Lon Chaney was famously known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” but out of all the faces he was renowned for, it’s the face of The Phantom of the Opera that he is probably best remembered. Chaney gives one of his greatest performances as the brooding, tortured, and disfigured Erik. He lives below the Paris Opera House where he falls in love with an opera singer named Christine (Mary Philbin). Erik demands that she be given the leading role in the next production and when she doesn’t, he drops a chandelier on a bunch of theater patrons. He then kidnaps Christine and gives her some singing lessons but when she takes off his mask, he gets pissed… big time.
There have been approximately 70 kerbillion adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera over the years. This one remains far and away the best. One reason for this is that it’s a silent film so you don’t have to listen to any annoying opera singing. The main reason though is because of Lon Fuckin’ Chaney. Not only is his performance enormously creepy (even after nearly 85 years), but he actually makes you kinda sympathize with the poor guy too. I mean he just wants to be loved. It’s kinda hard to get a piece of ass when you have a face like that. Speaking of which, Chaney’s make-up for the Phantom is simply one of the finest ever created. With his eyes bulging out and nose bone exposed, the Phantom still remains one of the scariest horror movie icons of all time.
And while we’re on the subject of greatness, let’s talk about the famous Unmasking Scene. That shit is still plenty powerful. I think what makes it work is that when Christine pulls the mask off; it’s the audience that sees the Phantom’s face first and we get freaked out. Then, the Phantom turns around and Christine sees him and she gets freaked out. It’s a Double Whammy. Then director Rupert Julian just LINGERS on every blessed pore of the Phantom’s face for a straight two minutes. I bet all those people back in ’25 were upchucking in their shorts by that time.
The scene that really endears us to the Phantom though comes when he spies on Christine and her lover on the roof of the Opera House. Here, we see the Phantom’s heart breaking, and we immediately want to see him get some revenge on that tart. That’s what makes the Phantom better than a lot of the Old School Movie Monsters: We actually care about him. The Technicolor scene where the Phantom shows up to a costume ball dressed up as The Red Death is pretty cool too.
The Phantom gets the best line of the movie when he tells Christine, “Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my accursed ugliness!”
The Phantom of the Opera is Number 3 on The Video Vacuum List of the Greatest Silent Movies of All Time, just below Nosferatu, and right above Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.