Before there was Rocky Horror, there was Phantom of the Paradise.
This rock opera-styled comedy written and directed by Brian dePalma is a witty and very campy blending of Faust and The Phantom of the Opera. The story is centered on songwriter and composer Winslow Leach (played more or less badly by William Finley), who has his music stolen and adulterated by the somewhat Satanic, wildly successful record producer Swan (played impishly and yet with a hint of sinister by Paul Williams). When Leach confronts Swan, Swan has him beaten and imprisoned on trumped-up drug charges.
Leach manages a prison break, breaks into Swan’s record-press facility and gets disfigured by the hot presses while trying to sabotage the system. Later, he breaks into the rock palace owned by Swan and finds himself a nice phantom costume to wear as he begins a campaign to terrorize everyone and sabotage the opening of Swan’s new rock theatre. As with Phantom of the Opera, there’s a love interest and as with Faust, we know early on that Swan is something of a devil, who has Leach sign a “contract” in exchange for using his music.
Reason to Watch
There are some great lines in this movie, along with frequent and funny allusions to other films. The send-up of the famous shower scene from Psycho is one of the film’s funniest moments, as are the scenes featuring the effeminate-yet-butch lead singer Beef (played hilariously by Gerritt Graham). Some of the music isn’t bad, either, which isn’t surprising. Paul Williams created the score and wrote the songs for the film at the height of his career.
Phantom of the Paradise came out at the height of the early 70s “Weird=Good” era. It bombed at the box office initially, but quickly became a cult favorite, especially in Canada, where it ran for a year.
If your idea of a good rock musical-movie is one that takes its music very seriously, then this flick will probably piss you off a bit. However, if you like music and films that make fun of themselves and the culture in which they were made, you’ll have a lot of fun.
Most Memorable Quote(s)
- Beef: I know drug -real from real-real.
- Beef: The karma in here is so thick you need an aqualung to breathe.
- Beef: Swan, this was scored for a chick. I’m not doing it in drag.
What You Need to Get Through This Movie
There’s something for everybody here: horror, comedy, rock music and romance. If you can’t find something to like in this movie, then a movie may not be able to help you, anyway. This is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be silly and it’s supposed to be weird. It succeeds beautifully.
Grab some throwback snacks and just enjoy the movie for what it is. Like all cult classics, it requires you to loosen up a bit, so do some stretching beforehand.
Originally, Paul Williams was supposed to play the Phantom and Gerrit Graham was supposed to play Swan. Everyone switched roles just a couple of weeks before shooting started. Paul Williams felt he wasn’t quite scary enough. The diminutive songwriter who brought us “Just An Old-Fashioned Love Song” may have been right. But he’s nicely sleazy as Swan.
The actors who play the three bands in the film (The Juicy Fruits, The Beach Bums and The Undead) all did their own choreography, then just showed up to shoot.
- If someone asks you to sign a contract in blood, you really need to have a lawyer look at it first.
- Never face plant on a record press.
Justification for Rating
The movie does everything it sets out to do. Cheesy, yes, but not unsuccessful.