Review: "The Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge"

or: "I was a Teenage Phantom"


Note: This review is written with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. No offense is meant to the fans of the movie -- either one of you ;-)

 

This past weekend, I was cataloging the various Phantom items I have collected over the years when I came across a long-forgotten recording of that late 80s cinematic extravaganza: "The Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge." I immediately popped it into my VCR and sat transfixed by this lost gem. And being the gracious fellow that I am, I felt compelled to share my thoughts with those of you who had the great misfortune of missing its original limited theatrical engagement (pulled from theaters a week after its release -- it was obviously ahead of its time).

 

Directed by Richard Friedman, auteur of such films as "Scared Stiff" and "Doom Asylum," this 1989 epic featured such master thespians as Pauly Shore ("Bio-Dome"), Rob Estes ("Suddenly Susan") and screen legend Morgan Fairchild ("Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000"). My only regret is that Vanilla Ice had yet to emerge onto the public scene in order to claim the title role. A role which, I'm sure you all would agree, would have secured his name in the annals of film history.

 

But I digress.

 

Its cinematography surpassed that of "Citizen Kane," and the acting (as you can surely tell by the few actors I've already named) rivaled that displayed in Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet." And the music? Ah, the music... But enough gushing, let me enthrall you with the details.

 

The screenwriters did a masterful job updating the classic tale for modern times. Replacing the Opera House with a mall? What brilliance! Brian de Palma was on the right track when he set his "Phantom of the Paradise" in a discotheque, but it lacked the symbolism and dramatic possibilities that a shopping mall provides (just thinking about the tense scenes filmed in the Windsor Fashions and Sam Goody stores makes my heart race!)

 

While I'm sure you'd all want me to go into a scene-by-scene description and analysis, it would be want of me to rob you of the pleasure of the thrills and surprises it contains. Therefore, I shall only give you a brief rundown of the plot and describe a few key scenes which make this a standout among "Phantom" films.

 

The film involves the grand opening of the Midwood Mall, built atop a former residential area. Eric ("Erik," as portrayed by Derek Rydall) has been dead for a year, and his girlfriend Melody ("Christine," played by Kimber Sissons) and their friends Buzz ("The Persian," played by Pauly Shore) and Suzi ("Meg," played by Kari Whitman) all get jobs there. At the big press event opening the establishment, Melody catches the eye of a photojournalist named Peter ("Raoul," played by Rob Estes). It turns out that they met the year prior: they were both at the scene when her boyfriend's house burned to the ground, making the way for the mall developers to begin construction. Eric had helped Melody escape but was apparently burned to death in the conflagration. Melody believes it was arson (perhaps it was the strange man dousing her with gasoline prior to the firemen arriving that raised her suspicions) and Peter promises to help her solve the mystery. Little does she know that a masked figure in ball cap and varsity jacket watches her every move from the security monitors in the batcave -- excuse me -- the lair...

 

It is a staple of all "Phantom" films to have an unmasking scene, and this movie delivers in a clever update. After rescuing Melody from the arsonist who has taken a position as a security guard, Eric takes her to his lair in the catacombs beneath the mall. She awakens on his leather sofa and sees her savior doing pulldowns on his weight machine nearby. She slowly walks up behind him, but no, she doesn't rip his mask off to reveal his charred face as you would suspect. Melody instead simply says, "Hello Eric." He then obliges her by removing the mask himself. She shows no fear in seeing him unmasked but once he shows her the department store wardrobe that he has picked out for her, Melody suddenly remembers she has a life and a handsome new boyfriend aboveground, which rouses Eric's anger. Ah, cinema at its best.

 

But for me, the best acting in the film came in a touching scene involving Suzi and Buzz. In it, Suzi laments over her lack of companionship while Buzz attempts to console her. Here is an excerpt from the script:

 

Suzi: "How come all the girls who don't want a boyfriend get one and the girls who do, don't, huh?"

Buzz (reassuringly): "Lots of guys like you, Suzi."

Suzi (dramatic pause): "Not the ones that really matter."

Buzz gestures to himself and smiles.

Suzi: "I mean, what would this world be if all the people who wanted to buy cars couldn't, and the ones that could had them given to them?"

Buzz: "That would be pretty kinda like, messed up, huh?"

 

Surely, even Sir Laurence Olivier could not have given a more inspired performance!

 

Finally, let me address, briefly, the music. No expense was spared to gather the finest of 80s hair bands to perform on the soundtrack. Yet they were all eclipsed by the stunning rock and roll anthem, "Is There a Phantom in the Mall?" by The Vandals. As hummable as anything Lord Lloyd Webber has written, it made its debut during a party scene and later was reprised over the closing credits. Sadly, through the fault of the studio hierarchy, no soundtrack was officially released for the fans to treasure. But now, I share with you some of the lyrics:

 

chorus:
Is there a Phantom in the Mall?
folks are bound to ask
Is he the Phantom of the Mall?
Or just some retard in a broken hockey mask?

 

Clearly, even with those few lines, the brilliance of the songwriters shines through!

 

It is a crime that the dilletantes at the AFI neglected to include this masterpiece in their top 100 films of the century. "Lawrence of Arabia"? "Gone with the Wind"? "Casablanca"? Pshaw! Robert Friedman's "Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge"! Now there is a landmark -- nay, epochal -- cinematic masterpiece!

 

R.

 

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