There’s no use adding a summary for a movie I really hope most of you have already seen the story in some form or another(if not, for shame!), as Hammer didn’t deviate much from the traditional Phantom plot that we’ve all come to know and love. This isn’t to say that this version is simply a rehash of what came before. The origin of the Phantom is brand new. Revealing the origin would ruin the mystery for most people, so I will just say that Hammer moves away from the “deformed freak full of rage” as seen in most versions of the Phantom, and instead gives him an intrinsically human quality. This made it easier to sympathize with him (for almost any classic horror monster to work, there has to be some level of sympathy), and it worked very well in the film. Also, the origin actually gives a really good reason for the Phantom to be haunting the Opera in the first place instead of the “oh, him? He’s always been there.” tactic that most versions have used. That just made you more emotionally invested in both him and the story, which makes it one of the better versions of the tale ever told. But as far as it being the “best” Hammer film or even the “best” Terence Fisher film? I will let you decide.
The main reason the Phantom’s backstory works so well is due to Terence Fisher. He drops subtle clues early on indicating that the Phantom holds a deeper secret than what is being revealed. As the movie progresses, more and more clues are revealed, but he leaves the “big bang” for the climax. This formula never seems to fail when Fisher is behind the wheel. A good comparison would be to Hammer’s Captain Clegg, in which the audience know there is something more to the story than what is occurring, and it is this suspicion that keeps the audience’s attention. I dare say Phantom does it better, because the secret is more subtle. Whereas Captain Clegg is just a series of random scenes that you have to “wait and see how they connect,” Phantom leaves you with the feeling that there COULD be a deeper secret, but it is entirely possible that there isn’t. This subtlety is not often seen in Hammer, but when it’s done, it’s often done to perfection.
The Phantom of the Opera is a Hammer classic that will be enjoyed by all those who love Hammer or classic horror monsters. But like most enjoyable Hammer films, it has flaws that can hardly be ignored, which makes it undeserving of the pedestal it is given. Go in with high expectations, as it will surely meet them. Just don’t go in thinking this is “the” quintessential Hammer experience, as you’ll be setting yourself up to be disappointed.