Phantom of the Paradise

10/05/2018 07:38

Film: Phantom of the Paradise

Year: 1974

Director: Brian De Palma

Writer: Brian De Palma

Starring: Paul Williams, William Finley and Jessica Harper



This film I had never heard of until reading the Fangoria Top 300 horror movies issue. This one was featured there and went on a list of movies to check out. My first viewing was when I was going through all the takes on the Phantom of the Opera. It was interesting to learn that this was written and directed by Brian De Palma with Paul Williams doing the music. I’m now giving it a second viewing as part of Movie Club Challenge for the Podcast Under the Stairs. The synopsis is a disfigured composer sells his soul for the woman he loves so that she will perform his music. However, an evil record tycoon betrays him and steals his music to open his rock palace, The Paradise.

This movie starts with a band known as The Juicy Fruits that we are told is the hottest thing out right now. The core members are Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor and Peter Elbling. They sing their song while the owner of their record label watches on. The head is Swan (Williams) and with him is his second in command who does everything that he is told, Philbin (George Memmoli). After the band finishes, there is an intermission with a solo act of Winslow (William Finlay). He the piano and sings along. He catches the attention of Swan and he wants his music to open his new rock club called The Paradise as the synopsis stated.

Philbin then meets with Winslow and shares that Swan wants a recording of his music. This is difficult as he doesn’t have recordings and all his songs are part of a rock cantata and that they all go together. Philbin doesn’t care about this part of it and still looking for part of it. He slips that The Juicy Fruits will sing it. This infuriates Winslow and he tells them that they cannot as he doesn’t feel they are real artists. He gives some sheets of music for Swan to see.

A month then goes by with no word. Winslow goes to headquarters of Swan’s record label, Death Records, and asks to see him. We see that he is not the do not see ever list and is escorted out. He isn’t done though. He goes to the house of Swan where he finds a bunch of women who are there to audition. Winslow meets with a young woman by the name of Phoenix (Jessica Harper). He likes her voice and offers to help her with the song that she was given to audition with. She asks how he knows and he reveals he wrote it. Winslow is thrown out, but Phoenix wants to help him. She flees too when she finds out that there is no singing, just an orgy.

Winslow doesn’t have it much better. He’s beaten up, drugs are planted on him by two cops and he is taken to Sing Sing. He is put into a group that pull his teeth. If this isn’t enough, he snaps when he hears his music will be sung at the opening for the Paradise and that Swan has taken credit. He breaks out of prison and tries to vandalize the record pressing factory. In the process his face is maimed.

He isn’t done yet though. He becomes The Phantom as The Paradise is opening. He sabotages The Juicy Fruits and this causes Swan to make a deal with him. The two are supposed to work together, but going back to the synopsis, Swan can’t be trusted. The Phantom pushes to have Phoenix perform his music, but Swan has other plans which involve Beef (Gerrit Graham).

That should be enough of a recap and to be honest, what I put down there is like the first 20 minutes of this movie. It is a flurry to give you the set up before it settles in. Having seen this one other time did help. There are parts taken from a few different things as well. I noticed The Phantom of the Opera, Faust, The Portrait of Dorian Grey and Frankenstein just off the top of my head. Knowing a bit more about De Palma, this doesn’t shock me. I don’t mean that as a negative but wanted to point it out here.

Where I’ll go is that this is an interesting take on the Phantom of the Opera. This is a 1970’s rock opera that has a much deeper story lying underneath this. This film is a satire of the music industry, how cutthroat it is and the corruption of it. I found this to make it that much better for me because it is quite interesting how all these people want to be in the industry, but they see how badly it treats them. I mean Phoenix was brought to an orgy but is still willing to audition. When she makes it though, she is willing to give up her body to Swan to become more famous and stay there. Winslow is beaten, maimed and still wants to work in the industry. It feels part of this is ‘the show must go on’.

To circle back to Winslow as The Phantom. His opera house is The Paradise. Phoenix is the young woman that he is out to help. He is disfigured so she doesn’t want his help anymore. Phoenix is willing to do more than what we got in the original story. Beef would then be the more famous person in the opera that The Phantom targets amongst others. This is done creatively for sure

I also liked that this film tied in with Faust, which is fascinating, because that is the rock opera that Winslow is writing. Him, Swan and Phoenix all sign their souls over to make it, which again seems to be what getting into the music industry is. I also found that they there are a lot of references to birds. There is Swan, Phoenix, the logo of Death Records is a dead bird and The Phantom’s mask looks like a bird.

That should be enough for the story so I’ll take this over to the acting. I thought that Finley is great as Winslow and The Phantom. He is true artist, but we see the dangers of the industry. Once he’s given up, he wants to help Phoenix. This movie is absurd and so is Finley’s performance. I like Williams as our villainous Swan. He can never be trusted and it is fitting for his reveal. He is our Dorian Grey. Special credit to him for writing most of the music as well. Harper is an actress I have a fondness for. I forgot this was her feature film debut, because my first encounter was Shock Treatment where she plays a similar character. Of course, there is also Suspiria which is an all-time favorite. I also liked Graham and the rest of the cast for rounding this out for what was needed.

My biggest issue with this film is that it moves so fast. The film just rushes through all these plot points and is non-stop until the ending. That’s how I thought the first time around at least. I would say that the first act is rushed through, but from there the movie is your typical musical. It does well in filling in parts before the next musical number after this second viewing.

Then the last things to go into are the cinematography, effects and the soundtrack. For the former, I thought that this is shot well. We are getting De Palma’s famous split screen. It does make for some interesting reveals and sequences. We don’t get a lot in the way of effects, but it also doesn’t necessarily need it. I love the look of The Phantom. The theme for the performances on stage are interesting as well. Other than that, the soundtrack works. It isn’t one I’ll listen to outside of it, but there are some numbers that made me laugh. Special credit here to Graham.

Now with that said, I liked this after my first viewing and I appreciate it more after this one. I felt that it took a story that has been made quite a few times and did something a bit different. This version combined Phantom of the Opera with Faust amongst other things, which I found interesting. This one also has a lot of underlying issues that still are relevant today. That is something to me that makes a film better. The acting was good, the concept and story were as well. This film might be a little bit cheesy for today’s standards, but I found this to be an interesting take on a well-known tale. I would recommend giving this film a viewing if you are into odd movies like this. It won’t be for everyone though.


My Rating: 8 out of 10