This isn’t because I don’t like them because that’s far from the truth. Rather, Phantom is the kind of feature that really only kinda/sorta flirts with SciFi and Fantasy elements in such a soft way, so I don’t see them as real contenders to genre greatness. Honestly, Phantom is more slasher than anything else. Thematically, it only circumstantially touches a chord – drawing up some grand comparison to Gaston Leroux’s Phantom Of The Opera (1909) – whereas other films play a symphony of notes. But because it’s close enough, I decided to give this one a watch and review. I’m glad I did.
Mind you: this is no big budget production. It’s a small(ish) film, so its investment in developing a metaphor back to the original Phantom is very, very weak. It isn’t a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it size, but it is trivial by comparison to other features that have put more sizzle to the steak. At best, it’s pleasant – though occasionally gruesome – if not a bit theatrical.
So I’ll dispense with the usual preamble because it really isn’t all that relevant. Instead, let’s get right to the main feature, shall we?
From the product packaging:
“A year after her boyfriend Eric burns to death in a mysterious fire, Melody vows to put her traumatic past behind her. But the past isn’t ready to let go. When Melody and her friends get jobs at the new mall, haunting reminders and inexplicable events begin to occur. With the help of a newspaper photographer, she learns the truth about Eric and the trail of grisly murders at the mall.”
What makes the original Phantom Of The Opera (the book, not the musical) so memorable is the fact that it’s one of those tragic love stories: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, but – alas – they’re not destined to be. In comparison, Phantom Of The Mall does pick up on that central premise – Eric (played by Derek Rydall) meets Melody (Kari Whitman aka Playboy Playmate Kari Kennell), they fall in love, etc. – but the circumstances of their parting gets a contemporary, anti-capitalist makeover. As fate (or a good screenplay) would have it, Eric’s house stood in the wall of the local establishment erecting a state-of-the-art indoor shopping mall; so the boy, his parents, and their home went up with what looked to be the small community’s most fortunate case of arson ever.
But like a good neighbor, Eric faked his death so that he could come back a year later and serve as the bloodthirsty thorn in the side to those developers. He sacrificed his love, his family, and his future … all for the sake of revenge. And rest assured that the man will stop at nothing to see that Sam Goody, Waldenbooks, and Radio Shack get exactly what’s coming to them!
Setting a traditional Horror picture in a mall remains a curious choice.
Malls – by design – are not dark and moody places, so director Richard Friedman had his screenwriters working hard at figuring out ways to amp up some of that needed darkness literally and thematically. The mall’s secreted hallways and air ducts do get a bit of needed exposure; and the writing team ended up giving Eric his own subterranean lair (every Phantom needs one, after all) complete with cable access, a good couch, and a workout space. (???) I guess it’s a charming way to convey some of the doom and gloom needed to make all of this work, and I think it’s safe to say that those are the only sequences that truly gelled perfectly in this otherwise lukewarm reimagining.
And when it comes to B-Movies, just how does Phantom match up?
Therein lies the problem I had with it.
Because this is a smaller picture, I suspect only folks truly committed to Horror have ever heard of it. The film’s ‘big draw’ was Morgan Fairchild, and her career at the box office was never that expansive to begin with. In fact, I’d argue that she was far more well known for her work in television, so banking on her participation to put butts in the seats was a risky proposition. But as Horror releases are already considered “niche,” this Phantom probably needed a bigger script with bigger risks if it was ever going to break out.
Alas, even as a Horror feature, it’s fairly tame. Eric’s victims are mostly deserving of the fate they suffer (one could argue otherwise in a few places), so the emphasis on ‘revenge’ may’ve elevated it above the more mundane competition. His kills aren’t all that bloody – certainly not by comparison to what, say, Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger accomplished – and I think a case could be made that the film suffered by not properly reveling in the butchery the way other franchises do. And when one of your villains is as beautiful as – gasp – Morgan Fairchild? I hope you get the point. (FYI: she does.)
This Phantom played it too safe. He should’ve come out from behind that mask a bit more often, and he should’ve embraced the theatricality that goes hand-in-hand with being a celebrity killer. He may not have had a longer reign at the box office, but I guarantee more people would’ve remembered his name.
As for the technical specifications? Again: kudos to Arrow Video for ponying up an incredible package. While I’m no fan of this specific title, I spent a few hours yesterday with these extras, and even I was impressed at the depth of material. The disc boasts three different commentary tracks. (FYI: I’ve only listened to two at this point.) The first features director Friedman (with a moderator); while it’s good, I felt that the host spent a bit more time discussing subjects just beyond the scope of the film, only bringing things into sharper focus around key moments. The second features disc producer Ewan Cant and historian Amanda Reyes; it’s a track I wanted to like more than I did – mostly because the two are affable and definitely know their stuff – but, again, far too much time was spent in topics only tangentially related to Phantom. They honestly allowed whole swaths of the picture to go by without a mention about what was happening, production discussions, etc. Nice but disappointing. As is common with Arrow’s limited-edition sets, this is packed with shorts, mini-documentaries, trailers, and the like. There’s more than enough to explore. Fabulous.
Recommended only for fans of B-Movies or slash films as that’s really all this one has to offer. Sometimes it’s hard to find something positive to say about a flick, and I had that struggle with Phantom Of The Mall: Eric’s Revenge. In short, it just struggled to find what it wanted to be. At times, it appeared to be poking fun at the tropes of Horror and revenge movies, stopping just short of embracing comic sensibilities because none of it was all that funny. I think the director and screenwriters had an interesting idea worth exploring, but what they ended up collaborating on played it way too safe for a feature about retribution. A missed opportunity.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Video provided me with a Blu-ray disc of Phantom Of The Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1989) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.