The eighties: consumerism, big hair and shoulder pads, real estate deals, arson, murder and revenge, the ingredients of every glossy soap opera. The first phase of the new Midwood Mall preparing for its gala 4th of July opening, guided to completion by Mayor Karen Wilton and general manager Harv Posner, three friends seek employment, Melody as a waitress, Susie in a fashion store and Buzz at frozen yoghurt bar The Chill Factor.
Absent is Melody’s boyfriend, Eric Matthews who died a year before in the fire which also claimed his parents, last holdout to Posner’s property company who were developing the mall, now built on the site where their house once stood, tragic memories for Melody who feels the incident was never properly investigated by the police and who now finds strange reminders of Eric, a bouquet of flowers, the song to which they used to dance…
Loosely based on The Phantom of the Opera, transposed to California teen culture, Phantom of the Mall was written by Scott J Schneid and Tony Michelman then substantially redrafted by Robert King and producer Thomas Fries to reduce the budget by half, any intended substance or subtlety excised during the process which introduced the subtitle Eric’s Revenge, somewhat giving away what little plot there is and also implying the film is a sequel, confusing potential audiences.
Released in late 1989 and now presented on Blu-ray in three versions across two discs by Arrow Films, the third the 96 minute “Phan Cut” which gathers all available footage (also presented separately as deleted scenes on the first disc), it is the most coherent, giving background and context to the friendship of Eric, Melody, Susie and Buzz (Derek Rydall, Kari Whitman, Kimber Sissons and Pauly Shore) before the tragedy and also establishing Eric as a talented gymnast.
Taking its place in the shopping mall horror sub-genre alongside The Initiation and Chopping Mall, Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree appears as a security guard though top billing goes to soap queen Morgan Fairchild as Mayor Wilton who does her best with a script which is overly derivative without putting an original spin on the source as Brian De Palma did with his rock musical The Phantom of the Paradise.
Unfortunately absent is a proposed dance number cut before shooting referenced by Rydall, interviewed in the extensive documentary on the production of Phantom of the Mall where Schneid and Michelman express their frustration and disappointment in the final film which, like a mall – albeit one which sells flamethrowers in hardware outlet The Roughhouse and has a masked martial art mallrat vigilante lurking in the service corridors – is bland and predictable.