Gaston Leroux’s 1908 novel The Phantom of the Opera has become one of the most durable and influential narratives of the 20th century and beyond. Like Dracula, Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this tale of revenge, love, and tragedy has universal truths and myths which persist to this day. The index of this narratives cultural importance lies in the fact that a film adaptation emerges every ten to fifteen years to remind us that The Phantom is still playing away in the sewers beneath the Paris opera house and is unlikely to stop anytime soon. It was almost inevitable that Hammer Film Productions would create their own take on Leroux’s source material. By 1962 they had successfully rejuvenated and re-imagined the three heaviest hitters from Universal’s horror back catalogue; Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. But Phantom of the Opera required a grandeur and a scale that Hammer had hitherto only hinted at. The resulting film would emerge as one of Hammer’s most controversial - a film of some moral ambiguity, lacking the bloody punch for which Hammer were well known for. It would be their first major commercial failure within the gothic horror form, and would lead to temporary exile for its director Terence Fisher. But if one single film in Fisher’s career could be said to embody both his style and his thematic obsessions then this is it.
© Shaun Anderson 2010