Monday, March 23, 2015


I doubt that there is anywhere in the world you could go to now without someone there knowing the story of the phantom of the opera. What began as a short novel by author Gaston Leroux in 1909 was first turned into a film in 1916 though that version has been lost. Perhaps the more famous first version came via the extraordinary make up from its star Lon Chaney in 1925. The visage that he unleashed upon the film going public at the time was the one most often thought of until Andrew Lloyd Webber chose the novel for his musical back in 1986. That version came about when the original story went into public domain and could be used by anyone. What many may not realize is that at the same time a few scriptwriters were working on their own version for the same reason even though that film would not come out until 1989. That film came and went without a ton of recognition, many thinking it was trying to play off of the musical. In point of fact it was stepping back to the original source material and does so quite well.

The film opens in present day (1989 that is) and young Christine Day (Jill Schoelen) is off to perform an audition for a musical on Broadway. During that audition she is bumped on the head and wakes to find herself transported to 1881 London where she is the understudy to the lead diva at the recently renovated London Opera House. When the diva takes ill, Christine performs the piece she was to do and is about to take over the part. Alas the diva prevents this from happening much to the displeasure of the phantom of the opera house, a mythical ghost type figure all fear but few have ever seen.

Even though few have seen this phantom he does indeed exist. The story is that Erik Destler (Robert Englund) sold his soul to the devil in order for his music to be made famous. While his music does indeed get recognized the devil disfigured him in return so that only his music would be loved. In an effort to appear normal, Destler sews on pieces of skin to his mangled flesh one piece at a time. Now Destler haunts the halls and secret passages of the opera house waiting for the day someone he believes in can perform his music. That day is now and Christine is that person.

When people begin to push Christine out of the picture bad things begin to happen to various members of the cast and crew. A stagehand is hung, the diva is silenced and all fear that in the end the phantom will have his way. As Christine falls under the charms of her benefactor she falls for someone else, a young man who will do all he can to protect her. But if the phantom has his way Christine and his music will always remain with him.

Eventually Christine wakes to find herself in the present once again and in line for the part. One would think that the story ends there but it doesn’t and those who stop the movie there miss some of the best surprises left for them by the writer and director.

So why didn’t this movie make a mint? After all, the film versions seen before always seemed to do so well at the box office. As I said the fact that the musical had already come out and was such a huge hit made it seem like this film was riding their coattails. With the popularity of the musical it was hard not to think of it or its music when this film came out. And that’s sad.

It’s sad because this is actually a very good version of the story. Not only that but the quality of the production would make you think there was some major money involved in this film. This was due in part because the producer of the film had several sets still standing from a previous film that had a higher budget that were put to use here. But it’s not just the sets that make this film stand out.

The performances seen in this film are outstanding. Englund had already been typecast as a bad guy by the time this movie had come out, forever known as Freddy Krueger of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET fame. But he’s a much better actor than people give him credit for. This movie shows that off from start to finish. Schoelen also turns in a notable performance here as the ingĂ©nue whose mentor is not what he seems. The only bad thing to say about Schoelen is that she made too few films. After watching this one you may agree.

Shout Factory has done a great job with this release, another notch in their cap. The quality of the transfer to blu-ray retains the solid job of cinematography that was on display when the film was originally released back in 1989. The extras offer a glimpse behind the scenes as to what went on then and contains several interesting interviews with the cast and crew shot more recently. It’s always nice to be able to revisit a movie like this with the original people today.

If you love the story of the phantom and have enjoyed the musical I’d say you just might enjoy this film as well. Certainly there is a bit more gore to be had here but the story lends itself to that. It’s nothing that would compare to what we now see on TV shows like THE WALKING DEAD but for the faint of heart the sewing scenes might be a bit much. Horror fans will love it though and be glad that this version is out there waiting for them to add to their collection. Another must have for those folks.

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It’s always interesting to go back and watch movies made by actors who have moved on to better times. The small role in a long forgotten flick or the starring role in a movie that few ever discovered, each one gives us a glimpse at a star in the making. With the success of THE BLACKLIST there are a number of James Spader movies being rediscovered. How nice it is to see a movie that had so many problems but that turned out to be pretty good come out finally on blu-ray thanks to Shout Factory.

SUPERNOVA arrived in theaters amid a number of science fiction outer space films that were recent blockbusters. Ever since ALIEN captured audience’s imaginations years before the outer space genre had seen a re-emergence as a viable cash generating movie experience. Some were good, some bad, some high end budget and other low end. This particular film started low, got bigger, had problems getting made and ended up tossed out with little to no fanfare. It’s only through fandom and the home market that it got any attention.

Up front know that the movie was originally begun by writer/director Walter Hill, famous for his films like 48 HOURS, THE WARRIORS and STREETS OF FIRE, but he left after a number of issues with the studio responsible for this film. Having shot most of the film it was left in the hands of Jack Sholder, another solid director who took the footage shot and turned it into a final releasable film. Of course this was after Francis Ford Coppola put his hands on it for a short time as well. With so many people trying to make the film their own it ended up suffering more than being helped. As is the case when studio suits attempt to put their two cents in while silencing the creators behind any movie, something definitely gets lost in translation. Much of this can be discovered in the very nice behind the scenes extra Shout Factory has included on this release.

But back to the movie. The spaceship Nightingale, a medical emergency ship, receives a mysterious signal from deep space requesting help. The distance to reach the location of the signal requires a jump through space where the crew must be enclosed or risk their bodies being manipulated into something frightening. Which is what happens to the 6 man team’s captain played by Robert Forster in what amounts to more of a cameo than a complete role.

Now in charge new pilot Nick Vanzant (Spader) assumes control of the ship and trying to gauge the amount of damage done. Needing 17 hours to recharge the cells necessary for a return trip and only 17 yours and 11 minutes worth of fuel left after a meteor damages a fuel tank, they’ll be cutting it close. The ship requesting their presence flies toward them without radio contact and makes a rough landing. On board is Larson (Peter Facinelli), the son of the miner from the nearby moon that was mined in the past who sent the distress call. That man was also an ex-lover of the ship’s doctor Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett).

Along with him Larson has brought an object found in the deep recesses of the moon, something he feels could gain each of them an incredible amount of money. But as this object slowly exposes itself to various members of the crew it becomes obvious that it may not be worth the risk needed to take it back home. Spader plans on disposing of it before leaving for home and then sets out to see if there is any fuel left on the moon they can use to survive.

But the effects of the object first on Larson who has been exposed to it the longest and then on crew member Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips) makes things take a turn for the worse. As more and more is revealed the crew of this ship might find themselves surviving less than the needed 17 hours it takes to recharge. With Spader in jeopardy on the moon’s surface (as well as below) and the members of the crew onboard threatened by a very deadly Larson, just exactly what is going on is slowly revealed.

The movie looks fantastic considering all things involved. Not only are low costs sets utilized to their fullest capabilities the cinematography is well done with a floating effect used to convey the sense of outer space from shot to shot. The special effects are well done and not overused making them a part of the story without making them THE story here.

The acting seen on screen is above that regularly associated with science fiction films of the time. I’ve seen great actors turn in bad performances in top notch films but here they all make their parts believable and real, something not easy to achieve given the subject matter. My guess is this a combination of great acting, great directing and great editing combined to make what sounded like a mess to begin with into a decent movie.

You might not remember this movie or ever having seen it, even on one of those unheralded showing on HBO or Showtime one night. But if you like science fiction or any of the actors in the film then you’ll want to give it a watch. Even those who don’t like sci-fi might find something to enjoy here. For myself I can see pulling this one down from the shelf every so often to give it another watch.

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Back in 1980 there were few holidays that didn’t have some sort of stalker/killer attached to them. What kicked off with HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH gave way to a new sort of horror film, one that was based around a certain holiday of social gathering. Thus we had SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, PROM NIGHT, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and more. Most of them ended up being decent horror films but not all. Fortunately this one turned out to be a solid film but maybe a bit on the low end at the same time.

The story revolves around Diane Sullivan aka Blaze (Roz Kelly), a rock VJ who has been waiting for her big break for some time now. This New Year’s she’s hosting a live music extravaganza where people will be calling in to the show to talk about their celebration as each time zone turns the clock from the past to the future. A national show this could change things for Diane. But someone has a plan to make this the last celebration she will see.

As the show goes on one of her first callers tells her his name is Evil. He informs Diane that he will kill a different victim with the celebrations in each time zone until the last one at which time he will be there to kill her. Taking the call seriously the police are called in and the countdown begins.

One of the interesting things about this film is that we get to see who the killer is from the start. It’s not a case of his voice only being heard or of seeing him in the shadows or from the viewpoint of the victim. The killer (Kip Niven) is always there front and center as each of his victims is stalked and killed on screen. The question becomes just who is this killer and why does he have a desire to kill Diane on this particular night?

Tied into this story is that of Diane’s son Derek, an actor as well who has just landed a plum role in a movie. While he wants to share this news with his mother she’s far too busy with her own career to pay much attention to him. But he isn’t alone. Her manager tends to keep her focused on her career and little else. Will this be the reason she’s being stalked? Or is it because she stepped on someone in the past? Just how does this killer tie in to Diane?

While I haven’t revealed who he actually is it won’t take long to figure it out. As many before me have said, this is not the greatest movie ever made. The acting is good from some and deplorable from others. The sets and look of the live show feel more like a high school production than a major television program. The music falls into the worst of the times category. Add to that a group of supposed punks in the opening segment who have nothing to do with anything other than to set the time period and you sometimes find yourself scratching your head as to what possessed them to include such things. In the end it doesn’t matter. This is one of those movies that may be bad but is a guilty pleasure at the same time. It’s a horror movie with heart, even if the production didn’t have the money to put all they wanted on screen.

The movie has developed something of a cult following over the years. I managed a theater that showed this when it was released and the movie did decent business opening weekend but dropped off the charts the next. It didn’t have the staying power of those other holiday killer flicks at the time. This new following has made up for that since.

The extras include something I love to see included. It has interviews with many of the cast members today, talking about the making of the movie, the good the bad and the ugly. What makes these interesting to me is to see what they look like now. After all this movie was made in 1980, well over 35 years ago now. Shout Factory has been doing a great job with these on other rediscovered horror films and this one is no exception.

Fans of horror films, good and bad, will want to add this one to their collection. Who knows, maybe it will become the movie to watch each year as we wait for the ball in Times Square to drop. It might also be fun to have a holiday hacker film festival. In any event, this one will not be for everyone but for those who are fans of the genre it’s a must have.

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