ANATOMY promo art
PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE
(1989,US)

3 stars  

directed by: Richard Friedman
starring: Derek Rydall, Jonathan Goldsmith, Rob Estes, Pauly Shore, Kari Whitman, Morgan Fairchild

choice dialogue:

"This ain’t Halloween, pall.”

- you can say that again.

slash with panache?

 

[review by JA Kerswell]

   PHANTOM OF THE MALL
  Melody (Kari Whitman) and her best friend Suzie (Kimber Sissons) start work at the mall unaware that someone lurks below ...

As one of its screenwriters bluntly said, it’s “Phantom of the Opera in a shopping mall.” This late 80s slasher redux of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel actually dates back to 1984 when the first script was completed. A teenager burnt alive, and presumed dead, takes revenge on the workers and co-owners of a new mall built on top of his razed home. The now horribly disfigured killer - who naturally hides his crispy visage behind a half-moon mask - still pines for the girlfriend he saved from the fire who now works at the shopping centre. PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE is irresistibly 80s, but its somewhat jigsaw approach sees it fall flat as often as it soars. But what other movie could you see Morgan Fairchild tossed from a great height and be impaled on a spiked statue in front of extras that are mistakenly looking the wrong way?

The new Midwood Mall opens to much fanfare by its sleazy owner Harv Posner (Jonathan Goldsmith) and his business partner and town mayor, the seemingly affable Karen Wilton (Morgan Fairchild). Melody (Kari Whitman) is still mourning her boyfriend Eric (Derek Rydall), who supposedly died in the mysterious fire that made way for the construction of the new mall. She puts any qualms aside about working on top of the resting place of her frazzled boyfriend and takes a job at the vast shopping centre alongside her best friend Suzie (Kimber Sissons). During the opening festivities, she catches the eye of hunky press photographer Peter (Rob Estes). Fellow mall worker Buzz (Pauly Shore) tries to convince Peter that the owners are up to no good by subliminally influencing shoppers with the tannoy system. However, they uncover a bigger conspiracy when they realise that one of the men who set the fire that destroyed Eric’s house (Christopher Volker) is now a security guard at the mall and is in cahoots with Posner.

Meanwhile, as everyone else is distracted, Eric - who although horribly burnt, didn’t die in the fire - is living in the tunnels below the mall (I’m sure every mall has ‘em!) where he has hacked into the security system and watches Melody as she goes about her work. He has also started to take revenge by hacking into security guards and handymen in a series of moderately gory ways - with his ultimate intention to reunite with Melody and destroy the mall once and for all …

   PHANTOM OF THE MALL
  Harv Posner (Jonathan Goldsmith) and Karen Wilton (Morgan Fairchild) survey their neon kingdom in PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE.

Slasher and romance stories are strange bedfellows, but the adaptation of the central themes of Gaston Leroux’s novel work here to some degree. However, the protestations of undying love and a doomed teen affair are somewhat at odds with the film’s cheesier tendencies - including one character dying after being bitten on the penis by an Indian cobra who rises out of a toilet bowl. It is no secret that PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE had a somewhat torturous journey from the original story idea to its actual lensing. As I mentioned, the script by Scott J Schneid - who had helped develop the infamous SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) - originated under the title THE MALL in 1984. Not to be confused with the unproduced THE MALL from 1981 - which was set to be directed by George Cosmatos and was due to be a slasher very much in the then en-vogue vein of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Schneid - like Cosmatos before him - rightly figured that a mall setting should resonate with a teen audience and he further developed a script with Tony Michelman that would directly attract that demographic (although Schneid seemed to be unaware of the existence of fellow mall slasher THE INITIATION (1984)). However, once the rights were purchased by producer Chuck Fries, the script was totally rewritten and the budget halved. Director Richard Friedman brought a little of the punk rock energy he employed in his films such as DOOM ASYLUM (1987), albeit diluted, and ultimately produced a movie that was a mish-mash of ideas and tones - although actually pretty enjoyable perhaps despite itself.

For anyone who grew up in the 80s hiring videos of relatively low-budget horror films and thrillers will be familiar with how the makers of those films almost felt duty-bound to add certain elements. PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE has almost everything bar the kitchen sink thrown into the mix. From fight scenes and karate moves, a car showdown that ends in an explosion, multiple stunts and a chase through the mall between a character and a psycho security guard. It even morphs into a 70s-style disaster movie in its closing minutes - albeit on a budget. There’s even a little nudity thrown in courtesy of an uncredited Brinke Stevens. In some ways, the slasher angle is sidelined. The gore, whilst competent, isn’t the focus here - and probably wouldn’t have given the MPAA sleepless nights.

However, PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE was actually destined for a limited cinema release - even if it was cursed with the needless addition to its title that gave the impression that it was a sequel. It was shot in southern California at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, Promenade Mall (now Westfield Promenade) and some interior scenes - notably the Phantom’s subterranean lair - were shot on specially constructed sets.

   PHANTOM OF THE MALL
  Eric (Derek Rydall) is the teenage phantom in one of the last theatrically released slashers of the 1980s.

The film had a regional rollout to some territories in late 1989 and was promoted to directly appeal to fans of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series. Somewhat predictably, it opened to not-so-good notices from critics who were on total burnout from a decade of slasher movies. Although, Bill O’Connor’s hysterical diatribe in The Akron Beacon Journal really takes the biscuit. He called the film “putrid junk” and said it was: “… a dirty, sleaze-ball piece of pornography that is meant to show children how important it is to combine nudity and violence.” This is despite only the briefest glimpses of nipples. The LA Weekly weren’t as harsh, but not overly positive either. Critic Mari Florence said: “Actually there’s more suspense than horror, although there isn’t really much of either.” New York’s genre-friendly critic The Phantom of the Movies wasn’t impressed either. He or she said the film suffered from: “… not only a hack plot but slack acting, indifferent direction and unimaginative gore fx.” Michael Wilmingtom in the LA Times scoffed at the promotional gimmick that warned people with high blood pressure to stay away lest they die of fright. He called the film: “… inept, pointless, puerile and inane.” He further twisted the knife by saying: “There 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.” Obviously - whilst I don’t think the film is top-tier - it really doesn’t warrant this overwhelmingly negative criticism either. Although, it is always important to take stock of just how much slasher films were hated by critics. Nostalgia is a great healer and PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE plays much better through that neon, big-haired 80s lens today despite its flaws.

Perhaps the film’s biggest sin is wasting Morgan Fairchild in a nicey-nicey role (at least until a late twist) when everyone knows you want Fairchild in full pinch-eyed bitch mode to elevate your movie. Not to mention genre regular Ken Foree is severely underutilised and largely wasted in a thankless role as another mall security guard. Eagle-eyed viewers might recognise Tom Fridley as the mall owner’s bratty son Justin. He had previously appeared in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986).

Co-incidentally, perhaps inspired by the movie, there were reports of a REAL ’Phantom of the Mall’ at the Lansdowne Park Mall in a suburb near Vancouver. In June of 1991, The Toronto Star ran an article about fears that someone was hiding out in the air ducts. Mall worker Fern Boyce was spooked and told the paper: “I know he’s up there … sometimes the maintenance guys in the morning have heard footsteps running up there.” There were, however, no reports of murder or even Kung Fu.

Ultimately, PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE failed to generate much interest on the big screen and arguably found its natural home on VHS. Chuck Fries had originally been enthusiastic about the prospects of the movie. In 1988, he told the LA Times: “On Halloween, Friday the 13th, there was a nightmare at the mall, Eric, the phantom, struck.” He also added: “I definitely see this as a franchise.” At the end of the movie the prone and presumably defeated Phantom fails to open his eyes for that one last shock twist. And his eyes have remained closed ever since.

 

PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE is available on DVD at Amazon.com.

 

BODYCOUNT  bodycount!   female: 1 / male: 7

1) Male stabbed to death
      2) Male has his face pushed into an electric fan
      3) Male crushed by a forklift and electrocuted
      4) Male bitten on his penis by a snake
      5) Male strangled with a jimp rope on an escalator
      6) Male decapitated by hydraulics
      7) Female impaled on a spike
      8) Male set on fire

 

 

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