The Phantom of the Opera (1998)
Director: Dario ‘What The Hell Was I Smoking’ Argento
Starring (?): Asia Argento, Julian Sands and a cast of indistinguishable crash dummies.
Cthulhu’s Cheerleader would like to start this review by saying this phrase because it absolutely needs to be said while… experiencing this… experience. “DARIO! IT’S. YOUR. DAUGHTER!!!!!!!!!!”
Sweet Jiminy Cricket, I can appreciate a hot mess but by God, Dario Argentos’ ravishing and subsequent mutilation of “The Phantom of the Opera” is in a whoooooole new opera box of shit. No, scrub that- it is in a whole several million dimensions worth of shit. No, just kidding, “The Phantom of the Opera” is in a infinite time and space worth of shit.
Where the blue hell do I begin?!
Dario Argento made a name for himself in the 70s’ and 80s’ by being the visionary of such influential and artistic horror-inclined Giallo such as ‘Suspiria’, ‘The Bird With The Crystal Plumage’, ‘The Cat O’ Nine Tails’, ‘Four Flies On Grey Velvet’, ‘Deep Red’, ‘Opera’ and ‘Tenebre’ just to name a few. In the early to mid-nineties he enjoyed relative success with a few ambitious features such as the over-looked ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’ which featured a daring performance from his daughter Asia Argento. Despite being held back by constraints placed on visual effects, ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’ was a hard-core film that dealt with the very dark and all too real act of rape and its’ effect on a person with Asia playing a police woman who is subjected to a brutal game of cat and mouse with a psychopath who forms an unhealthy obsession with her. Despite the fact Dario cast his own child as the victim, the film was incredibly mature with its’ horrible subject matter and Asia gave the character her all. I would highly recommend it despite a rather clunky third half.
Now, with “The Phantom of the Opera”, maturity, nuance, sensitivity and all round good film making is lost because this is easily one of the worst adaptations of Lerouxs’ novel as well as one of Argentos’ massive stinkers that just leave you positively bewildered at its’ stupidity and shoddy handling. This entire film is a tragedy- you had a genre director who by that point was incredibly well-known, there was amazing horror laden with sex potential in the script as well as Asia Argento who could make an interesting Christine and Julian Sands aka The Warlock as the Phantom. There could have been something genuinely entertaining here that it is mind-boggling to consider just what went wrong! So how bad is it, well put on your latex gloves and lets’ reach into this turkey to see how far gone this corpse is.
The casting. Dario’s daughter is a fascinating and good-looking lady and Julian Sands is the B-horror genres’ professional panty-melter that the concept of having these two share the screen together is too good to refuse upon first hearing. It’s not until you watch the film though that you come to the terrible realisation that there is absolutely no chemistry between them. No believable, palpable sexual tension can be felt between them. AT ALL. What went wrong here? I feel it’s because Dario wasn’t able to get another actress to play Christine and put his daughter in there as a replacement just so he could start filming. Sands I feel was tossed in there just because of his familiar reputation with the schlocky horror crowd and the fact he had some sort of Neapolitan beauty about him. Casting two beautiful people together doesn’t automatically mean they will created characters who develop a bond. Considering too a lot of the film focuses its’ attentions on the transgressive and dangerously torrid affair between Christine and the Phantom, interpersonal chemistry was paramount!
The directing was absolutely dire. What happened to Darios’ technique and viciously lyrical style here? There was liberal amounts of gore and bloodshed among other bodily fluids, but those things are but accessories to the outfit. There was a solid sense of story here but Argento did not abide by any cohesive, legitimate story-telling techniques and with no consideration for narrative flow. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but constant use of feckless violence and ‘random’ imagery can only say so much before being taken out of context. Apart from some opulent backgrounds, this movie is actually quite an eyesore that has but a ghost of Argentos’ signature aesthetic.
The script. The words that come out of the mouths of the characters made me double take more than a few times as I watched this train wreck. I am not a screenwriter (I don’t feel I could ever have the patience), but there should be a general standard when it comes to verbal discourse between characters. Again, to use the example of Christine and the Phantom, he is a psychopath and she almost instantaneously falls into his arms. Christine is allowed no character build up, no opportunity is afforded to the audience to get a notion about how mentally damaged the Phantom is and why the Hell Christine is so attracted to him. They meet and practically five seconds later they hop into bed, the Phantom shamelessly ploughing Christine. I have heard some Phans say “It’s just a movie, it doesn’t have to be good!” Yes, it does, actually. If you are going to take a prominent source material and do something new with it, that’s fine, but you need to ensure you form a basic standard of quality with it and that quality in part is based on the strength of the story and the script.
Unlikable and inconsequential characters. It’s safe to say I felt nothing for anybody throughout the entire show. The Phantom and Christine played Hide The Sausage a lot, the Phantom gets his jollies from the rats with him he shares his subterranean dwelling. Oh yes, that happens and absolutely nothing is left to your imagination. Everybody in this film whines and moans and do really irreconcilably dumb stuff. Half of the characters are purely there to do something ridiculous only to be punished by the Phantom. The only character I somewhat enjoyed was Christines’ passive-aggressive nurse who is perhaps the only character who had some choice lines.
The Phantoms’ disfigurement can either be literal or subjective, depending on how an adaptation is approached. I don’t care if the scarring is physical or psychological but a sense of integrity must always be present and Sands is NO Phantom. He walks around in far too tight leather pants sporting a ridiculous wig and snarls a lot. That is NOT who the Phantom is!!!!
Terrible music. Dario Argentos’ ‘Opera’ had its’ flaws but it had a marvellous score that sold the distinctly high-brow concept of opera meeting the savage simplicity of a serial killer. Here I think there are three main tracks that are played on loop or are somewhat tweaked. This film would have been perfect for Argento and the films’ composer to create a memorable collection of ruthless concertos but NOPE! Christines’ lip-synching is horrendous, all she does is go through a series of notes in varied timbres and half of the time she looks like she is ORGASMING. I know from experience that you can pull some wacky faces whilst trying to achieve a difficult note but she may as well have had her hand under her skirt.
Although this issue in contrast is small compared to the others, and far more subjective to me I do feel uncomfortable that Argento casts a fetishistic lens on his daughter because honestly, everything Asia has is on show here with virtually nothing left to the imagination. I have noticed this several times in the films he casts Asia in. However “The Stendhal Syndrome” is an exception because his daughter was no exposed unfavourably, much to my relief. Yes, she is glorious to behold in the right circumstances, but this is her father parading her about like this. HER. FATHER. If you feel you can defend this by saying “But she has nice tits!” how about you bring your perverted arse over here so I can slap you across the face with a baseball covered in barbed wire.
So, have I anything charitable to say? Well, if you are a huge fan for blood and guts, this film doesn’t disappoint in that department. There are several creative kills that are far too ridiculous to take seriously but could never be said to be plain. Aaaaaaaand that’s it. I really have nothing more positive to say.
Argentos’ “The Phantom Of The Opera” could have been a wild, violent, sexy affair that sinned and shined but the end result is completely abysmal. Only watch this if you are blood thirsty or if you are really, very, exceptionally curious that you feel you cannot live until you have seen this senseless, idiotic, slavering and worthless dreck.