When I watch a horror movie from the 80’s, I inevitably have the thought of “how the hell did this movie get made?” Don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely amazing horror films that came out of the 80’s that are stone cold classics. John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all time favorite films, and it’s hard to go wrong with the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, but for every one of those classics, there’s at least five Boogeyman II’s (sorry Boogeyman II fans, but you know it’s bad). Whether the movie was good or bad though, the Hollywood strategy was pretty tried and true: make it cheap, and turn a profit. That philosophy led to a flood of low budget horror films, many of which would be forgotten, or worse, end up at the bottom of a $5 DVD bin at Wal-Mart.
In 1989, the film studio that brought us Silent Night Deadly Night must have had a panic because they realized that the 1990’s were only one year away and there hadn’t been enough Phantom of the Opera adaptations made into horror films. Sure, Robert Englund’s weird mashup was set to be released the same year, but was his set in a mall (if you haven’t seen it, it definitely was not set in a mall)? Armed with 3 million dollars and a relatively unknown cast, director Richard Friedman set out to create his vision of a 1980’s capitalistic-mall extravaganza Phantom of the Opera.
The film opens with a pep talk to investors at the new mall that is set for a grand opening soon. Melody and Suzie have both found new jobs at the mall, and everything is the picture perfect ode to capitalism, except that there is a shadowy figure lurking in the mall, but so far no one is dead so all is well. Enjoying their time in the mall Melody and Suzie stop by the frozen yogurt stand where Buzz (Pauly Shore) tries his very best to hit on Suzie, and to throw in a little bit of exposition into the story. Buzz knows that Melody lost her boyfriend in a horrific house fire and she hasn’t been the same since.
A young reporter has also come to the mall to investigate a strange fire that happened before the mall was built, but he quickly develops a big crush on Melody in the process. Since we are about 15 minutes into the film and nothing has really happened yet, I guess the director decided that it was time for someone to die. That someone turns out to be a poor security guard who was just investigating a noise in the duct work. He meets his end by having his face shoved into a fan. That sounds cool and all, but don’t get excited because you don’t actually get to see it. Just an offscreen kill followed by a poorly lit shot of some rudimentary special effects makeup work.
Phantom of the Mall suffers from a lot of problems, one of which is really just being pretty uneventful, but its biggest problem is the underutilization of the best characters in the film. To hit the 80’s slasher nudity quota, a security guard who is working in the camera room is watching a feed from the women’s dressing room at one of the stores in the mall, and the guy is being as sleazy as he can be in the process, but he whole time, his supervisor is watching him in disapproval. His supervisor is none other than Ken Foree, one of the stars of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. I was pretty excited about this because Foree is an awesome actor and I had no idea that he was even in this movie. Ok, I can make it through this now. I was wrong, as Foree is mostly just used as a background character and has no real substance in the film.
Sleazy Security Guard #1 (he is actually credited as just “security guard” but I like my title better) is sent off to investigate another strange sound in the duct system and we finally meet the Phantom of the Mall. The Phantom is a guy who seems to be living under the mall with access to the video security feeds and to make sure that he fits the description of the “Phantom”, he wears the broken half of a mannequin face over part of his burned face. I’m really not sure if the film was trying to conceal the fact that this is Eric, Melody’s boyfriend who died in the fire, but based on the title of the film it is pretty obvious. I know, 80’s slasher films aren’t supposed to be intellectually challenging or anything, but the introduction of the character was just awkward. In a confrontation with a Sleazy Security Guard #1, Phantom Eric ends up squishing the guy with a forklift into an electrical panel that fries the guy and pops his eyes out. This sounds really cool, but it was just poorly executed as the makeup effects are just so low budget that they pulled me completely out of the movie. Most of the low budget slashers of the 80’s knew that their audience was there for the blood and boobs so they made sure to spend their money where it counted, and focused on fun makeup effects.
Sadly, the first real onscreen kill of the film sets the tone for the rest of the kills in the movie. As the film and story progress we find out that Eric and his parents owned a house on the land where mall owners wanted to build. With their unwillingness to sell their home and their land, mall owner Harv Posner (Jonathan Goldsmith), has their house burned with them in it. Eric and Melody were in the house along with Eric’s parents when the fire started, and Eric was only barely able to save Melody before the fire consumed him and the house. The mystery of the fire was never solved, hence the young handsome reporter, and the mall is set to open one year later. The movie intersperses some very weird sex scenes of Melody and Eric that end up with Eric being consumed in fire. I say they are weird, because they really go on for far too long, and once you know they are a dream, there really isn’t a need to continue to have them in the film. Their true purpose in the film is to highlight the PTSD that Melody lives with from the trauma of the fire and losing her boyfriend, but I felt like there were so many other ways to establish that. Plus, I don’t think this film had the intention to highlight mental health awareness.
Do you remember how I mentioned earlier the awesomeness of Ken Foree being in this movie? Well that was it. His character essentially just wanders around the mall taking orders from Posner on how to catch this mysterious killer who seems to be protecting Melody. Thankfully, the character that does get a decent amount of screen time is Buzz. I never thought that I would utter the words “Pauly Shore really carried this film,” but alas, I actually said them while discussing this movie. Even in 1989, several years before his career would explode, Shore had already developed the on screen persona that you would see in films like Encino Man and Bio Dome. His character in Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge was just a toned down trial run for his future films, but he was honestly the best part of this movie. His charisma on screen completely out shadowed every other actor, and left me wishing that he was the main character of this film. A Ken Foree and Pauly Shore buddy comedy set in a mall trying to catch a killer who is obsessed with the story of Phantom of the Opera. Again, this is why no one will ever let me make a movie.
After Melody discovers that the Phantom is actually Eric, and that he is killing off mall executives and security guards, she finds out that he has been trying to protect her and give her everything that she wants. In a very disappointing reveal, Eric removes his mask for her to show off his atrocious doll wig and halloween store latex mask. She has trouble looking at him, but I’m not sure if that is because he is so disfigured, or that she really thought the makeup effects would’ve been a lot better for the reveal of the main villain of the film. Either way, she suddenly realizes that she is over him and ready to move on even though she has had several weird sex dreams about him through the course of an hour and a half movie. I guess also finding out that the boyfriend that you thought was dead now lives under a mall, steals expensive things from stores, kills mall security guards, and practices karate is enough to make you ready to move on.
Our young handsome reporter, Peter, is trying to find Melody as he has started to piece together the truth about the house fire and Eric, and finds her in the tunnels under the mall with her former scorched lover. In an attempt to rescue her, a fight between Eric and Peter ensues, but Melody stuns Eric by telling him that she loves Peter (she just met the dude earlier in the evening, but I guess he is pretty handsome and would go on to star in Melrose Place, so I guess I’ll let it slide), and Peter is able to get the upper hand and escape with Melody. Eric still has to get his revenge though or else the title of the movie won’t make sense, so he is able to dispatch those involved in the arson and his parent’s murder, and detonate a bomb to destroy the mall. You did read that correctly. He detonates a bomb under the mall because the best way that he can protect his former love and bring the evil doers to justice is to blow up the mall.
I’m really glad you guys came on this ride with me, because I’m not sure if I could’ve done it alone. I’ve watched a ton of campy 80’s horror films, and believe me, I have seen plenty that are worse than Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge, but most of those didn’t even have a fraction of the budget, so I was willing to let a lot slide. With as much as I have berated this film, I think it will definitely find its place amongst slasher completists and those who soak up all things 80’s, but for me, I don’t think I will need to watch this one again.
The real underlying reason that we are talking about Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge is because Arrow video has painstakingly restored this film, which before was only available on VHS and a pretty roughly transferred DVD. As far as presentation goes, the film looks crystal clear and you can tell that more time was devoted to its restoration than perhaps was given to the making of the film, but Arrow Video doesn’t judge, and that’s one of the things I love about them. Just because a movie got destroyed by reviews and tossed aside, doesn’t mean that it is without diehard fans, and the folks at Arrow make sure that these films are treated with care and presented in the best way possible.
If you love all things 80’s, or maybe you are the world’s biggest Pauly Shore fan and need to make sure your Blu Ray copy of Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge is sitting comfortably next to your DVD copy of Son in Law (come on Arrow, I know it isn’t horror, but it’s Pauly Shore and ripe for the picking). Either way, Arrow’s restoration of Phantom of the Mall would make a worthy addition to your collection. You can also check it out early as part of the digital screenings taking place at FrightFest UK 2021.