The Phantom of the Opera (1998)

Rating: C

Dir: Dario Argento
Star: Asia Argento, Julian Sands, Andrea Di Stefano, Nadia Rinaldi

Remember when Argento was a demented genius? The likes of Suspiria still remain landmarks in the horror genre, that have launched a thousand pale imitators. Sadly, the decline in quality which started in the mid-1980’s was in full swing by this feature, dating from 1998. While possessing some good ideas and original twists – not the least being that Julian Sands’ Phantom looks perfectly normal [his disfigurement is entirely on the inside] – it falls down on the level of basic coherency, throwing too much irrelevant stuff at the well-known plot.

For instance, an entirely gratuitous sequence in a bath house, where everyone runs around naked, including some people who really shouldn’t. Or a bizarre sequence where the opera house rat-catcher suddenly invents a steam-powered juggernaut to assist him and his midget friend. Or the notion the Phantom was raised by rats. What? Yeah. Exactly. It’s as if Argento has no faith that the core elements of the story, which are exactly why it is so loved a century after it was written. Even if he isn’t much more than your average loony serial killer, Sands delivers his usual interesting performance. His character’s personality disorders could source an entire convention of psychiatrists, not least his preference in using his fellow subterranean rodents for sexual pleasure, rather than Asia Argento.

In contrast, to describe Asia as miscast in the role of Christine would be the understatement of the year, as she is utterly unconvincing, especially when (badly) faking the operatic arias. Meanwhile, the other contestant for her affections, the aristocratic Raoul (Di Stefano), is hardly much of an improvement over the Phantom, in terms of stability or sanity, leaving the film more or less entirely bereft of likeable characters. Hell, even the opera owner is a paedophile. As you’d expect from Argento, the film does have a lush visual sense, enhaced by shooting in some real Italian caves. The rest of it is pointlessly lurid, and Argento’s poor grasp of English shows up too often in another script that makes no real sense.