Let’s face it, the Man of a Thousand Faces had to be on the list somewhere, and his arguably most memorable face is his scariest… The Phantom of the Opera. Released in 1926, and directed by Rupert Julian, it is probably the best adaptation of Leroux’s novel to hit the silver screen. It’s certainly the best straight up horror adaptation (there, musical fans).
Everyone knows the plot of the PTO, but here’s a quick recap… L’Opera is blackmailed by the Opera Ghost. They must reserve a box for him, and pay him a salary or else. The Ghost falls in love with a young understudy, Christine Daae, and acts as her music instructor, “the Angel.” His insane jealousy is aroused when Christine’s childhood sweetheart, Raoul, arrives on the scene. Falling chandeliers, floods, angry mobs, and bombs ensue.
An incredibly talented actor, his performance would probably nevertheless not be as well remembered without his iconic make-up, although, that being said, he is damned unsettling in a mask, too. Chaney never revealed how he made himself so hideous as Erik, the Phantom, but apparently part of it involved sticking hooks up his nose. And maybe that kind of painful make-up added to his characterization as the tormented, insane, OG. The audience always knows exactly what he feels, and understands how dangerous his wrath is. One minute, he is pitiable watching the woman he loves in the arms of a younger, whole rival, and the next he is evil while he plots his revenge.
And that’s probably a good reason as to why he is so powerful– like all great villains, he is sympathetic yet ultimately nonredeemable. And he dies laughing. No other Phantom is like that.