From its early scenes of shadows, melodramatic entrances, and comedy relief inserts (added for the film's 1929 re-release version), this first ever adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel is one of the genre's finest achievements and, after Dracula and Frankenstein, arguably a stunning realisation of the most enduring of mythic monstrous figures in all cinema. Ballerinas twirl and cringe on hearing stories of the haunted Paris opera house. Carlotta's singing understudy Christine (Mary Philbin) is entranced by the Phantom's melodic voice. The Phantom lurks deep underground in a flooded labyrinth (this eerie lake was an actual place faithfully recreated on studio sets), issuing threatening letters to Carlotta and the opera's new management, warning of death and disaster, if Christine is not allowed to perform on stage. A chandelier falls into the audience, Christine is kidnapped, there's a frantic search of the cellars, then a lynch mob night chase through the Parisian streets. You know the rest...
Although it borrows from the folklore of Beauty And The Beast, and the great legendary icon of Faust, The Phantom Of The Opera is an original - a gothic romance that resonates down the years, through a multitude of screen remakes. As Erik, Lon Chaney had perhaps his greatest artistic success. Even today, after gory decades of chainsaw and psycho shockers, the unmasking of Chaney's Phantom remains an electrifying moment. Watching this with my partner (who's seen a great many modern horror movies), I was surprised at his gasp of dread at the sight of the Phantom's ghastly face. The Phantom's disfiguring special makeup was devised entirely by Chaney himself and, honestly, it is startlingly effective when Christine swipes his mask away! It's all the more frightening because he has his back to her, so we - the viewers - see his skull-like appearance just before she does, adding a brief moment of suspense. When the Phantom turns against her in a love struck rage, Christine's obvious shock and terror is the stuff of nightmares.
Disc extras include an informative video essay (16 minutes) about the making of this film, which tells of how this production's advertising men invented movie merchandising, plus an un-tinted trailer, and a new orchestral score (from 1990) recorded in Dolby digital stereo.