Phantom of the Mall Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Arrow Video

Directed by Richard Friedman
Written by Scott J Schneid, Tony Michelman and Robert King
1989, 91 minutes, Rated R
Released on November 23rd, 2021

Derek Rydall as Eric Matthews
Kari Whitman as Melody Austin
Rob Estes as Peter Baldwin
Kimber Sissons as Suzie
Jonathan Goldsmith as Harv Posner
Pauly Shore as Buzz
Morgan Fairchild as Mayor Karen Wilton



Members of the press, investors and employees are all present for the grand opening gala event at the newly completed Midwood Mall. Mayor Karen Wilton presides over the festivities and mall owner Harv Posner is in high spirits. Lots of attractive young people have landed jobs, including Melody Austin and her best friends Suzie and Buzz. A secret admirer sends Melody a beautiful dress and a bouquet of her favorite flowers, leaving her confused and slightly alarmed.

A reporter named Peter Baldwin recognizes Melody from a story he covered last year about a house fire that killed three people, including her boyfriend Eric. Peter starts asking questions and Melody says she can identify the elusive arsonist, who based on her description looks a lot like the scuzzy new security guard, Chris Volker. A masked man lurking in the shadows and making use of the oversized air ducts begins killing employees in a bloodthirsty quest for revenge. But who is he and who is his primary target?

Over the last one hundred years, Gaston Leroux’s classic novel The Phantom of the Opera has inspired numerous cinematic incarnations, starting with 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera starring the iconic Lon Chaney as the titular villain. Claude Raines played the lead in Universal’s remake twenty years later, and Herbert Lom donned the mask for Hammer Films’ version in 1962. Director Brian De Palma (Carrie) delivered a powerhouse interpretation with his tongue-in-cheek musical satire Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Andrew Lloyd Webber created the most successful production for Broadway in the 1980s. In 1989, the story was filmed yet again, this time starring Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) in the title role mixing elements of Gothic horror with contemporary slasher fare to mixed results. That same year, coming to theaters only a month later, was the goofy low-budget endeavor Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge.


Phantom of the Mall attempts to build suspense and does its best to pose something of a question around its villain’s identity. While it is fairly easy to guess who is killing people, audiences are given the answer before the film even starts thanks to some meddling producers who added the baffling subtitle: Eric’s Revenge. It’s an unfortunate decision that undercuts the mystery and hobbles the introduction of any suspects or red herrings. Yes, Eric survived the fire and haunts the mall built on the ashes of his former home. He is horribly burned about the face and neck but is otherwise in top physical form as he routinely works out and practices martial arts. Missing from this version are all traces of prestige or visual flair and there is no connection to the world of music, except that our heroine is named “Melody”.

Originally written by Scott J. Schneid (Silent Night, Deadly Night) and Tony Michelman (Snowden on Ice), later to be radically rewritten by Robert King (The Nest), the script relocates the classic character from the depths of the French opera house to that totally bitchin’ ‘80s location – the indoor shopping mall(!) and mayhem ensues. Directed by Richard Friedman (Scared Stiff), this Phantom embraces many of the overly familiar tropes of the slasher genre and mixes in some action movie clichés for good measure. There are grisly murders, a dash of gore, car chases, explosions, a deadly cobra and it also features the inspired pairing of Pauly Shore and Morgan Fairchild! The story is pretty stupid, but everyone plays it straight and luckily the film never takes itself too seriously.

This movie’s biggest asset is its primary location – the mall – specifically the Sherman Oaks Galleria. In the 1980s this was the Hollywood mall, appearing in a wide variety of movies, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Valley Girl, Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall, Innerspace and the Arnold Schwarzenegger classics, Commando and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Friedman does his best to make the place spooky and kind of succeeds when shooting the phantom’s lair in the basement maintenance area. The extensive ventilation shafts create a sort of maze for our heroes to navigate in the finale and even a usually benign escalator proves deadly. Friedman also tries to keep things lively by staging a car chase through the parking garage.


Derek Rydall (Popcorn) stars as Eric Matthews, the lovesick Phantom. If you approach it from a teen-angst perspective, maybe his fears of rejection due to his disfigurement are understandable, but his post-fire behavior is totally insane and selfish. His old flame (sorry) deserves to know he is alive and given the chance to help them both ease their grief. Instead, he stalks her using mall surveillance cameras and a portable VHS camcorder recording her every move. His “revenge” begins against staff members who had absolutely nothing to do with the fire or his injuries, including a security guard and maintenance man simply doing their jobs. He may be a victim, but he’s also a major asshole. Playboy playmate Kari Whitman (Beverly Hills Cop II) co-stars as Melody Austin, and Rob Estes (Uninvited) is the roving reporter/love interest, Peter Baldwin. Peter’s a decent guy who genuinely wants to help Melody gain closure. The two share decent chemistry and keep viewers firmly on their side.

Whenever he’s looking for Melody, Peter has an impressive knack for tracking down her friend Buzz for help. Buzz, played by Pauly Shore (Encino Man), performs double duty as a source for comic relief and exposition. The role isn’t too demanding and Shore handles it well. Kimber Sissons (Martial Law II: Undercover) does a serviceable job as Melody’s best friend Suzie, but she isn’t a very exciting character. Morgan Fairchild (The Seduction) lends marquee value as Mayor Karen White, a key figure in the community who has her fair share of secrets. “The Most Interesting Man in the World” Jonathan Goldsmith (Hang ‘em High) and Gregory Scott Cummins (Blood Games) do a fine job as the dirtbag mall owner and scuzzy security guard respectively. Genre fans will be happy to see Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) in a shopping mall again, this time as the chief of security, Tom Fridley (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) as the mall owner’s delinquent son and eagle-eyed viewers will spot a quick cameo from Brinke Stevens (The Slumber Party Massacre) in a changing room.

Eric may be a deranged killer, but he is not a raging psychopath. He cares for his friends, Melody, Suzie and Buzz and keeps them safe from danger – thereby eliminating any notion of them joining the body count. So his identity is not very secret, his friends are on a “No Kill” list and he lashes out at most anyone else he meets. Eric is not the only killer in the mall, as there is also arsonist Chris Volker and a deadly snake that likes to hide in toilets! Phantom of the Mall is a latter-day slasher from the end of the decade, light on scares, but it is pretty lively and knows exactly what kind of film it is. The picture found its audience on VHS and frequent late-night cable appearances and is finally available in glorious HD. Shop till you drop.


Video and Audio:

The film’s original interpositive has received a 2K scan and restoration and the results are impressive. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, picture quality has never been stronger, featuring bold colors that really pop and plenty of small-object detail. There are a number of scenes shot in the shadows and black levels are mostly solid with some moments of crush and a healthy amount of grain throughout.

An LPCM 2.0 track preserves the original sound recordings and provides a satisfying listening experience. Dialogue levels are steady and free from any hiss, pops or other distortion while music cues and sound effects remain well-balanced and never intrusive. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.


Special Features:

This 2-disc release offers three versions of the feature: Disc 1 features the Original Theatrical Cut (91 minutes) and all of the supplemental material, while Disc 2 houses the TV Cut (89 minutes) and bonus Integral Fan Cut (96 minutes).

There are three audio commentaries, starting with director Richard Friedman in conversation with Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher. We learn of Friedman’s background and how he became attached to this project as a director-for-hire. He shares numerous production stories about the challenges and budget limitations he encountered as well as a scary story of a flooding accident inside the mall.

The second commentary finds Arrow Video’s Ewan Cant and author/film historian Amanda Reyes enthusiastically sharing memories and trivia about this film and other mall-based movies of the era. They provide detailed information on the original script before budget cuts and a heavy rewrite significantly altered the end product. We learn interesting bits about the director as well as the cast and crew and the mall itself.

The third commentary consists of two audio interviews conducted by Felsher; one with composer Stacy Widelitz (Return to Horror High) and the other with associate producer Robert J. Koster (Futureworld). Recorded separately, both gentlemen begin with a bit of biographical background info before moving on to discuss their careers and their work on this film. I found Koster’s to be the more entertaining segment, as his production stories are rather interesting, particularly his version of the flooding incident.

In the new retrospective documentary Shop ‘Til You Drop: The Making of Phantom of the Mall (42 minutes), writers Tony Michelman and Scott J. Schneid and filmmaker Tony Kayden reveal how the original story was taken out of their hands and heavily changed. Friedman is on hand to talk about his directing duties and share production stories. We also hear from actors Derek Rydall and Gregory Scott Cummins and special make-up effects artist Matt Mungle. This is an oddly humorous and highly entertaining documentary that doesn’t shy away from candid remarks, particularly from the writers who are still pretty raw about what happened.

The Vandals Go to the Mall (13 minutes) catches up with musician Joe Escalante of punk band The Vandals, who talks about getting into the music scene, his experiences working with filmmaker Penelope Spheeris on Suburbia and Dudes and how he came to write the catchy theme song for this movie.

A collection of alternate and deleted scenes (7 minutes) are taken from alternate footage that appeared in the TV version, including a different intro featuring Eric’s gymnastic abilities and a few additional character beats cut for pacing.

There is an interesting Easter egg located to the right of the deleted scenes tab featuring yet another version of the film (Eric’s Secret “Subterranean Cut, 91 minutes) worth checking out.

A photo gallery (58 images) includes production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, promotional shots, international poster art, newspaper clippings and VHS covers.

A pair of theatrical trailers is also included.

Disc 2 contains the TV Cut and the Integral Fan Cut.



Movie: Cover
Overall: 4 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
Other articles by this writer


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