Phantom:The Immortal is a slick piece of light erotic entertainment, playing out with a certain pulpish predictability, yet competently crafted and consistently enjoyable—beach readers take note! Mitzi Szereto and Ashley Lister’s stylishly steamy homage to The Phantom of the Opera at last brings the sexy essence of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 Gothic potboiler overtly to the surface in a way no other previous adaptation has dared—and it’s about damned time, too!
There have been so many versions of this story over the last hundred years: from the 1925 silent-film classic with Lon Chaney Sr. to the 1943 Claude Rains vehicle, and the 1962 Hammer films production, not to mention that giant, cloying, sugary “musical” detumescence of Andrew Lloyd What-the-Fu—sorry, I just threw up in my mouth.
All these versions treat the heroine as a kind of damsel in distress, a virginally un-self-aware airhead to be menaced by the Phantom and rescued by the handsome hero. And, one has to admit, titillation—far more than redemption—has always been a big part of this story’s appeal, the seething undercurrent of sex, bubbling sluggishly just beneath the action, calls to something in the deep subbasement of our psyche. We want—whether we’re willing to admit it or not—to see Beauty stripped naked before the horny Beast; we want—oh please!—to see Julie Adams carried off to the lung-man’s lair beneath the Black Lagoon to be shown how it’s done, her screams of terror turning to cries of salacious delight; and we really really want Christine to toss aside all that prissy vestal-virgin-on-a-pedestal pretense, and get jiggy with the Phantom. At least in this latter instance, readers can at last be satisfied.
She found herself staring at his lips. She wished she could lean forward over the table to catch them between her own, drawing them into her mouth and tasting the wine on his tongue. She wondered how they would feel against her skin, where he would kiss her, and if he would kiss her in that special place she most wanted to be kissed. She imagined him parting her thighs, his breath a hot mist against her folds.
Classic grand opera—what we automatically imagine when we think of opera—is, in essence, a ritual of elaborately sublimated eroticism. Sex is always—always—the dark singularity around which the story takes shape, from Massanet’s Thaïs and Bizet’s Carmen to Bellini’s La Sonnambula and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde all the way to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly to Berg’s Wozzeck and Hindemith’s explicit, hyper-erotic Sancta Susana. Gounod’s Faust, is certainly no exception, grand opera at its most grandiose, chastity is not one of its virtues; Faust’s satanically-assisted seduction of the pure Marguerite is central to the whole vast elaborate undertaking, and it was not by chance that Leroux (and, by extension, Szereto and Lister) employed Faust as the scaffolded superstructure of their story.
Phantom: The Immortal mines the melodrama of the source material for all it’s worth, yet never strays too far from its more down-to-earth erotic ambitions:
“This is how you make me feel. That’s what I’m trying to show you.”
He considered the remark and decided it was too obscure. Shaking his head, taking another sip from the brandy glass and drawing briefly on the cigar, he mumbled an apology. “I am sorry. I do not understand the connection.”
“You’re enjoying your favorite pleasures: the cognac and an Oscuro, yes?”
“You’re sexually excited, aren’t you?”
“I am pleased you noticed.”
When she next spoke, he could hear the delighted blush that colored her voice. “You’re enjoying those pleasures that make your life special. You’re enjoying the ultimate stimulation of your senses and your spirit, yet you’re still sitting in the dark.”
Understanding dawned on him, but, drawing again on the cigar, he said nothing.
She darted her tongue against the swollen dome of his glans. The teasing touch was so insubstantial it could have sprung from his imagination, but the gossamer lull of her breath told him it had come from a more substantial source. . .
Good, light, frothy, sexy diversion, not particularly deep or thought-provoking, this may yet open up a few long-locked synapses and set off a tingle or two. Recommended.