Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989)

...aka: Eric's Revenge
...aka: Kasvoton tappaja (Faceless Killer)
...aka: Phantom des Todes (Phantom of Death)
...aka: Phantom Nightmare

Directed by:
Richard Friedman

Good-looking, popular teen Eric Matthews (Derek Rydall) has a bright future ahead with dreams of becoming an Olympic gymnast and sweet, pretty girlfriend Melody Austin (Kari Whitman) by his side. Coinciding with Eric and his parents' refusal to leave so developers can tear down their home and build a modern shopping center in its place, there's a mysterious fire and both Eric and his parents are killed. Melody was there when it happened and spotted a strange man wearing some kind of metal religious symbol as an earring lurking about. She's positive the man had something to do with setting the fire. Unfortunately for her, her memories are hazy from hitting her head and no one believes her anyway, so the company planning on putting up the mall now conveniently get the now-vacant plot of land they desperately wanted. A year later, construction on the mall is finally complete, with sleazebag owner Harv Posner (Jonathan Goldsmith), glamour puss town mayor Karen Walton (Morgan Fairchild, who really means business with her massive shoulder pads) and other prominent members of the community showing up for the big ribbon cutting ceremony. All the while, someone is lurking around in the mall's air vents... watching... and waiting to strike.

That “someone” is, of course, Eric, who didn't actually die in the fire but was instead badly burnt and now wants revenge on the greedy developer who, of course, is the one responsible for ordering the burning of his home and thus ruining his life in the process. When he's not pumping iron or practicing his martial arts moves, Eric's having fun terrorizing Harv in a variety of ways, like using a rope and the escalator to strangle his obnoxious, spoiled son (played by John Travolta's nephew, Tom Fridley) and sending the perverted security guard (John Walter Davis) he's just electrocuted through a vent directly onto Harv's desk with a note attached that says “An eye for an eye.” Not to cause a stir or hurt business, Harv decides to hide the security guard's body and then calls up Christopher Volker (Gregory Scott Cummins), the same punk who pulled off the arson routine, to pose as a security guard and snuff out any trouble he happens to stumble upon.

To Eric's good fortune, Melody gets a waitress job at the mall so he can keep a close eye on her using stolen video surveillance equipment. He leaves orchids (her favorite flower) in her locker, steals a dress she liked but couldn't afford and leaves it in her car, plays “their” song on a jukebox, shoots a masked would-be rapist who attacks her in the parking lot with a crossbow and basically kills anyone who tries to do her harm. Eric does what he can to let Melody know he's still around, not only to protect her but also to put a stop to a budding romance she's developing with handsome journalist / photographer Peter Baldwin (Rob Estes). Because of all of the strange occurrences going on, Peter and Melody team up to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, Eric keeps busy decapitating and impaling victims. He also uses a flamethrower to set someone on fire and uses a cobra to take care of someone else. For his big encore, he forgoes the chandelier in favor of a bomb.

Nothing all that surprising goes down in this umpteenth spin on The Phantom of the Opera that adds a slash-happy dash of late 80s mall culture to the mix. However, this is still fun and enjoyable all the same. A big part of the film's success lies with its (mostly) appealing and likable cast. A big exception is a before-he-was-famous Pauly Shore as weird-o friend “Buzz,” who wears a “Weasels” t-shirt, claims to possess “supersonic hearing,” sneaks rubber ears and eyeballs into the frozen yogurt he sells, keeps pestering Melody's disinterested best friend Suzie (former fashion model Kimber Simmons) for a date and is already starting to perfect his annoying slow-speak slacker shtick even at this early stage in his career. One clever bit of casting is Ken Foree, from the ultimate mall horror movie DAWN OF THE DEAD, as the main security guard. Like in Dawn, this even throws in a bit of anti-consumerism / materialism humor, like when a couple of the guys discover that the owner has hidden subliminal messages (“I like to spend money!” “Shopping makes me feel good!” “Spending money makes me feel good!”) into the Muzak being pumped throughout the mall.

Using the alias “Kari Kennell,” leading lady Whitman (who is not only nice to look at but also not a bad little actress) had appeared nude in Playboy magazine as a 1988 Playmate of the Month and then appeared nude in subsequent Playboy videos, which makes the fact she used a body double for her sex scenes here pretty amusing. Some other nudity is provided by several female extras (including Brinke Stevens) in a locker room scene. For all you beefcake fans you get an ass shot from, uh, probably the last guy in the cast whose ass you actually want to see. I will say it is not provided by Rydall, who went on to star in Night Visitor (1989) and Popcorn (1991) before starting a lucrative career as a screenplay consultant and script doctor, or Estes, who went on to a busy TV career (Melrose Place, Silk Stalkings) the following decade, and leave it at that, buuuuu-ddy.

The executive producer was Charles W. Fries, who gave this a very limited theatrical release through his company Fries Entertainment and then a VHS release through his Fries Home Video. There has not been an official DVD release to my knowledge. Beware a heavily-cut 84 minute version floating around that eliminates all of the nudity and nearly all of the gore (including an entire death scene). Director Friedman also made Death Mask (1984), Doom Asylum (1987), Scared Stiff (1987) and Dark Wolf (2003), which means this is clearly his best genre film to date.

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