Welcome back to Shocktoberfest, and today we’re getting musical. Our featured character is first monster of the month who is a product from the 20th century: the Phantom of the Opera.
Now before we get too far, some of you might be thinking that this one doesn’t count because “phantom” is another term for a ghost, a creature that was covered last week. The Phantom, however, is not a ghost nor does he have any supernatural abilities. He’s nothing more than a mortal man with an unfortunate appearance that not even a mother could love. His strength as a character comes from his prodigal creativity, cunning stealth and burning passion that could turn him from a devoted lover to a psychotic murderer on a dime.
Gaston Leroux’s novel, The Phantom of the Opera, was published in volume in1910 and was inspired by actual historical events at the Paris Opera during the 19th century, as well as a story of a former ballet student’s skeleton being used during an 1841 production of Der Freischütz (The Marksman).
While the story has been adapted in many different ways, the basic plot goes as such. A young opera singer named Christine begins to perform at the Paris Opera after impressing at a gala, but rumors of a phantom living in the opera house are circulating after he leaves letters to the management and performs a series of malevolent deeds. After performing Faust with a prima donna in the lead role instead of Christine against the Phantom’s wishes, the grand chandelier crashes over the audience, presumably caused by the Phantom. Christine is then kidnapped by the Phantom and taken to the cellars below the opera where he lives. Once there, he reveals his name to her as Erik, even though it isn’t his birth name. He wants to keep her there for a few days in the hope that she will love him as he loves her, but his plans change once Christine removes his mask to reveal his grotesque face. He wants to keep Christine with him forever out of fear that she will leave him after seeing his face, but Christine promises to wear his ring and be faithful to him as long as he lets her go, so he does. Once free, Christine tells her friend, Raoul, about what Erik did, and Raoul promises to take her away somewhere she’ll be safe from Erik. Unbeknownst to both of them, Erik had been listening to their conversation and becomes fraught with jealousy. Erik abducts Christine the following night, but Raoul fights Erik in attempt to rescue her, but the Phantom has the upper hand and is aiming to kill Raoul. Christine, not wanting either of them to be harmed, agrees to marry the Phantom and be his “living bride” as long as he doesn’t kill Raoul. Overcome with guilt, he allows Raoul and Christine to go.
Unfortunately for Leroux, the adaptations of his novel proved to be more successful. The American silent film version starring Lon Chaney, Sr. was released in 1925–two years prior to Leroux’s death–and was a big success at the box office, grossing over $2 million.
For many years, the novel and 1925 silent film were the only major versions of the Phantom that most knew, but in 1986, Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the novel into a musical that debuted in London’s West End and on Broadway in 1988. To this day, it has grossed over $5.6 billion worldwide, it is the longest-running show in Broadway history by a large margin, as well as the third overall for West End and has won numerous awards and accolades. Many well-respected actors and singers have played the titular character over the years.
With the enormous success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, his version was eventually adapted into a film in 2004 with many songs from the stage show. Unfortunately, the film did not live up to the hype of the live show and has received mixed reviews, at best.
However, this was not the first Phantom movie made after Webber’s musical. In 1989, a lesser known non-singing horror version was released starring–and no, I’m really not kidding–Robert Englund as the Phantom.
The Phantom of the Opera has a charm that no other monster can match. He’s as fierce and cold as any killer, but his music and passion for Christine attracts an audience in spite of his ghastly side. I can aver fairly confidently that Erik is probably the most emotionally-sensitive monster that I’ll be reviewing this month, and perhaps that’s why we love him so much. His maliciousness is almost pardonable after we see how heartbroken he is, and through the power of song, he reminds us of what true beauty is.