The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera ★★★½

Hooptober 6.0 #7/31
Featured Artist Film #3/6: Lon Chaney
Classic Universal Film #1/1

As I was selecting films to watch for this Hooptober, I came to a sincerely sobering realization as a horror fan: I had never watched a Lon Chaney film. Not one. I've seen a good amount of early horror, even silent horror, and covered both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but Lon Chaney remained unwatched.

I was delighted, of course, to finally have reason to sit down this, arguably the Lon Chaney film. And it was worth the watch, even now, almost 100 years after its initial release. It's genuinely frightening because of the star at its center: That makeup and its accompanying reveal made me gasp out loud, despite knowing it was right around the corner and having seen that iconic face so many times.

Lon Chaney is a force of nature here: He flits around the screen so quickly, while melding the Phantom's menace with a sense of tragedy so innate to the Erik side of the character. Sure, some of that is via the intertitles, but Chaney deserves the lion's share of the credit.

All the major story beats and locales are here: the rooftop scene with the spying Phantom, Christine's mirror revealing a secret door, the (excellent) chandelier crash, and Erik's lair deep in the catacombs, complete with black lake and booming organ. Props to the remarkable production design for bringing these scenes to glorious, vibrant life: These sets are immaculate.

I am always all in for melodrama, so my affection for this classic was basically telegraphed from the start. It's not perfect, of course—I think the secondary characters suffer the most and they drag the story down considerably—but it's charming and dark and still scary today.

Scariest Moment: Viscerally? Lon Chaney's initial reveal, and that ghastly visage flashing in the moonlight during the final chase scene, permanent grimace in place. But fundamentally? Erik being ripped apart by a murderous mob and unceremoniously thrown into a river to drown. That's true horror right there.

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