The silent horror film The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney and directed by Rupert Julian, was released on this day in 1925. Chaney did more than merely play the titular Phantom, he designed the make-up and prosthetics that made him nearly unrecognizable.
If it’s been a while, or if you never experienced the classic horror of The Phantom of the Opera, give the trailer and synopsis a spin below.
In this silent horror classic, aspiring young opera singer Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin) discovers that she has a mysterious admirer intent on helping her become a lead performer. This enigmatic masked presence is Erik, also known as the Phantom (Lon Chaney), a horribly disfigured recluse who lives underneath the Paris Opera House. When the Phantom takes Christine prisoner and demands her devotion and affection, her suitor, Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry), sets out to rescue her.
Chaney used a color illustration of the novel by Andre Castaigne as his model for the phantom’s appearance. He raised the contours of his cheekbones by stuffing wadding inside his cheeks. He used a skullcap to raise his forehead height several inches and accentuate the bald dome of the Phantom’s skull. Pencil lines masked the join of the skullcap and exaggerated his brow lines. Chaney then glued his ears to his head and painted his eye sockets black, adding white highlights under his eyes for a skeletal effect. He created a skeletal smile by attaching prongs to a set of rotted false teeth and coating his lips with greasepaint. To transform his nose, Chaney applied putty to sharpen its angle and inserted two loops of wire into his nostrils. Guide-wires hidden under the putty pulled his nostrils upward. According to cinematographer CharlesVan Enger, Chaney suffered from his make-up, especially the wires, which sometimes made him “bleed like hell.” (Source)
According to the film’s cameraman Charles Van Enger, one of Lon Chaney’s most trusted associates, Mary Philbin’s reaction to the unmasked Phantom was real–she had no idea what he would look like until that exact moment. (Source)