Phantom of the Mall (1988)

     directed by Richard Friedman

          starring Derek Rydall, Kari Whitman, and Rob Estes

Oh, man. Check out that gorgeous cover image. Can't you tell it's going to be a hit? Note that Pauly Shore and Morgan Fairchild get top billing over the leads (I suspect that Rob Estes may have requested anonymity on this one). This is because they were the only people in this movie who went on to have careers, unless you count the female lead's career as a Playboy Playmate. Which tells you a lot right at the outset, doesn't it?

 

There was no recourse to failing this movie. It had to be done. It has no redeeming traits, really. And yet, I am not filled with righteous ire as I am with many a failing film; probably, this is because I am still chortling too hard at the sheer ridiculousness of it all to be angry. I'm sort of lovingly resigned to it, as though it were a somewhat not-bright child that I was watching mash the same square block into the circular hole over and over and over again. Really, really bad? Oh, yes. But somehow still kind of entertaining? In an awful way, again, yes!

 

I seriously spent the entire movie saying, "How can this not be a parody?" until John finally told me to shut up.

 

We start the movie following the perspective of someone who breathes very heavily and wanders around in malls (malls: it's not just consumerism that's the evil now!). We can probably assume that this is the Phantom (cue the Drums of Fear!). Our mouthbreathing friend proceeds to steal a leather jacket, because he's hardcore, and a baseball cap (though he dashed my hopes that he would wear it backwards and complete the Totally Badass Punk Shut Up Mom look). Oh, and he steals something else - a crossbow. From the mall. Which sells crossbows. As we will continue to discover throughout the course of the movie, this mall was stocked by people who wanted to make sure you could easily waste other shoppers once you finished browsing at Victoria's Secret. Perhaps there is quail hunting to be had in the food court. You never know!

 

He then proceeds to kill the security guard after he is caught pretending to be a mannequin, because he clearly favors the Looney Tunes school of stealth. We don't get to see the security guard die, but at this early point in the movie we are not yet aware that we should be excited by this fact.

 

Then come the credits, which are entirely comprised of names in front of an unrelentingly monotonous leaping flames background, and which last approximately ten thousand years.

 

Our Christine character, naturally clad in modest clothes in virginal white (because it is important to establish that Good Female Characters are Pure and Unsullied), is named Melody; this is a nod to the original opera house setting, and it's good that they included it because it is one of a sum total of two musical ideas in the entire film. But, hey, who needs the expression of longing or the revelation of the Phantom's soul via music, which alone can escape his tortured mortal shell? Fuck that. We're in a mall!

 

Melody gets a job at a bar in the mall called Sleuth's (subtlety!), while her friend Suzie, whose mission in life is to make Melody look sweeter and more virginal by comparison by wearing belly shirts and tight pants and saying boys are fun which of course means that as the audience we should be JUDGING HER, gets a job at a nearby clothing store. They also have a dorky friend named Buzz who works at the ice cream parlor and spends his time attempting to be a genius or get into Suzie's pants, whichever works out first. Then, of course, there's Peter Baldwin (warning! Hero name alert!), who is a photographer but totally thinks Melody is gosh-darn cute as a button. We've got everything in place for a good old Phantom epic, only sans-music and in a mall that sells crossbows.

 

Somewhere under the mall, the Phantom's disembodied hand circles a date on the calendar (entertainingly, it was April 4th, the same day I watched the film). I hate it when characters do this. What, is he worried that he's going to forget what day he was traumatized and his life was brutally ripped away from him? Perhaps he has early-onset Alzheimer's at seventeen? Maybe he's just very bad with dates? As for the rest of us, I bet that most horror viewers are not so dim as to not feel insulted by this obvious pandering to exposition. We're smart! Someone can say it in normal conversation or something and you can use the extra screen time for character development or something!

 

Peter is intended to be the sensitive, nice but brave guy; the Raoul analogue, but without the occasional crying. Unfortunately, he seems to have only the vaguest idea how to deal with the fairer sex, but is determined to harass Melody relentlessly whether she likes it or not. He stares at her way too often and for way too long, for one thing. It's not complimentary; it's creepy. And when he gets done staring and actually talks to her, he seems to have a plan of attack that includes talking about the traumatic fire in which her boyfriend died, including a nice follow-up of reminding her of how powerless she was to stop it and bringing up the fact that no one believes her arson tale. Wow, excellent job, A+ flirting. Melody seems to be mostly impervious to his asshattery, instead choosing to freak out over a bouquet of orchids left in her locker, a scene that felt a lot like this:

 

"Oh my god, ORCHIDS."

"They're just flowers."

"But you don't understand, my boyfriend used to give me orchids!"

"Um... okay..."

"My DEAD boyfriend!"

"Yes, but I don't see--"

"It is the END of the WORLD."

 

Cut, now, to the owner of the mall, a slimy asshole named Posner, and his son arguing. His son is a rebel. We know this because he wears raggedy jeans, has long hair, and vandalizes small items like a HOOLIGAN. They have the worst argument ever. It would have been more believable had they been shouting, "FUCK YOU!" at each other for five minutes. The dialogue is so painful that it would be shown to be lethal in laboratory rats, assuming anyone was awful enough to subject them to it.

 

Meanwhile, the reign of terror is beginning in the air ducts of the mall (read that again and try not to snort). The Phantom ambushes some air conditioning dude who is servicing a fan and kills him by shoving his face through the whirling blades. Blah, blah, blah, blood, gore. It's really not that spellbinding. I was less worried about the graphic nature of his death than I was about the reasons behind it; the guy never saw the Phantom, obviously wasn't going to be staying there for long, and wasn't hurting anything. But the Phantom kills him anyway, mostly, I guess, because he's in a really shitty mood and he's morally opposed to functioning air conditioning. Posner hears rattling in the vents and, naturally, sends a security guard to investigate, because it makes much more sense that way as opposed to sending maintenance people to check out a vent rattle and letting the security guards keep on... guarding. He's worried about vent-dwelling terrorists, perhaps. (Which is actually what the problem is, so I guess good foresight?)

 

We know this security guard is going to die really really hard because A) we already know that the Phantom would kill a small child who dared look at his jungle gym too long, and B) we got to watch this particular guard leer at girls on the dressing room security cameras for way too long earlier, and so he is a Very Bad Man who will not be appearing in this film for much longer (seriously, it was awful, and his "I'm a sleazebag" monologue was so monumentally bad that I felt great pity toward the actor, which was not the intended effect). The movie, by the way, made sure that we know he was watching Suzie in the dressing room, but not Melody, because having morally bankrupt creeps illegally stare at you while you're naked is obviously something that only happens to women who aren't trying enough to be pure and good.

 

The security guard's death is the most creative (and by creative, I mean confusing and ridiculous) of the film: the Phantom drives out of the corner of the boiler room and rams him with a forklift, pinning him to the wall with the fusebox so that he is electrocuted to death, and then he's electrocuted so much that his eyes POP OUT and one optical nerve actually SNAPS so that the eyeball FLIES ACROSS THE ROOM and falls through the vents into the ice cream machine. Somehow, this gargantuan amount of electrical current doesn't affect the Phantom or his forklift much, even though forklifts are traditionally made of very conductive metals. Posner hears some strange animal noises and banging in the vents above his head, but seems to think that worrying about it is someone else's job.

 

The noise turns out to be the Phantom dropping the security guard's eyeless corpse smack onto Posner's desk, with a little note pinned to his chest that says, "An eye for an eye." We, as the audience, suddenly know that there is a connection between the Phantom and Posner, like, oh my god! Posner's response is to say, "Holy shit," in the most blase tone of voice I've ever heard out of someone confronting a corpse. I was wondering if maybe he was just noticing a bit of correspondence sticking out from under the body, maybe. "Holy shit, the Lakers lost?"

 

Melody, who is fiscally responsible and wears demure white sneakers, is for some ill-advised reason wandering around a darkened mall parking lot in the middle of the night. She's understandably worried when she discovers that someone (gee, I wonder who?) has left the dress she was pining over in her front seat, though she seems to be more focused on "Oh my god, who could have done this, is someone watching me at work?" instead of "Oh my god, who the fuck has keys to my car or could figure out how to get into it, and is there anyone in my backseat?" Then, of course, she gets accosted by a masked rapist, who is not the Phantom because the Phantom arrives to shoot him with a crossbow (hahahaha, oh, man that will never get old). And then the mayor is in the parking lot for some reason (no, I have no idea why, and neither does anyone else including the mayor herself) so she can take Melody home and look mystified when this hysterical girl insists she was saved by some kind of mall Robin Hood. The mayor also tells Melody to just go home and sleep and not bother the police about this rapist guy, because why harass the civil servants who are supposed to keep you safe>

 

While Melody is evading rapists in the parking lot, Posner is putting in an ominous call to an unnamed party; we know it's ominous because he says, "I may require your services again." The only people you "require services" from in the movies are sex workers and hitmen. It's one of the ten film commandments. The hitman in question, whom Melody has vague memories of from when he burned down her boyfriend's house and killed him, has a gigantic earring in one ear and appears to be very young to be in the hitman trade, but what do I know from assassins?

 

Then, perhaps in an attempt to stave off boredom or restlessness on the part of the audience, there are some boobies. Hey, kids!

 

After Melody's gratuitous wet dream (personally, I don't like my men to slobber like drunken monkeys, but different strokes for different folks, I guess), we return to shots of the Phantom hanging out in his angsty underground vent kingdom. Popcorn and grape juice went all over the room and John emerged from his gaming hideout to hear what all the hysterical cackling was about. You see, this Phantom doesn't do music, as I noted earlier. Instead, ladies and gentlemen, he follows that most noble of causes: he is a bodybuilder. Yes! He's stolen exercise machines from the mall! He has an underground gym with free weights and arm machines! He works out in his baseball cap and mask, punching a hanging sack! HE DOES MARTIAL ARTS WITH A BO STAFF! Oh my god, I couldn't even breathe for all the giggling. What does it say about us as a culture that someone looked at the idea of a dedicated musical composer and decided to update it in the form of a kid who pumps iron all the time? Who cares about artistic expression? LOOK AT MY PECS!

 

Then, some random cuts to Posner being an utterly unconvincing liar and his son stealing quarters out of a pinball machine. Whatever. I was still too busy sniggering to care about Obviously A Bad Man Who Will Be Punished and his Chip Off the Old Block.

 

By the way, it was really nice of that raging, uncontrolled fire to only burnify exactly half of the Phantom's face and neck. Very polite of it to leave the rest of his body completely untouched and smooth. It'd be hard to relate to (read: sexually desire/pity) someone who has a full-body kind of disfigurement. I mean, that'd be gross, not to mention... oh, sorry, Msr. Leroux. Didn't see you over there. Here, take my handkerchief.

 

The Phantom's Existential Angst continues. If this were set in the 2000s, he'd be an emo kid with square glasses, tight pants and an unhealthy love of Conor Oberst. Now he's watching video footage of Melody while listening to their song (something about "can't be with you but I love you anyway omg angst"), and I'm trying to decide if I should write a snarky note about lazy directing and shorthand or if I should just take advantage of this bad music video part of the movie to go replace the popcorn I snorted all over the room. Popcorn won; I've read plenty of bad song-fanfictions, after all. I can probably guess most of the content here.

 

Peter, meanwhile, has been busily trying to woo the fair lady's heart, like any respectable Raoul-character. His way involves taking clandestine photographs of hitmen and then leading zany chases through crowded malls, complete with escalator hopping and hiding behind the mayor. It's quite convenient that the first time he sees a dude with a single earring, he remembers what Melody said about the arsonist and manages to take pictures so she can I.D. him; personally, I'd have found it much sweeter if he'd found a lot of pictures and she'd had to pick it out of a bunch. It would have shown time and effort put into it, instead of him just running back with the first be-earring-ed guy he found and panting like a puppy hoping for a makeout reward. Better yet, not only does the hitman figure out, SOMEHOW, from the almost-inaudible sound of a camera shutter, that this kid has just taken a picture of him in the mirror on the ceiling across the room, he then immediately assumes the kid is I.D.ing him and is important enough for him to worry about, and chases him with murderous intent through an entire mall crowded with patrons, WHILE DISGUISED AS A MALL SECURITY GUARD and frequently snarling like a rabid animal, which NO ONE SEEMS TO NOTICE. Peter slips away, but the hitman will later redeem himself by staging a HIGH-SPEED CAR CHASE. Through the PARKING GARAGE. How fast can you really go in a parking garage? Not very, it turns out. It's like watching Driving Miss Daisy pursue her arch-enemy, Mabel.

 

As I'm writing this, I have not yet been able to get hold of my sister, who actually is (no lie!) a mall security guard. However, I suspect that the idea of embarking on a high-speed car chase through the parking deck would afford her untold amounts of amusement.

 

There's a side interlude where Suzie buys an ice cream which has the unfortunate dead security guard's eyeball in it, but she thinks it's a joke being played on her by Buzz and just tosses it off to the side, apparently without noticing that it's... you know... real. And smelly. And gross-feeling. And there's blood in her ice cream. But, then again, who cares about those whines - it's an ice cream machine. There's no way that eyeball wouldn't be mushed and nicely redistributed through the rest of the ice cream by the time it came out of the spigot. Delicious thought, right?

 

Then, some blindingly brilliant exposition. A loading worker catcalls Suzie and Melody; they walk through the mall saying, "God, what a jerk, what if he was the one who attacked you?", the piano player in the lobby says a cheerful hello to them, they say, "Wow, what a nice, polite guy," the mayor walks by giving the police instructions to look for Melody's would-be rapist, and then we discover - what?

 

IT'S THE PIANO PLAYER, Y'ALLS. NO WAY. Shit, never saw that coming! Remember, ladies, the writers want to remind you that you shouldn't judge dudes who are disgusting to you, because they're probably secretly nice and it's the one guy you decide to like who is the REAL evil because guys are only nice to women if they have an agenda and not just because they might be people, DUH, and you didn't even know it and why won't WOMEN JUST DATE ME I'M SO NICE ON THE INSIDE.

 

By the way, the pianist takes off his tuxedo jacket in the bathroom to reveal the crossbow wound, despite the fact that no one would ever, ever do that when they've just heard that police are looking for them in the mall. Maybe he's not worried - clearly, he knows how to doctor crossbow wounds on his own and has a miraculous ability to play piano all day despite having a gigantic hole in his shoulder, so maybe he has invisibility powers, too. The Phantom, who of course doesn't appreciate anyone attacking Melody, decides to off him - via toilet snake.

 

YES, he somehow feeds an angry cobra (also a fairly stupid cobra, since it's thrashing away in its bag and clearly not held by the head, yet it never bites his hands when he's feeding it into the plumbing) into the plumbing at exactly the right spot so that it pops up out of the piano player's toilet and kills him by biting him in the junk (naturally). There are so many problems with that, I don't even know where to begin - why the snake didn't just turn around and nail the Phantom (it's a snake! You might have heard that they're mighty flexible!), why the snake would have come up in that toilet and not in any one of all the others that are probably connected to exactly the same pipeline, how it is apparently a magical vampire snake since it clearly doesn't need to breathe (fun fact: cobras, too, require oxygen to live! There is no way anyone is putting an opening straight into the plumbing pipe inside the building, so that poor snake would have had a long way to go)... I could go on, but I think I'm too paralyzed by trying to figure out where the Phantom got an adult king cobra in the first place. Maybe the mall sells them, next to the crossbows.

 

Not content with his recent cobra-based magnum opus, the Phantom decides to kill Posner's son because... actually, I'm not sure why, really. Possibly because he just tried to force himself on Suzie (does this movie seem to have a lot of sexual assault in it, or what?) and Suzie is Melody's friend, or maybe because he vandalizes parts of the mall sometimes, or maybe just because there is Mysterious Unfinished Business with Posner. He concocts an ingenious plan involving leaving a skateboard lying around in one of the mall lobbies, where Posner's kid will happen across it. Oh, the siren call of an unattended skateboard! It's black and red - the colors of rrrrebellion! What fuck-the-system rebel could resist?

 

So the kid spends some time skating in circles around the plaza after everyone has left (by the way, he can't skate to save his life, the poser). And so the Phantom lassos him and, continuing his trend of creative deaths, stuffs the end of the rope into the top of the escalator, which inexorably drags his struggling form up the stairs until it gets to the top and breaks his neck. I was under the impression that mall escalators are usually turned off and monitored by the security guards, but perhaps they are all involved in a car chase elsewhere while this is going on.

 

Peter manages to corner Melody and force her to tell him in detail about the night her boyfriend, Eric (aha!), died. This is because he is the best amateur detective ever, and he assures her that he needs the information to catch the arsonist, even though the police have been able to do absolutely nothing with the same information. Police and security suck, as we've learned in this movie.

 

So, long story short, Eric's house is in the area that a property developer wants to turn into the mall, but his family refuses to sell it, so the dastardly developers (led by, of course, Posner) set the house on fire and kill the whole family so they can hurry up and build the mall already. Eric and Melody don't smell the smoke until the entire fucking house is ablaze on account of being busy doing the things that hormonal teenagers do, whereupon Eric throws Melody out the window but is trapped under a dresser and presumably killed, and Melody catches a glimpse of the arsonist/hitman with his little silver earring. Peter makes the cerebral leap of logic to realize that someone must be covering for the hitman/security guard, but when Melody asks hopefully if her boyfriend might still be alive, he says, "It would explain a lot of things."

 

Would it, though? Friends, no. You're making Occam weep in his tomb. No first explanation should include a phrase similar to "Maybe a dead guy is secretly squatting in the mall and stalking me."

 

As they're coming to this brilliant conclusion, the hitman arrives to haul them out of the car and wave his gun around menacingly, but he doesn't seem to be much of a hitman since he is easily incapacitated by Peter's camera flash. Then Melody teleports back inside the car and they jet for the car chase extravaganza! Please note that even though Peter destroys countless vehicles and probably kills some people in them, the hitman is the bad guy because he hits pedestrians. Luckily, the Phantom leaps out of the parking deck and beats on the roof of the hitman's car until it flips over, and my desire to see it explode for no reason was fulfilled. Yay, random explosions!

 

Peter's brilliant idea, of course, is to go out and dig up Eric's coffin to make sure there really is a corpse inside, despite the fact that people have just tried to kill them and they all have day jobs tomorrow. Melody doesn't seem to have the gumption to object until he's actually digging, at which point she gets all cranky about how "sacrilegious" it is. Well, maybe she's Catholic... or maybe she isn't very sanguine about possibly seeing her boyfriend's rotting remains in a few seconds, Peter, you jackass.

 

Unsurprisingly, the coffin turns out to be empty, even though I'm not sure why or who would have declared him dead without a body since his parents died in the same fire. Clearly, the thing to do is to go to the mayor's house and wake her up at 3 a.m., because she has no problem entertaining teenagers in her nightgown, especially teenagers who have just been out doing illegal things in the pursuit of a wacky theory. Everyone is disappointed when a solution does not leap out of the walls (the mayor obviously has an inferior vent system).

 

So Melody goes home and has some more wet dreams, and apparently learning that your boyfriend is still alive is so liberating that she can start having them based on sexing up Peter, instead of poor Eric, who she's been fantasizing about all the rest of the time. These damn women - as soon as they find out you're alive, they're throwing away their year of hopeless devotion to you and shagging away with some photographer before they even try to locate your creepy, murdering, stalking ass, am I right?

 

Eric, who is, of course, the Phantom, is still pissed off at Posner and his mall, so he wires the whole place to blow. While he's doing that, Melody ("There's a ruthless hitman trying to kill me at the mall! I better GO TO WORK THERE.") is kidnapped by the hitman and is having some difficulty keeping her virtue intact (yay! Some more attempted rape! always the perfect choice for bad writers to try to inject some urgency into their tepid plot!). Why isn't the hitman just killing her after all the trouble she's been? Why is it that this film is full of pathological rapists who can't make rational decisions?

 

Of course, Eric comes to the rescue, flying in with a flying spin kick (it's martial arts Phantom!), and combat ensues that would make many a respectable fight choreographer cry in their sleep. Bargain basement martial arts! People shouting "hai-ya"! The most clumsily botched punch-throwing sequences in the history of the art form! And then someone brings in a fire axe! But Eric is so badass that he can catch the blade between his palms instead of getting bisected (not influenced by Japanese samurai dramas here, no sir)! But, oh no - the hitman has pinned Eric so that his head is about to be caught in a trash compactor! But WITH THE STRENGTH OF A THOUSAND MEN, Eric PUSHES ON THE COMPACTOR and LIFTS IT BACK UP! And then he manages to turn the tables and pin the hitman under the compactor, and even though spindly burn-victim Eric can stop the door from coming down, the highly-muscled adult hitman cannot, and there is beheading! And somewhere in an apartment at eleven o'clock at night, I was staring in open-mouthed incredulity.

 

Posner and the mayor are having a huge introductory shindig for the mall, so it's full of people in expensive suits. The mayor herself looks especially spectacular in her completely un-mayoral sparkly blue sequined mini-dress ("We've got Morgan Fairchild! Costuming, get some cleavage on display, stat!"). Posner, despite finding the hitman's severed head left in his office, tells his one remaining security officer to make himself scarce so he doesn't bother the partygoers.  Yes, yes, here have been murders and a rash of unexplained crime and his own son is dead, but he's trying to throw a party here.

 

Cut back to the underground, where Eric is lifting weights in his leather jacket (John assures me that this is, in fact, a Stupid Idea) because he's totally badass, yo. He and Melody have a little heart to heart, in which he unmasks for her (the makeup, in case you were wondering, is pretty bad) and we learn both that he's still all kinds of mad devoted to her and she's trying to survive this kidnapping by agreeing with him until she can get back above-ground. She's all touching and petting his burns with as much sympathy as she can muster, and inside she's totally planning to dump his terrifying ass the second she can. He shows her all the stuff he's set up and tells her all about his life and shows her the many pretty things he's gotten for her, and she shows him her pretty white rejection smile.

 

Like every male on the face of the planet, he immediately blames Peter for her rejection instead of suspecting that either A) she doesn't like him, or B) it's a problem with himself, and takes off after him; Peter is currently making it easy by attempting to penetrate the vents and rescue Melody (he and Buzz and Suzie are all in the vents in different places, in fact, having all been struck by a sudden, overpowering enlightenment that tells them that, OBVIOUSLY, everyone is hiding in the vents). The Phantom fails to kill him with another cobra (so, are these indigenous mall cobras? Is that it?) and there is yet more really, really bad combat. Run, Pete! Don't you know that Eric is a kung-fu master? But after Peter gets his ass kicked for a while, Melody intercedes with the worst-timed, least-sensical declaration of love ever. Even Eric is too bewildered to be properly wrathful yet. When did she decide she was in love with Peter? Apparently just now, because the plot demands it.

 

Peter and Melody make a run for it, narrowly avoiding death by cobra again on their way out (apparently, this cobra just sort of hung around in the tunnel in case someone it could bite came back around, instead of moving off in search of food or a hiding place. It is a Guard Cobra. An Indigenous Mall Guard Cobra), but in a twist, when they try to tell the mayor what's going on, she pulls a gun (apparently out of her boobs, since I don't know where else she could have been hiding it in that skin-tight dress) on them and they have an argument in the bathroom, during which she tells them that they have to stop shouting about there being a bomb because she has a lot of stake in this place and the PR is really bad (I'd think the PR would be worse if the place blew up and everyone died, but it's not really my problem). Of course, Eric bursts out of the vents and saves the day, and the mayor doesn't shoot him because... um... because reasons?

 

Buzz and Suzie get back out of the vents and into the PA system, and start the building evacuating, while the mayor dies messily on the floor in the middle of the party, Peter lies unconscious in the bathroom, and Eric chases Melody through the rafters. Buzz and Suzie escape the building by jumping into a display vespa and driving it off. No one seems to notice this or care, or wonder why a display vespa would have fuel in it (maybe they sell that here, too!). I suppose there is only one security guard left. He's probably a little overwhelmed at this point.

 

Events come faster and faster, but don't feel obligated to make any kind of sense - Posner sees Eric and somehow remembers exactly who he is, even though he probably wasn't directly involved in anything and it was five years ago... and then the gunshot Eric sustained earlier in the film mysteriously disappears, possibly due to some kind of supernatural healing skill... and then when Posner is trying to convince Eric not to kill him, he doesn't think to offer him anything besides money, even though he offers money FOUR TIMES and it still doesn't WORK, DUDE.

 

And then Eric kills him with a flamethrower he yanks off the wall. Because this mall absolutely sells FULLY-FUELED FLAMETHROWERS, which are on the shelf next to the JUGS OF PROPANE. And, presumably, the crossbows and Mall Cobras. To recap: This mall is a deathtrap.

 

Then the mall blows up and everybody inside dies, though of course Buzz and Suzie and Melody and Peter putted out on the stolen vespa at the last minute. Melody and Peter are, of course, sucking face within mere moments of all of this.

 

And then it's all done, with, of course, sequel potential thrown in there.

 

The problems with this film don't end with the ridiculous plot or terrifyingly slapdash characters; it seems to have been badly synced as well, since the dialogue is often a split second before the mouths of the characters actually move, which can be really, really distracting in the middle of a long monologue.

 

Friedman tries, he really does. There are places where I can see what he was trying to do with the directing - for example, when Eric is dismembering mannequins, we're supposed to be reminded of human bodies and creeped out, but the ridiculousness immediately surrounding those shots (who else wants a crossbow from the mall? I do!) hamstrings the attempt. Likewise, stealing the mannequin's face for his mask almost makes it up to a metaphor concerning hiding from the rest of humanity behind a screen of fabrication, but then I got distracted by the underground martial arts shenanigans. The final shot, which shows Eric's face now utterly ravaged by flame on both sides, could have been a great moment to show that his insanity had consumed him and thus in parallel had consumed what was left of his "good" face, but by that point in the movie there was just no saving it.

 

Elements of Leroux's novel survive, mostly in the plot - the kidnapping and devotion of Eric to Melody (and Eric's name, which is extremely close to Erik) is fairly close to Erik's obsessive love of Christine, but there's really almost... nothing else that even resembles it. The themes certainly aren't there - redemption? Nope. Love healing? Nope. The cruelty of social stigmatism? Nope, nope, nope. It didn't even try; it was all about the horror here, and the horror was so bad that I have to put the entire effort as a failure, even if it is an unintentionally amusing failure.

 

(And yes, there is a theme song for this movie by the Vandals, called "Is There a Phantom in the Mall?", and it is as much of an eighties slice-of-the-times piece as it is possible to be. You can listen to it here, but be warned, it uses the R slur liberally, and also is just generally awful.)

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