Written by: Scott Schneid & Frederick R. Ulrich (story), Scott Schneid & Tony Michelman (screenplay), Robert King (screenplay)
Directed by: Richard Friedman
Starring: Derek Rydall, Jonathan Goldsmith, and Rob Estes
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"It gives me great personal pleasure to share with you this, our wonderful mall."
For his 80s update of Phantom of the Opera, director Richard Friedman retreated to one of the decadeís most popular haunts: the mall. I bet Gaston Leroux never saw that shit coming, and Iím guessing he started rolling around in his grave, at least until Phantom of the Mall: Ericís Revenge was unleashed upon the world and absolutely ruled. Seriously, how come this one hasnít been inducted into the pantheon of batshit slashers? The genre may have been on the decline by 1989, but youíd never know it from this film, which is less a death rattle and more a throaty, primal roar of defiance. Not content to go quietly into that good night, Phantom of the Mall closed the decade with a rad yawp by transforming the Sherman Oaks Galleria into a feverish site full of star-crossed high school romance, conspiratorial land grabs, murderous vendettas, inappropriate punk anthems, and Pauly Shoreís butthole.
A California town is totally stoked to open a new mall; so stoked, in fact, that theyíre scheduled an opening dedication presided over by its owner (Jonathan Goldsmith) and town mayor (Morgan Fairchild!) and a big Independence Day shindig to commemorate its opening. What they donít realize is that theyíre practically serving up a smorgasbord for their own Erik (er, Eric, here played by Derek Rydall), who has managed to infiltrate the bowels and unseen crevices of the place in order to take his revenge. Everyone from the poor night-watchman to the maintenance staff seems to be on the chopping block, but it soon becomes clear that Eric is stalking with a purpose that somehow involves Melody Austin (Kari Whitman) and her mallrat friends, much to the befuddlement of mall security (headed up by Ken Foree, who looks like he wandered in straight from the Death Spa set).
Scrutinizing this premise a little bit is revelatory: Iíll be damned if this isnít essentially a beefier update of Friedmanís own Doom Asylum, which is inherently amazing. I should really say no more because itís mind-boggling that anyone looked at that film and decided ďletís give that guy a bigger budget and turn him loose in a fucking mall this time.Ē Only instead of the deranged, lovelorn Coroner hanging out watching black and white movies between murdering folks, youíve got a melodramatic, lovelorn teenaged jock hovering over security monitors to check in on his ex-girlfriend and watch archive footage of her at the same time. If heís not bo-staff training, of course. (Naturally, most of his activities are scored by power ballads.)
Already this is sounding like one of the damnedest 80s slashers, right? Somehow, it gets even better. I mean, how many of these things have full-blown car chases in a mall parking garage and ludicrous stunt work? What about random rape attempts that are thwarted by the slasherís incredible crossbow precision? (Do I even need to mention that this story is relayed to and accepted by the authorities in the most matter-of-fact fashion imaginable?) Bomb threats? Pauly Shore playing hero on a police cycle? Just wait until you see how Friedman and company re-enact Phantomís famous chandelier sequence. For a cheap direct-to-video slasher, Ericís Revenge is audacious as hell and riotously entertaining as a resultówith so much lunacy swirling about, itís damn near impossible for dull moments to occur, especially since this overt stuff is merely accentuating the typical slasher silliness.
But even the predictable stuff is often heightened to absurd levels: it almost goes without saying that a slasher movie will feature dubious acting choices, bizarre characters, and loads of general stupidity. Phantom of the Mall takes all of this to another level, though; its characters arenít just brought to life by spotty turnsóitís as though everyone involved were committed to convincing viewers that these actors are aliens who have never observed actual human interaction. Check out pre-90s soap opera Rob Estes, who turns every reaction shot into a goddamned slack-jawed adventure. Witness a pre-Weasel Shore subjecting audiences to his ass-crack (when Nietzsche was talking about the abyss, Iím sure this is exactly what he had in mind). Bask in Tom Fridley filling the role of obligatory jerk-ass as the mall ownerís son: decked out in the same denim-centric outfit he wore in Jason Lives, he blazes through Phantom of the Mall like a petulant little shit, managing to graduate from petty theft to full-bore sexual harassment. All in a dayís work.
Even the filmís requisite cheesy end-credits song is actually an ass-thrashing Vandals ditty that wonders if the title character really is a phantom in the mall or just ďsome retard in a broken hockey mask.Ē The answer is that heís sort of both. While Eric is definitely just an unhinged high school dope who thinks slaughtering everyone will allow for a reunion with his lost love (and you can imagine how great this comes off when he whines about it), he doesnít fuck around. The mall becomes a one-stop shop for mayhem and mutilation, though it helps that Eric has so much at his disposal: trash compactors, snakes, screwy electric panels, fully-operational flame-throwers (this is one hell of a mall, let me tell you), etc. All of the eccentricities would just be sort of amusing if Phantom of the Mall failed as a slasher flick, but itís even incredible on this front.
Then again, itís almost a minor miracle that the death sequences in any slasher film almost feel like grace notes instead of the main movement. Like Doom Asylum (or any other bonkers slasher), Phantom of the Mall scatters so much weirdness around the edges that one wonders how itís been buried in the parade of late 80s slashers because it makes a pretty good case that it should be the grand marshal. I never even got around to watching it on DVD for this very reason, but it proved to be a fortuitous oversight since the Drafthouse screened it for Terror Tuesday during my annual visit to Austin (which in turn begets my annual proselytizing for those fine folksóanyone committed to this sort of programming is clearly doing the lordís work).
Even though Phantom of the Mallís kookiness would be hard to resist in any setting, seeing it in 35mm surrounded by a raucous, late-night crowd is the ideal venue for its lunacy to be appreciated. Hopefully Iím not the only one who emerged from this screening with such an appreciation--Phantom of the Mall only seems like itíd be one of those better-left-forgotten late-era slashers. Actually, itís one of the more unforgettable efforts to emerge from that cycle, and, with its lone DVD edition having gone out-of-print, itís likely to fade further into obscurity. Thatíd be a damn shame because we definitely deserve to live in a world where Ericís Revenge is preserved and celebrated as a definitive artifact of the age: yes, there was a time when someone decided to reimagine Phantom of the Opera as a particularly airheaded episode of Saved by the Bell, and it was glorious. Buy it!
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