A version of the classic Gaston Leroux tale that never seems to receive much love from fans, Hammer take on The Phantom Of The Opera and provide horror fans with a delightful interpretation of the famous story.
Herbert Lom, obviously masked for most of the runtime, plays the Phantom this time around. Eschewing the doomed romance at the heart of the classic tale, the Phantom till ends up after a young singer named Christine (Heather Sears) to make her into an unforgettable star of the stage. Christine, for her part, seems nice enough. When she's not being uncomfortably chatted up by Lord Ambrose D'Arcy (Michael Gough) she is developing a relationship with the handsome Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza). But the Phantom has a habit of reminding people that he's around.
Directed by Terence Fisher, The Phantom Of The Opera is as lavish and baroque as you'd expect, at times. The main opera being performed is all about the life of Joan Of Arc and the sets and design are both wonderfully theatrical and also nicely settled within a typical Hammer budget. In fact, there are only a few sets used in the movie, or it at least seems that way, but each one is so carefully put together and made into such a nice showpiece that the relatively small scale of the production is covered up, and even turned into an asset.
The script by Anthony Hinds takes the classic tale and adds some nice twists to it, making it fresh while never betraying the essence of the material. This has never been my favourite of the beloved horror classics and, personally, I enjoyed the changes that were made. Perhaps the fact that this is overlooked so often tells me hat other Phantom fans didn't like the changes as much as I did.
Sears is fine in the role of Christine, and de Souza is an okay leading man, but this movie belongs to two men, Lom and Gough. The former gives a great physical performance, and also does sterling work in a pre-Phantom flashback sequence that reveals the backstory of the character and the cause of his rage, while the latter has so much fun being nasty to everyone around him that this ends up being one of his best roles. Michael Ripper has a VERY small role (billed, I believe, as Cabbie #1) and Patrick Troughton steals his main scene, playing a callous and carefree ratcatcher.
Give this one a go sometime, especially if you've forgotten about it while catching other interpretations of the story. You might just end up liking it as much as I did.