The late 19th century in Paris... opera is popular, but there`s a catch. The local opera house is haunted by a horrible phantom (Julian Sands), raised by rats and eager to kill anyone who tries to get his treasure or stop his beloved Christine (the erection-inducing Asia Argento) from becoming the next big star of the stage. But can Christine really love a man who lives in the sewers and thrives on violence? Love can overcome so many boundaries... who knows?
This version of "Phantom of the Opera" is one of the less popular and less appreciated. And I can see why. The story isn`t very strong and what there is of a story really deviates from the traditional tale. This phantom, for example, doesn`t need a mask at all and isn`t deformed. Which really makes you wonder what reason he has for living as he does... The film quality is also poor, at times appearing more like a television soap opera than a film. Coming from Dario Argento, it`s one of his most disappointing pieces -- perhaps he was distracted by the filming of his daughter making love with Julian Sands?
Let me pinpoint one good thing about this film and one bad thing. The good: the gore. Argento loves gore (have you seen "Jenifer"?) and he shows it here, opening the film with a maintenance man torn in half. Another man, who catches rats for a living, has his thumb horribly mutilated. A woman gets her tongue bitten out. A man is impaled on a stalagmite. And this is just some of the carnage. Argento and the phantom are here to wreak havoc...
The bad: Unless I just wasn`t paying attention, much of this movie just doesn`t make any sense. Sure, I shouldn`t be thinking about it and just enjoying the violence. But I need rational explanations -- or at least sensible ones. And this film has neither. How does the phantom recall being dumped in the sewer as a baby? Where did he get his bed from? His organ (which just barely fits in the caverns and isn`t likely to get hauled around much)? His clothes? Who taught him to play the organ? Who taught him English (both speaking and writing)? The change from being deformed to being raised by rats was fine, but it opens a huge plot hole: where are his human benefactors?
Argento completists will want to see and perhaps own this film (I own it). Fans of Sands will like it and fans of Asia will find her to be at her most beautiful here. Apart from that, the film is nothing special -- a second-rate telling of a familiar tale. See the Lon Chaney or Robert Englund versions instead, or see it on Broadway with Sarah Brightman. The gore, as good as it is, doesn`t make up for the shambles of this film.