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MOVIE REVIEW : A 'Phantom' Too Many

December 04, 1989|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

For 64 years, Gaston Leroux's 1911 grand guignol "The Phantom of the Opera" has been inspiring movie adaptations. The 1925 Lon Chaney version remains the most famous; Brian DePalma's 1974 "Phantom of the Paradise" is the wildest and weirdest. Now comes "Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge" (citywide).

This schlock-slasher version of Leroux's shocker--with the Phantom turned into a burned, vengeful teen prowling the air-tunnels of a posh suburban shopping mall--is, hands down, the most inept, pointless, puerile and inane.

Makers of bad movies should hold their breath in awe after watching this one. Scarcely a scene isn't gross or ridiculous, scarcely a performance isn't forced or shallow, scarcely a line of dialogue isn't a burbling, awkward cliche. There's a perfection of awfulness here that almost commands respect; it can't have been easy to keep going on this picture after a look or two at the rushes.

"Phantom" is monomaniacally constructed--not a single establishing shot to show us where we are--and the cinematography and sound are so muddy it's hard to see and hear what's going on. That's often a point in the film's favor.

Just as monomaniacally, poor, lava-faced Eric--who has developed superhuman strength and karate ability while working out in the furnace room--prowls through the crawl spaces peeking protectively through vents and erupting murderously over repeated rape attempts on his blond darling (Kari Whitman). Meanwhile, we are introduced to the usual horror-movie assortment of giggling, buxom bimbos, obtuse cops, lecherous brats, unkempt villains and clownish sidekicks--including a fey frozen-yogurt salesman who slips latex ears into his desserts.

Shop after shop is visited and displayed. Shock after moldy shock is thrown at us: snakes in the toilets, decapitations, skewerings, heads shoved into electric fans and that "Octopussy" climax of the computerized ticking time bomb.

But, sunk in the lugubrious ooze of director Richard Friedman's storytelling, there's little suspense, even less suspension of disbelief and only one quasi-original character. Morgan Fairchild pops up, and out, as the local mayor--the kids all call her "Karen"--who, for some mysterious reason, dresses like a Las Vegas hooker or game show hostess in blue-spangled, low-decolletage gowns, while spending a bizarre amount of time hanging out at the mall.

A caveat: "Phantom of the Mall" (MPAA rated R for sex, extreme violence, nudity and language) is frequently obnoxious and disgusting, but seldom more frightening than "The Little Mermaid." And while the ads warning away theater patrons with high blood pressure may be disingenuous, you are in fact likely to expire of apoplexy inside, while thinking of the money you spent on the tickets.

'PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE'

A Fries Entertainment Presentation. Producer Tom Fries. Director Richard Friedman. Script Scott J. Schneid, Tony Michelman, Robert King. Music Stacy Widelitz. With Derek Rydall, Jonathan Goldsmith, Rob Estes, Pauly Shore, Kari Whitman, Morgan Fairchild.

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).

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