Horror Film Countdown: The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

A few years ago I covered Horror Host‘s for NonPro, so I’ve decided that this year we should take a look at some of the films featured by said hosts? This horror countdown will be a series of firsts, so what better way to start than the first Universal Monster?

The Phantom of the Opera, dir. Rupert Julian(credited), 1925, Universal Pictures.

This was the first attempt to translate Gaston Leroux’s 1909 novel to the silver screen. The production was troubled almost from the start, but what made it to the screen was pure gold. We open with the Paris Opera House being sold to two businessmen. Once the deal is completed, the previous owners now feel free to inform the new buyers that there are a few things they should know about the property, namely the Opera Ghost.

The new owners are quick to change their mind about the so-called Phantom when he disappears before their eyes in the number five box. The men are now rethinking their purchase. Meanwhile, up and coming opera singer Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) is having a most curious conversation with a voice that seems to be coming from within the walls of her dressing room. The voice has been giving her singing lessons, it seems, which accounts for her rising popularity. The voice also promises to appear before her as a thing of the flesh and love her as a man.

Christine’s fiancé, the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry) is unaware of this, but as it is he is not happy with her career, wishing she would devote less time to singing and more to him. While this is going on, the new owners also have to contend with their current diva, Carlotta (Mary Fabin) and her odious mother (Virginia Pearson), who has been the victim of a several threatening letters. Each letter promises dire fates unless Christine plays the lead in Faust. The promises are delivered on opening night when the massive chandelier is cut by unseen hands and crashes into the audience. Christine is then made the lead, but her tenure is brief as the next day she finally meets her benefactor. The meeting doesn’t go as planned for either party as Christine promptly faints. The stranger, now identified as the Phantom (Lon Chaney Sr.), takes her back to his lair located under the Paris Opera House.

When Christine awakes, she and the Phantom had a chat. It seems the Phantom has plans for Christine, the chief of which is staring in his personal opera, Don Juan Triumphant. Christine, sadly, pulls off his mask and is horrified at what’s underneath. From there things go south for nearly everyone.

How does the Phantom hold up? Fairly well I have to say. All the leads are fantastic, with special attention to Chaney as the Phantom. He’s pathetic, menacing, imposing, and sympathetic is equal measure. Despite the remakes over the years, I have to say the original still does the story the best. I’d suggest staying with the 1925 version, although the different versions are still decent.