Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Review

The Phantom of the Opera posterDirector: Rupert Julian
Stars: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry
Genre: Horror

Universal's second Monster movie, after The Huncback of Notre Dame in 1923. Though The Phantom of the Opera borrows many elements used in Hunchback, I still feel Phantom is a much superior film in comparison.

A fairly truthful adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel of the same name; it tells the story of a Phantom who lives in the dungeons of an opera house and haunts many who enter. He uses manipulative means to make a star of actress Christine, the woman he loves. Unfortunate for him, the love is not mutual, but the Phantom will not except no as an answer and will go to extremes to obtain, through force, her love and acceptance.

The sets here are beautiful. Perhaps not as epic as those seen in The Hunchback Notre Dame, but the sets here opt for a very creepy, Gothic feel. The opera house is magnificent, the dungeons are eerily Gothic, everything just looks real great.

There is some real great use of shadows in here, and frequent too. I would assume they were inspired by many German Expressionist films of the time, probably most heavily by Nosferatu's shadow usage.

The Phantom is creepy as hell with ghastly makeup and a great acting performance by Lon Chaney, who actually did the makeup himself. That face is just...terrifying. Some of the best makeup in film even to this day. 

The film's pacing is spot on, and there is quite a lot of build up before we actually see the Phantom's face. And when we do, boy is it spectacular. First we see only his shadow, then only his masked face, and then, finally, his unmasked face. His face is revealed with a swift grab of the mask, his eyes wide and terrifying; it honestly was pretty scary. It is said that when this film was released many people actually fainted in the theatre during this scene. One of the best unmasking scenes ever. 

Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera

If you manage to get the right version (not the public domain one) the soundtrack is pretty damn awesome. 

My favorite scene, not only of this film but of film in general, is the Masquerade ball scene, which was actually the only scene shot in color. It's a chilling scene. The Phantom comes out in the middle of the ball dressed in one of the best Red Death costumes ever, with a horrifying skull mask. In fact, all the red robe scenes in here I'd consider to be my favorite parts, like when he was hanging from the statue and all was in black and white save for his red robe blowing in the wind.

Red Death in the Masquerade Ball scene in The Phantom of the Opera

A very important and impressive film not only to Universal Horror, but to the Horror genre in general. My favorite out of all the Universal silent films. Must watch. 

4.5/5 stars

Purchase The Phantom of the Opera on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

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