Back in 1989, Robert Englund had a dream of launching a new horror franchise based on Gaston Leroux's early 20th century chiller The Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately, the experience turned into one of the nightmares created by his Elm Street-dwelling alter ego, Freddy Krueger. To be clear, Englund is happy with the Phantom picture he made — his regrets have more to do with the one that got away courtesy of behind-the-scenes conflicts outside of his control.
"I'm still fond of that film," Englund tells Yahoo Entertainment now. "What happened was that there was always this second film to piggyback on it. That's why the version of The Phantom of the Opera that was released had this strange ending — it's to set up this great sequel script, which was never made."
The opportunity to make Phantom came along five years after New Line's Nightmare on Elm Street franchise transformed Englund from a character actor taking shots at Burt Reynolds into a horror icon. With Andrew Lloyd Weber's hit musical packing Broadway and West End theaters, screenwriter Gerry O'Hara had the bright idea for a modern-day update of the original novel. And who better to follow in the footsteps of the most famous onscreen Phantom — "Man of a Thousand Faces" Lon Chaney — than the man wearing Freddy Krueger's face?
Englund didn't require a lot of convincing to get on a plane to Budapest to make the new Phantom, which finds rising opera star Christine Daaé (Jill Schoelen) traveling back in time from the 1980s to the 1880s. There, she falls under the spell of a so-called "opera ghost," Erik Destler, who sold his soul to the Devil for the ability to write music that could speak the language of love. The price of that transaction? Erik's handsome face.
Just as Weber's Phantom is a magnet for lovers of all things Goth, Englund says that his take on the character won over that audience as well. "I still get tons of fan mail about that film, because Goth fans find it romantic, dark and violent at the same time. That's a heady mixture for them." By the end of the movie, Christine is back in the 20th century and seemingly vanquishes the still-living Phantom at last. But the closing moments suggest that his tune hasn't completed faded out...
As much as Englund likes the first Phantom, he thinks the never-made sequel would really have been something special. "The script was about the the Phantom living in a subterranean world in New York," he remembers, comparing it to Guillermo del Toro's 1997 horror movie Mimic. "He has this [gang] of Lost Boys who are these punk rock runaway homeless kids that he feeds and takes care of, and he lives in an old robber baron's train car. Then, from the subway, the Phantom hears a busker performer for commuters and it's a blind girl who becomes his muse. Her voice is the voice that will bring his music back alive."
Locating the girl, the Phantom becomes her protector, saving her and her violinist father from a skinhead attack. Her condition means that she can't see his disfigured face, and accepts him based on his actions, not his appearance. "He's able to talk to her and give her his music," says Englund, picking up the narrative. "She takes his song to audition for the New York City Opera. She gets [the part] and they put their money together to give her an eye operation that cures her blindness."
Unfortunately, regaining her sight means she'll no longer be seeing the Phantom. "He goes to see her debut at the opera, and as he leaves, he covers himself up," Englund says, setting the stage for the tragic finale. "The last shot is him walking down 5th Avenue. He lifts a manhole cover up with his cane and then goes underneath and then pulls the cover back as the snow is coming down. And that's the end! He's back in the bowels of Manhattan. It's this really arch romantic thing."
Originally set up with Cannon Films — the studio behind such canonical '80s VHS favorites as American Ninja and Over the Top — Phantom was ultimately backed by 21st Century Film Corporation, the company that emerged from the ashes after Cannon went bankrupt. But when the time came to fund the sequel, the money seemed to have dried up.
"Cannon Films divided itself and there was some conflict with the producers," Englund says. "Because of various factors — economic and otherwise — we never got to make it. But I'm fine with Phantom of the Opera. It was really an adventure."
Watch our full Role Recall with Robert Englund on YouTube below:
The Phantom of the Opera is currently available on Blu-ray at most major retailers, including Amazon.