Cinema’s ‘Golden Age of Horror’ – it was a time when silent silver-screen terrors petrified audiences with unrelenting fear. While filmmaking technology and technique have changed much since the 1920s, many of those classic films are far from forgotten – and few-to-none are more remembered than the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, starring the legendary Lon Chaney.
The Phantom of the Opera, based on Gaston Leroux’s classic novel, was a box-office hit for Universal back in the day and has since sparked a series of remakes, re-interpretations, and re-imaginings for close to a century after its release. Even so, none can compare to the latest iteration of Chaney’s masterwork: a sound ‘talkie’ version of the silent film, digitally re-mastered in 3D!
To get the monstrous details on this upcoming release, we were fortunate enough to speak with Terror Inc. Films, who, with Shadowland Productions are behind this phan-tastic project.
MIDDLE EARTH COLLECTORS: Tell us a little about this new re-imagining of Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. The press release stated that it was going to be in 3D, but what about this ‘sound’ business? Can you elaborate on the details of both?
TERROR INC. FILMS: First off, let us start by saying that it feels great to finally divulge some details of this project. From concept-to-post production we’ve been working on this for little over a year and have done our best to keep it under wraps.
On September 6th, 2011, Terror Inc. Films, in association with Shadowland Productions, will be releasing Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera on a 2-Disc DVD Set like it’s never been seen before. This version, titled The Angel of Music Edition, will feature an all-new dubbed dialogue track with sound effects and a new musical score. The inter-titles are all gone and, with the addition of actual dialogue, it will be like watching a ‘talkie’. Honestly, it no longer looks like it was ever made as a silent film!
And that’s not even the half of it – the film will also be re-mastered in 3D. Each DVD Set will come with 2 pairs of 3D glasses (these will be the red-and-cyan glasses, so viewers can watch it in 3D on any TV). We’re aware that there are some who may also want to see the film in standard 2D, so that version is included as well. Both versions incorporate the new soundtrack, dub, and effects.
In addition, this translation of Chaney’s Phantom is a complete re-edit and has never before been seen. There are two versions currently in existence of The Phantom, a 1925 print and a 1929 print – both employing different camera angles, alternate takes, and differing scenes. We’ve edited both of these prints into one definitive version, adhering closely to the original script and character’s original dialogue. Countless hours have been spent attempting to make The Angel of Music Edition the ultimate Phantom experience while remaining respectful to the original source material. We’ve strived to use the best possible prints available and have done our best to restore and re-master them using every technology at our disposal, including touching-up and color-correcting the famous Masquerade scene like its never been done before.
MEC: That sounds impressive! Can you tell us a little more about the new script written for this dub-track?
TIF: The script was an undertaking all by itself. We wanted to stay very close to the 1925 shooting-script for the film. For those who may not know, The Phantom of the Opera had a very troubled production history with many rewrites, though we decided to focus on the Elliot Clawson and Raymond Shrock screenplays, which were closest to Gaston Leroux’s original novel.
Our dub incorporates aspects from both Clawson and Shrock’s scripts, along with adding dialogue reminiscent of the novel and even integrating a few nods to later Phantom films. Of course, all of this had to be done while matching the actors lip movements to our voice actors – no small feat, let me tell you. But the results are nothing short of staggering.
Some purists might consider it heresy to dub a silent film, and that’s understandable. However, it’s worth nothing that we’re not the first people to dub The Phantom. Universal had actually dubbed the Phantom back in 1929-1930 for a sound re-release to compete with the early ‘talkies’. New scenes were shot and Norman Kerry, who played Raoul and Mary Philbin, who starred as Christine, dubbed their lines for the film. Chaney was unable to because he no longer had a contract with Universal, but was with MGM at the time, so the Phantom’s lines were left silent. Even so, the film became a sound-picture. Today the sound version has been lost, though some of the original Vitaphone sound disks do exist, albeit in poor condition.
In our dub we wanted to modernize it without being modern, if that makes any sense. We’ve used Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (the first official horror film with sound) as a template to base The Phantom on. Our version has a very early ‘30s feel to it.
MEC: How did you come up with the idea of making The Phantom of the Opera a sound film and converting it into 3D?
TIF: It goes without saying that Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera is a piece of cinematic history. Though Nosferatu, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and even Chaney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame predate it, Phantom was really the film that set the stage for Universal’s legendary horror pictures of the ‘30s.
Sadly, silent movies today don’t seem to get the respect they deserve – at least by younger fans of the genre. With that said, even some older horror enthusiasts have expressed ‘difficulty’ in watching silent films in their entirety. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise. In an age of high definition, surround sound, and louder-flashier movies, there becomes a line of thought that ‘the older films are inferior’. Of course, this is the furthest thing from the truth – but silent films do tend to have a slower pacing. Remember, in the era of silent films, the marvel of the motion picture was relatively new. Hence, the spectacle at seeing moving images on a big screen was an awe in-and-of itself. Something that we’ve lost today. Heck, in this age, there are people who avoid black and white films, not to mention silent flicks.
A little over a year ago, we started toying with the idea of somehow ‘revitalizing’ some of these silent films for a new generation – while still remaining true to the fans of the original source material. We seriously considered many of these concepts and that really got the ball rolling.
From the outset our plan was to focus first on Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. I’ll openly admit, all of us here are a bit of a diehard Phantom enthusiasts (otherwise known as a Phantom phanatics), and know more about the history of the 1925 film than anyone would really care to hear about.
Taking this love of the Phantom, we set out to create a version that would breathe fresh life into the film and hopefully gather new audiences while making those who already appreciate the film feel like they’re seeing it for the first time.
We were always interested in seeing how a silent film would translate with sound, and the results were better than we could have ever imagined. As for 3D, we've always been a fan of 3D films – especially the ones from the 1950s and 1980s. Personally, I almost have less of an appreciation for the ones currently being released. Sure, James Cameron’s Avatar revolutionized 3D and My Bloody Valentine is a great use of gimmicky 3D, but there’s something special about seeing screen-legends like Vincent Price in 3D. I was fortunate enough to see Price’s The Mad Magician in 3D years ago at a theater in Manhattan, and it was mind-blowing. The Creature From The Black Lagoon in 3D was another great experience.
I believe my thrill of seeing Vincent Price in 3D in The Mad Magician will be shared by Chaney fans when they see his ghastly make-up leap through the screen in our 3D version of The Phantom.
MEC: With the 2-Disc Angel of Music Edition, will there be any special features included on the DVD set?
TIF: Where to begin? We’ve loaded the Angel of Music Edition with special features! There’s a History of the Phantom featurette that examines the origins of Gaston Leroux’s novel, the storied path leading up to the making of the Chaney original, along with a look at the Phantom’s legacy in film, television, and literature – including Universal’s color remake, the Hammer version, Brian De Palma’s Phantom of The Paradise, the Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund iteration, and even the Andew Lloyd Webber play.
The first two premieres of Chaney’s Phantom ended so badly that the film had to be re-edited. Scenes were removed while others completely re-shot. During this process, the film’s original ending was replaced with the one we have today. While the footage of the original ending is lost, photos remain. We have painstakingly reconstructed the original ending, along with the infamous ‘cemetery scene’ as motion comics – giving viewers the closest way they can see these scenes come to life.
We’ve also included a new trailer for the Angel of Music version, a comparison between the 1925/1929 footage, a Phantom of the Opera-themed cartoon, a gallery of Phantom collectibles, memorabilia, and merchandise, and a few other surprises that we’re still working on!
MEC: Will the Angel of Music version be hitting the film festival circuit?
TIF: The Phantom of the Opera: Angel of Music Edition is currently scheduled to be shown at several select film festivals. We’re currently ironing-out the details but it will be nothing short of an event to remember. We’ll have more details in the coming month or two.
MEC: Where will we be able to get a copy of The Phantom of the Opera: The Angel of Music Edition?
TIF: Late fall 2011 The Phantom of the Opera: The Angel of Music Edition will be available exclusively at www.thephantomspeaks.com and at www.middleearthcollectibles.com. We will be expanding to other markets through wider distribution in 2012. For those who can’t wait to get your copy of The Angel of Music Edition, our Phantom-themed premiere issue of Shadowland Magazine should be enough to tide you over – it makes a great companion piece to the DVD! The magazine's cover art alone, done by the very talented Dwayne Pinkney, is awe-inspiring!
We thank Terror Inc. Films for taking the time to conduct this interview. Visit The Phantom Speaks.com for more information on The Phantom of the Opera: Angel of Music Edition - and visit Shadowland Magazine's website at www.shadowlandmagazine.com for info on their premiere issue!