People nowadays don’t realise what a wild decade the eighties was. Masked serial killers roamed freely, wildly reckless science experiments were commonplace, and in the case of Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge, horribly disfigured teenagers could apparently easily lay their hands on both plastic explosives and live, angry cobras.
The story is told from the viewpoints of our two main characters – Melody (Kari Whitman – The X-Files, Masterblaster) and photographer Peter (Rob Estes – Hello Herman, Castle) as they rekindle their prior relationship and together look into what happened the night that Melody’s previous boyfriend, Eric Matthews (Derek Rydall – Popcorn, Never Cry Devil), died in a suspicious house fire.
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Melody also seems to have a strange guardian angel who places orchids in her locker, dresses in her car, and crossbow bolts in the arms of people who try to molest her in parking lots. As the film progresses it becomes clear that the fire that (supposedly) claimed Eric’s life might not have been an accident, that Eric might actually be alive, and all these events might be connected to the shiny new mall that now stands where his house once did.
These last two points are where the story struggles. The characters in the film act like they really do think Eric is dead, and that the audience should also be in the dark as to the exact identity of Melody’s masked protector… which really doesn’t work when you literally title your film Phantom of the Mall: ERIC’S REVENGE. It rather takes all the emotion or tension out of the eventual reveal of the now horribly maimed and mask-wearing Eric… who has apparently also been practicing kung-fu while he’s been hiding out under the mall. Don’t ask why, just go with it. It was the 80s. EVERYONE knew kung-fu. The title no doubt also confused cinema-goers at the time as the “revenge” moniker was, and to an extent still is, mostly applied to sequels, not the very first film.
Arrow Video have gone above and beyond what this film deserves in terms of special features for this new release. There’s the 2K remaster which looks just lovely, though there’s no escaping that the TV version is noticeably lower quality because, well, broadcast version. There’s also not one, not two, but three different versions of the film to watch! There’s the theatrical release, the TV version which has lots of new and different content, and a “phan” version which merges the two versions together. Each one is different enough that it really is worth watching all three.
The main extras are the two new audio commentaries and the ‘Making of’ documentary, ‘Shop Til You Drop!’. The commentary tracks feature director Richard Friedman and filmmaker Michael Felsher on one, and disc producer Ewan Cant along with film historian Amanda Reyes on the other. ‘Shop Til’ You Drop!: The Making of Phantom of the Mall’ is a genuinely interesting 45 minutes or so. It features interviews with director Richard Friedman, screenwriters Scott Schneid and Tony Michelman, actors Derek Rydall and Gregory Scott Cummins, filmmaker Tony Kayden, and special make-up effects creator Matthew Mungle.
It’s fascinating to see Schneid and Michelman talking about the film, and more specifically how their original script was taken and rewritten and the budget was slashed and… yeah. The film we got is a very different beast from the one they initially envisioned. There are also trailers, deleted scenes, and with the Limited Edition there’s also art cards, a poster, and a new book about the film by Brad Henderson, including extracts from original press kits.
So is this a film that the viewing public desperately need to see? Not really. It doesn’t really do quite enough with its premise thanks to budget cuts hamstringing the production, the hefty rewrites leaving it feeling unfocused and not quite finished. It is interesting to see Pauly Shore in one of his first ever movie roles as frozen yoghurt slinger Buzz, and the behind the scenes stuff is interesting… but Phantom of the Mall just isn’t a very good film. It’s predictable, by the numbers, and while one or two of the kills are nicely executed there’s just not a lot here to recommend to hard core horror fans.
While Arrow have, as ever, brought their A-Game to this release, Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge is one for dedicated fans of 80’s trash only.
Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.