigured was not without a point: This man is disfigured from the inside, and thanks to the script, it shows. Let's not forget that Gerard Brach, the co-scripter, is the man who co-wrote "Frantic", "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and many other Polanski films. He lived up to our expectations once again.
The film is deliberately funny in places but it contains some very weird scenes (like the one in the brothel - unbelievable for an Argento film). I would say that it is his most 'Fellini-esque' film yet. It is his "8 1/2". This is his contribution to a tradition kept by directors such as Fellini or Visconti for that matter (he is often called "the Visconti of violence" after all).
Let's not forget the help he gets from his actors: Julian Sands couldn't be a better choice. His phantom is gentle, vicious, romantic and monstrous all at the same time. Asia on the other hand seems to be stoned for most of the film which adds more to the dreaminess of the concept me thinks.
Sergio Stivalleti has done some great work with CGI, especially in a scene where a poor guy gets impaled (you think it's really happening!). Ronnie Taylor's photography is NOT up to perfect standards (it is known that he could not stand the weather conditions and wanted to leave as soon as possible) but the known quality of his work is there, once again.
A movie that belongs more to the Art-House section than to that of Horror, I might add. Don't miss it though. And buy the Ennio Moriconne soundtrack, it is a masterpiece!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 1999
Format: DVD
Well, after the pretty poor by Argento standards "Trauma" and the near-perfect "Stendhal Syndrome", Dario Argento pulls off his most expensive in-joke yet! I saw this movie at Athens Film Festival where they had organised a retrospective of Dario's work and I found it extreamely interesting.
Argento does not care to make a horror film, that's for sure. Instead, he creates a self-ironic film, deliberatly balancing between shots of poetic grace (the Phantom's visions of children pierced by mousetraps - chilling) and shots of extravagant kitch (Asia's appearance in the same scene!).
Argento's choice of not to have his Phantom disfigured was not without a point: This man is disfigured from the inside, and thanks to the script, it shows. Let's not forget that Gerard Brach, the co-scripter, is the man who co-wrote "Frantic", "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and many other Polanski films. So, there is no mistake here.
The film is deliberatly funny in places but it contains some very weird scenes (like the one in the borthel - unbelievable for an Argento film). I would say that it is his more Felini-esque film yet. It is his "8 1/2". After all, he is Italian!
A movie that belongs more to the Art-House section than to that of Horror, I might add. Don't miss it though. And buy the Ennio Moriconne soundtrack, it is a masterpiece!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
After one viewing of this "hip" and gory version of the classic Gaston Leroux story, I couldn't believe that a great actor like Julian Sands actually agreed to be in a film with such a terrible script (trust me, this movie totally butchers the original tale to no end and reduces the Phantom to an incredibly inconsistant and unbelievable character). I found it even harder to believe that Dario Argento (a man who brought us such horror classics as "Suspiria" and "Tenebrae") would spend so much money on gorgeous sets and a decent cast only to see his efforts ruined by a re-working of the original story that simply DOES NOT WORK. Damn it, if it's not broken, DON'T FIX IT!!!
The characterization of the Phantom is quite screwy here, to put it mildly. He's born illegitimately to a poor mother and abandoned in a small raft on the river Seine. He washes up in a grotto beneath a Paris opera house and is "adopted" by a brood of rats (instead of being eaten, which is probably what would really happen...). Then we see a cornball dialog card (read by a narrator) telling us how the baby forms a bond with the forces of darkness...
Flash forward about three decades. A beautiful singer/understudy at the opera house (Asia Argento) is trying to make a name for herself while the Phantom lurks in caverns beneath the building. A team of construction workers break into the Phantom's world unintentionally and provoke his wrath (all are brutally slaughtered). The Phantom (at no point called "Eric") then starts creeping through secret passages in the opera house and he becomes enchanted by Christine's singing. When he finally introduces himself to her, he is not a masked and disfigured monster, but a handsome, washed, long haired gent with a perfect command of language (give me a break...HE WAS RAISED IN A SEWER BY RATS!). Despite his animalistic and savage tendencies, the Phantom falls in love with Christine, and he plays an organ in his cave to accompany her singing after he introduces her to his "world"...did the rats teach him how to play the organ, too? Yeah, sure, the Phantom is depicted as having some sort of telepathy that lets him see into peoples' minds, but this is a very weak plot device, and it just doesn't adequately explain how the Phantom knows so much about the world above his pit.
Christine is soon torn between her dapper and decent admirer, Raoul, and the animal magnetism of the Phantom. When the Phantom gets wise to this, trouble starts brewing, and he gets obsessive and jealous. Meanwhile, he savagely murders a couple of nosey stagehands who intrude upon his "world" (he impales a man on a stalagtite and chews a woman's tongue off in a scene very similar to the tongue chewing scene in "Warlock"). Also, the Phantom shows his humane side when he partially eats a would be child molestor who chases one of the opera's young dancers into the catacombs (he then sends the child home with a pat on the cheek...?).
The Phantom's downfall comes about after he executes a revenge plot after Christina is passed over for the female lead in a musical production of "Romeo and Juliet". He drops a gigantic chandelier onto the audience during the performance (it crushes bodies and tears off heads). The opera house exterminator then suddenly appears on the stage and tells the enraged audience survivors that he has seen Christina copulating with the Phantom in the caverns...mob madness follows, and Raoul leads Christina into the pits to save her, where they encounter the Phantom, who holds off the mob (at the cost of his own life) as they escape in a boat. Earlier in the film, the Phantom is portrayed as a blood thirsty monster with super-human strength, but when the gun toting mob closes in on him, he softens up and stands between them and the fleeing couple and is gunned downed accordingly. So, he must truly love Christine...but how he ever learned about love in a sewer, I'll never know.
The subplot involving the opera house rat exterminator is entirely unnecessary. He builds a souped up "rat sweeper" hotrod with slicing blades and takes it into the tunnels...keep in mind that the movie takes place in 1877, so we're talking cornball "Wild, Wild West" sci-fi technology here. In any event, the crazed exterminator is instrumental in the Phantom's defeat and execution.
This film exploits gore to make up for a weak story, but the only genuinely disturbing scene in the movie is when the Phantom takes his shirt off and let's his rat "brothers" crawl all over his body...Sand's look of masturbatory ecstasy in this scene is delightfully revolting.
Phantom fans and "completists" should probably view this film just so they can say that they've seen it, but the true horror fan would do better to stick to the classic versions and avoid this one entirely. entirely.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon August 3, 2005
Format: DVD
I'm shedding a few tears as I come to the end of my two-year plus journey through Dario Argento's filmography. I've now seen his most celebrated works; films such as "Deep Red," "Suspiria," "Tenebre," "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage," and "Phenomena." After I work my way through the rest of his stuff--"Trauma," "The Card Player," "Four Flies on Grey Velvet," and a few other odds and ends--it will all be over unless the man makes a few more films before shuffling off this mortal coil. Never again will I watch one of his masterpieces for the first time. Never again will I watch those black-gloved killers rip into a shrieking victim with the same sense of anticipation I held during the first viewing. Ahhh, to go back in time and re-experience the bloody pleasures of Dario's best work! The director has fallen on hard times in recent years, unfortunately, as the quality of his films has dropped precipitously. He just can't seem to recapture the magic of his early days. Oh well. Even a substandard film from Argento is better than the vast majority of horror films on the market today. At least that's what I thought before sitting through the interminable torture that is "Phantom of the Opera."

This 1998 take on the classic Gaston Leroux novel ranks as the worst Argento film I've sat through. It's so bad, in fact, that even lesser works like "Sleepless" and "The Stendahl Syndrome" look magnificent in comparison. The story resembles most of the other versions of the book we've seen over the years, i.e. a social outcast hidden away in the nooks and crannies of an opera house develops an intense fascination with a lovely young singer whose obscurity practically ensures that her new fan will wreak bloody havoc on those around her. The Phantom (Julian Sands), unlike in other versions, bears no discernable disfigurement on his face or his body. He's actually a rather handsome fellow who somehow ended up in a byzantine series of caverns underneath an opera house while still an infant. A pack of telepathic rats raised the young boy to appreciate arias and bloodletting (not necessarily in that order). We learn that the Phantom is a thuggish goon early on when he tears a few workers into bloody shreds as they attempt to perform some work in one of the caverns. We also learn at roughly the same time that the understudy in the opera house's most recent production, Christine (Asia Argento), has caught the eye of the Phantom.

When Christine--greatly despised by the star of the production and generally ignored by the managers--flits onstage at the end of the day to belt out a few sweet sounding notes, the Phantom overhears her and immediately lays plans to win her heart. Clandestine meetings in out of the way places cause Christine to swoon with passion (must be that telepathy thing), but she's not quite sure who this man is or why she feels such joy at his presence. As this lovey dovey nonsense plays out, Argento treats us to a couple of subplots. One involves a pair of greedy lowlifes who think they can go down into the catacombs and find a vast treasure. The Phantom gorily dispatches these two dolts in a scene that, while bloody in an entertaining way, seems to drag on forever. A second thread concerns a greasy looking chap whose sole means of employment revolves around catching rats underneath the opera house. With the help of a diminutive helper, dirty ratcatcher builds a go-cart type device that sucks up rats and chews them up. The scene where we see this vehicle in operation, accompanied by appropriately "kooky" music, is wildly unfunny. Anyway, the movie wraps up with Christine oscillating between love and hatred for the hapless Phantom as human authority figures close in for the kill. The end.

Egads, "The Phantom of the Opera" is an atrocious film! Only two things help this production avoid a one star review: Asia Argento and the gore. Asia is one absolutely gorgeous gal even though her performance here is mediocre. The gore, thankfully, looks quite good. We've got bodies ripped in half, a nasty looking impalement, crushing by way of chandelier, throats cracking red smiles, and some French guy taking a rifle stock in the face. These things help, but fail to redeem the film. I didn't like the cinematography at all, which looked more like a television production than a feature film. I also didn't care for Julian Sands as the Phantom. He's not disfigured, which is hard to get used to after seeing other film versions, and thus he never really comes across as a sympathetic character. That's an important theme of the story, isn't it? That we come to empathize with this horrible creature? Maybe not. I've never read the book. But I do know a couple of the film versions I've seen embrace this idea. Forget about feeling anything for the Phantom here. To make matters worse, those special effects we see when the Phantom is daydreaming on the roof of the opera house? Embarrassingly cheesy, my friends. Try and watch them without cringing.

Maybe "Phantom of the Opera" would have worked better had Dario slapped a pair of black gloves on this dude and given him a case full of funky looking knives. You know, turn it into a giallo. Something, anything would have been preferable to this film. The DVD version of the movie throws us a few extras in an attempt to make us feel better. An interview with Julian Sands, behind the scenes footage, photo galleries, and a text article lifted from Fangoria do little to take away the sting of this rare Argento misfire. Give this puppy a wide berth; you're far better off revisiting a few of the past glories than wallowing in this poor excuse for a horror film.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Once upon a time, a baby boy was washed into the Parisian sewers, where he was raised by telepathic rats to become the Phantom of the Opera, a serial killer, rapist and rat fetishist.

Yeah, it sounds ridiculous. It IS ridiculous. And Dario Argento is clearly not even trying to make this gory, schizophrenic "The Phantom of the Opera" work. Instead, he apparently is determined to eradicate any traces of Gaston Leroux's original novel, and load the remaining shreds down with lots of gore, poor scripting, and a romantic lead that really should be eaten alive by rats.

The baby who would later become the Phantom of the Opera was abandoned by his parents, and raised by a bunch of telepathic rats (I wish I were making this up). This doesn't explain how he learned to walk, talk, dress, wear a ghastly wig, play the organ, write music, and decorate his underground lair -- or why the rats would even do this. But it becomes pretty clear early on that Argento just isn't bothering with logic here.

In due time, the Phantom (Julian Sands) hears the songs of the young diva Christine (Asia Argento), he contacts her and they immediately fall into a passionate love/hate affair. No reason, they just do. And the Phantom's passionate, psychotic attachment to Christine leads to more disgusting deaths, as he tries to make the budding diva into a megastar of the opera -- but his increasing murders lead to possible destruction for both ill-inducing lovers...

My mother likes to tell the story of some people she knew in college -- apparently they had some sort of rat fetish, and would have sex while making rat squeaky noises. As far as I know, they never went to the level of rat masturbation/orgy (as the Phantom does at one point) but it did creep out their roommates.

That story was all I could think about while watching this florid, hysterical, illogical mess, which only has a few scattered names and ideas from Leroux's novel. The script is simply a disaster -- a muddled mass of bizarre unanswered questions (Telepathic rats? Flaming traps in the sky?) and glaringly predictable "twists" -- will the pedophile be horribly killed by the Phantom? Do you need to ask?

Even worse: the dialogue. Argento must have been asleep when he wrote this grotesquerie ("Your sweet female smell flows though my veins like the rolling ocean..."). That goopy adolescent stuff is basically when the Phantom says all the time, when he's not calling people fat cows. And Christine basically just yells all the time that she hates/loves/is going to have sex with him. Just make up your mind already.

It must be admitted that Argento has some magnificently opulent sets, and the whole ratcatcher in his rat-killing go-cart is unintentionally hilarious. But the rest of the time, we're treated to very explicit gore for its own sake -- impalements on a chandelier, tongue ripping, etc. And the whole rat thing is presumably meant to make us squirm, but it just made me wonder if Argento has some sort of furry fetish.

The final indignity to this disaster is the casting. It's weird enough to have a maskless, unscarred Phantom, but Sands is stuck with the role of a crazy, bloodthirsty rapist and murderer, who evokes zero pathos. And Asia Argento (yet again) plays a lusty sexpot who obviously can't sing, and spends most of the movie getting hysterical. The rats give good performances, though.

Dario Argento was obviously not even trying to make a good movie in "Phantom of the Opera," and instead piled on everything that could make it fail. Well, it worked -- it's a florid, hysterical, ghastly mess that lacks anything worthwhile.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
of all the would-be renditions of "phantom of the opera", this has to be the worst by far. for those of us that have read the book, nearly every movie is a disappointment enough. to be insulted with all the overly bad acting and diversions that this version is replete with, was just the sour icing on this rotten cake. in trying to portray erik's dark side, dario argento has totally missed the true thrust of the story. "phantom of the opera" is the story of forbidden love that will not be denied. erik's motives in all this is to win christine's heart for himself, by any means he deems necessary. it is not solely for the purpose of creating senseless gore and pointless terror. why can't there be one director that realizes the true meaning behind this story and make a movie accordingly? it isn't so hard, is it? if a truer version could be found on television ("phantom of the opera" mini-series starring charles dance), why can't that same version be adapted for the purpose of rendering a proper movie? just a thought...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2000
Format: DVD
Whatever you think of the actual movie, the DVD IS in widescreen...you just have to change some settings on your player to see it that way. For some reason, the disc was manufactured in a way that won't play the WS side automatically...instead it stretches it out for 16x9 making it look full-frame on both sides. But, if you go into your DVD player set-up features, choose LBX or 4x3 and all will work fine. On my player (Panasonic), I had to change the settings in two separate areas to finally get the WS side to play correctly. It's there, though, so go get it. The movie itself is substandard Argento, but still entertaining in a weird sort of way....much more watchable than Trauma or Stendhal. And I couldn't believe the amount of nudity in the "unrated" DVD...something not usual for Argento. The DVD image is OK, but there is some artifacting going on in the background, but it's not the worst I've seen. Overall, it's a must purchase for Argento fans...flaws and all.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
That is the question I've been asking myself throughout this movie. This movie fails on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start.
Let's start with the phantom himself, Julian Sands. He is handsome, well built and doesn't even have to wear a mask. DOES THIS SOUND LIKE A GUY RAISED IN A SEWER BY RATS! Asia Argento isn't bad, she just doesn't have a whole lot of interesting things to do. The photography is REALLY played down not only for a horror, but for an Argento flick. The music is bland and the ending is truly upsetting.
If you want a good Argento movie, see "Terror At The Opera"(AKA Opera), "Deep Red", or even "Suspiria." But this....well you've been warned.
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