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"Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness!!"

Ah, yes, with that famous line of dialogue, the era of Universal Horror movies truly kicked off, as the hideous face of the Phantom of the Opera was finally revealed in all its terrible glory!  I remember the first time I saw that scene; I was just a kid, and although I had begun my fascination with the classic monsters, seeing them as less scary and more like companions, the face of the Phantom still had power to run chills down my spine.  The image of it burned into my brain and has never left.



I think a large part of my fascination with the character, beyond the amazing makeup developed by Lon Chaney, lay also in the rarity of a screening of the film.  Creature Feature regularly showed any number of classic films featuring Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, etc, but those were all movies with sound.  The original Phantom being silent meant it was never going to be shown on those Saturday afternoon tv shows... I only knew about it through books and magazines featuring stills from the film, and the odd super 8mm home movie prints available for purchase.  Even so, those photos were enough to feed my interest in the Phantom, and give him an added aura of mystery that the other monsters didn't possess.

As I've mentioned before, back in the 70's my older brother and I discovered the classic monsters and we both became die hard second generation "monster kids".  We read Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, watched Creature Feature, Shock Theater, and kept our eyes open for anything that gave us a taste of our favorite monsters.  The Aurora model kits of the classic monsters were among our most prized possessions, and we each got different kits for birthdays that allowed us to collect almost all of the kits Aurora produced.  As it happened, my brother was lucky enough to get the Phantom for his birthday one year, so the privilege of building it fell to him.  It was a wild looking kit, full of motion, angst, gore and terror.  It held a special place among the kits we had, and I remember being so intrigued by the design of it all.  Sadly, it, like all the rest of our original monster kits, was given away when I finally moved away from the home where I grew up.  I didn't think much about the kit after that, until...

1994, and I come across an ad (in a comic book, I think), for a re-issue of Aurora's Phantom of the Opera model kit, in the ORIGINAL style long box.  The moment I saw that, I knew I had to have it.  At this point, there had been a few re-issues of the classic kits through Revell, usually Frankenstein, Dracula and the Creature.  The Luminators series had included more of the original 13 kits, including the Phantom, but I had never seen it on the shelves, and didn't even know it existed until very recently.  So, I sent away for the kit, and could not have been happier with what I got.


This kit, unlike all the re-issues that have come since, had almost no marking on the box beyond what was originally there.  It was an incredible replica, and different from the one my brother and I had in the 70's as it had no glow parts and featured the original box cover art; one of James Bama's beautiful paintings.  The parts were wonderfully molded, had perfect detail and, unlike the kit we got in the old days, ALL the parts were there( the cord for the cloak was missing from my brother's kit, prompting a letter to Aurora for a replacement). 


Even the instruction sheet was an EXACT duplicate of the original.  I swear, opening it up was like time traveling...


I especially love the ads for Aurora's paints and glue, and the listings of other kits with the almost cartoonish illustrations next to them.

I was seized by the excitement of having this kit again after all those years, so I quickly assembled some of the parts, intending to dive right into the building and painting of the kit which was, for me, a "new" Aurora kit since I'd never built and painted it in the past.  And then, for various reasons, it sat in my collection, unfinished, for the next 25 years.

What brought it up from the depths of the collection was seeing a wonderful aftermarket set of parts from Dedham Pond Designs.  It's a set of replacement parts for the kit consisting of a head sculpt and the left arm and hand, re-positioned to the pose seen in the box art.  The sculpt of the head is superb, with terrific detail, and it really captures the look as seen in Bama's painting.

So, now I should probably say a few words about that painting.  I never thought much about it as a kid, but as an adult, it got me wondering why it was painted with green skin and white hair, and for that matter, why it just didn't quite resemble the facial features of Lon Chaney's Phantom.  I mean, sure, it's basically there, but why wasn't a painter as capable as James Bama able to capture an exact likeness?  Well, as a matter of fact, he DID capture an exact likeness: of James Cagney in makeup as the Phantom.  What I found out was that Cagney had done a bio-pic about Lon Chaney, and there's a very short sequence of him playing the unmasking scene from the Phantom of the Opera, and the moment in which the mask is removed  from his face is the moment captured in the box art painting. 


Looking at the still and the artwork, it's obvious.  The only difference is the alteration of the direction of the head turn relative to the shirt collar.  And even the hair matches; not only the lighter color of the hair on his head, but the hairy EYEBROWS, which were absent in Chaney's makeup. I'm still  left to wonder, though, why Bama didn't use a still of Chaney?  That answer may never be revealed.  He used Cagney, and the widespread popularity of the Aurora kits lead to lots of images and derivative toys of the Phantom being produced that looked like Cagney's Phantom and not Chaney's.  A closer look at the Dedham Pond head will show how well they captured that particular likeness.


Stunning work, to be sure, and a far sight better than the original sculpt that comes with the kit.


Now don't get me wrong; the kits head sculpt isn't really BAD, and I'll be the first to tell anyone that the Aurora monster kits are miniature works of art, to be sure, but:  having an alternative available that would allow me to capture the exact look on that terrific box art?  May the gods of Aurora forgive me, but I'll opt for that better sculpt.  After all, in my mind, I'm only trying to bring these kits up to their ultimate potential.  What's more, in this case, I liked the positioning of the arm, also.  Originally, the left arm is thrust straight out from the torso, and it seemed a little too broad of a gesture.  Again, the alternative is one I found, for my personal tastes, to be preferable.

One more thing before I let the old Aurora head sculpt go, and that has to do with the mask included in the kit.  And this feature is a testament to the engineering and artistic prowess brought to bear in these kits.  I noticed that on the inner surface of the mask, there is some raised textural detail that corresponds to the detail in the forehead of the head sculpt.


On looking closer, I saw it was more than just the forehead detail; the whole upper face was mirrored in the mask interior. It got me thinking... maybe the kit had been designed to give you the option of having the Phantom actually wearing the mask.  If that was the case, it should fit on the head sculpt...


...and so it does.  Perfectly.  I have to wonder why this feature was never made mention of in the promotional materials for the kit?  It actually feels a little more in line with what Aurora later did in the Monster Scenes kits, giving you alternate heads, arms, legs and torsos to change the position of the kit.  I'd actually like to see one assembled and painted with the mask on; it might look kind of cool that way.
Not my kit, though; the appeal of the box art look is just too powerful.

  So, having decided to use the Dedham Pond head sculpt, the only other question came down to skin coloring. Oh, that green... why did Bama paint him green??  As I mentioned, the popularity of the Aurora kit influenced all kinds of other Phantom merchandise.  I even had a Don Post Studios latex mask of the Phantom of the Opera that looked like Chaney, except... its skin was green and it had grey/white hair.  Creepy, yes.  And yes, I did consider going the green skin route.  It would look ghoulish...  But the green just doesn't track with how I see the Phantom.  It doesn't make sense.  He's not a true phantom, as in a ghost, and he's not undead like Frankenstein's Monster, so there was no "logical" reason I could come up with to paint the skin green.  So instead, I'd go with a piece that was a blend of the best features of the box art and the Phantom from the movies, as I imagined him.  To that end, I chose a yellowish flesh tone, with sepia colored washes to bring out the lines in his face, and painted the hair a very dark grey with some highlighting, again to show detail.  The eyes are an almost animal like yellow brown; different from either Chaney, or Cagney, but coming from my memory of reading the book, in which the Phantom is described almost as an albino, with odd colored eyes.  I felt the color I chose gave that kind of feel as he's described in the book without going all the way in painting him as an albino.

 


There were a few other color choices I made that I felt better reflected my take on the Phantom and the kit, namely keeping a fairly dark color palette in place.  Instead of the white waistcoat, I went with a dark wine color that resonated with the darkness of Chaney's waistcoat and paired it with the cravat he's wearing.  The Phantom always struck me as a character with some measure of style, so I could see him coordinating pieces of an outfit like that.  The bright yellow of the cloak cord and the buttons on his tail coat and waistcoat were too much, in terms of color, and I felt that it would be more accurate to paint them black and give them a slight sheen to suggest they were made of silk or satin, while the buttons of the waistcoat would be done in a glossy black.



The dark color palette would carry over to the base, as well, and I used a cool dark grey for the dungeon cell blocks and a warmer dark grey for the rocks on which the Phantom is standing.


You can see the contrast in tone in the pic below:


Which brings us to the prisoner, which was and still is one of the more gruesome elements ever included in a model kit.  A model kit originally meant for kids, for that matter.  The sculptural detailing of the flayed skin and exposed bones is impressive, and deserved a paint up equally detailed to bring out all of the sculptors work.  I went with a normal flesh tone for the skin, a deep red for the exposed muscle and other tissue, a bone white for the skeletal elements and utilized some washes in sepia and brown to bring out the detail of the face, teeth and eyes.  A liberal amount of transparent blood red paint was then added to all the wounds, allowed to pool naturally and run naturally, where it would.  The resulting effect is quite convincing, I think, and a bit stomach turning, too.



The bars were finished in a similar fashion to the chains on the Forgotten Prisoner kit, being given a base coat of steel, then a wash of "Typhus Corrosion" from Citadel, which mimics the color AND texture of corroded metal.  A touch of rust colored pastel chalk completed the look of old dungeon bars.


The build overall was fairly straightforward, so I don't have any wip photos other than the one below, showing how I'll use warm and cool colors of primer that correspond to the warm and cool colors I'll be applying to various areas of the kit.



I will say that since the cloak had the warm, deep red on one side and the cool black on the other, I coated each respective side with a warm or cool primer.  It definitely made a difference.  Oh, and once again, when it comes to adding animals to the kit to amp up the "eww" factor, the artists at Aurora used actual animals that could be found in the region where the subject of the model resides.  In this case, they chose the Norway rat, found throughout Europe, and the ocellated lizard, which can be found in France.



But here, at last, is the finished piece:



I feel I was successful in capturing the mood I wanted; the darkness that, for me, is so inimical to the Phantom, but also a sense of luxuriousness in the deep rich coloring of his clothing.  That contrast is what intrigues me about the Phantom.  There is refinement, and coarseness, an appreciation for and pursuit of beauty from a being contained in a hideous shell, and the expression on his face seems to bespeak the anguish Erik feels over such a paradox.


Again, wonderfully expressive work in this head sculpt.  It's beautiful sculpting, truly.

Here are a few pics of the kit under very basic lighting, so you can get a more clear view of some of the details.


And about that green skin tone on the box art... There IS a way to make it work, and that involves lighting.  Say, down in the sewers the light from above passes through various apertures and glass and then takes on a greenish hue... suddenly, you have something which looks not unlike the artwork.


"Look! You want to see? See!  Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness!"


"Look at Erik's face!  Now you know the face of the voice!  You were not content to hear me, eh? You wanted to know what I looked like?"



"Well, are you satisfied?  I'm a good looking fellow, eh?"


"I am a kind of Don Juan, you know!...Look at me!  I am Don Juan triumphant!"

Ah, poor, tragic Erik... My thanks to Cinemodels for being the first to bring this marvelous Phantom back into circulation, to Dedham Pond Designs for giving me the opportunity to make this kit truly shine, and to all of you taking a look at this blog!

'Til next time: keep building!

























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