GORE IN THE STORE
PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE ***
Directed by Richard Friedman.
Starring Derek Rydall, Gregory Scott Cummins, Kari Whitman, Pauly Shore,
Morgan Fairchild, Ken Foree.
Horror, USA, 91 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Arrow Video on 22nd November 2021.
In the ‘making of’ featurette on the disc for PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE, co-writer Scott Schneid claims that he got the idea for the story because nobody had set a horror movie in a shopping mall before; kind of ironic when you consider that not long after, Ken Foree of DAWN OF THE DEAD fame – you know, that classic horror movie set in a shopping mall - was cast to play a security guard. It is this kind of behind-the-scenes anecdote that makes the featurette one of the more entertaining retrospective documentaries about ‘80s horror movies to have surfaced in recent years but given that PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE had something of a troubled pre-production it was inevitable that, 30-plus years later, the story of how it got made ends up being more interesting than the movie itself.
If you hadn’t worked it out already, PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE is a take on Gaston Leroux’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, albeit set in a shopping mall in the 1980s. In this version Melody (Kari Whitman) is about to start a new job at a brand-new shopping mall that seems to be housing Eric (Derek Rydall) in its vents and dark corners. Eric is Melody’s former boyfriend who was believed to be dead after his house was burnt down the previous year, and he wants Melody back.
Coincidentally, Eric’s house was situated exactly where the mall now stands and the new security guard at the mall seems to resemble the guy who set his house on fire. Add to that a shady businessman mall owner, Morgan Fairchild as the Mayor who has hair too big even for 1989, John Travolta’s nephew playing a complete turd of a wild child (much like he did in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES, only more obnoxious) and an annoyingly catchy theme song by The Vandals that bears an uncanny resemblance to ‘London Dungeon’ by The Misfits and PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE is a snapshot of an era that knows the good times are behind it but still wants to give it one last hurrah regardless.
Unfortunately, despite the novel idea and surprisingly high production values for what is essentially a low-brow slasher, PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE doesn’t hit enough highs to put it up with any of the second-tier slashers of the decade, let alone the big boys like Freddy and Jason. If you believe Scott Schneid and his co-writer Tony Michelman then the finished movie is nothing like the script they originally wrote, the production company bringing in a third writer to re-write to their own brief, and the evidence of interference is there straight away in the movie’s title as Schneid and Michelman’s original title was just PHANTOM OF THE MALL, with no mention of revenge or who Eric was. Cue somebody in marketing with no clue what they were working with to add the necessary sub-title and now we have a title that sounds like a sequel and that tells you who did it.
For movie made on a $2 million budget – the original budget was apparently $4 million before the studio interference – it does look very good, with the gore effects better than you would expect, although there isn’t that many of them and the gaps between set pieces drags the pacing down quite a bit, especially in the final act when we all know who dd what and to whom but somebody saw fit to focus heavily on the romantic element of the story; yes, it is riffing on the original PHANTOM plot beats but this is supposed to be an energetic and youthful 1980s take, not a soap opera-style plodder. Still, at least Ken Foree looks mean as one of the mall security guards, even if he isn’t given that much to do.
As if Arrow Video knew the film on its own wasn’t going to cut it as a special edition, they dug deep and came up with three different versions of the film to include – a 2K restoration of the Theatrical Cut, a 2K restoration of the shorter TV Cut and the Integral Fan Cut that splices together all the footage from both versions and comes in at 96 minutes – so it’s all here if you want it, although having to sit through all three versions to decide which one you like best is an endurance test that only the dedicated horror afficionado could attempt. There is also an interview with The Vandals’ drummer Joe Escalante that sheds some light on the band’s history and how they came to be chosen to write a song for the movie, but the real gem in this set is SHOP TIL’ YOU DROP!: THE MAKING OF PHANTOM OF THE MALL, where Scott Schneid and Tony Michelman get to tell how the movie came to fruition just before director Richard Friedman gets to contradict them, resulting in both writers’ getting quite animated about how they perceived their work got altered. Actors Derek Rydall and Gregory Scott Cummins are also interviewed, and both have positive memories of their involvement, but a film set where everyone got on and had fun isn’t as much fun to hear about as writers and filmmakers at loggerheads behind the scenes.
Also included is a 60-page book about the movie, a poster and lobby cards so Arrow have gone above and beyond for a movie that doesn’t really deserve such lavish attention. It does have a few moments of fun and looks way more impressive than it should but ultimately it is a movie of empty calories that might give you an instant hit of ‘80s slasher goodness but once the initial rush of prosthetics and fake blood has washed over you there isn’t much to hold your attention for the rest of the running time. Best to watch the documentary as that gives you all the best clips, then put up the poster on your wall as the artwork is superb, and then watch CHOPPING MALL instead.