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Phantom of the Paradise Reviews

Page 1 of 43
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

April 7, 2012
"What's the best horror-comedy rock musical of the 1970s?" It's not a question that comes up very often, and the answer seems so obvious that it seems even less likely to come up. But just before everyone starts rushing towards The Rocky Horror Picture Show (good as that may be), it's worth taking a gander at its close cousin, Phantom of the Paradise. Brian De Palma's early effort may be ramshackle, uneven and rough around the edges (as was Rocky Horror), but it's also bounding with enthusiasm and in places is really rather good.

There are of course many similarities between this film and Rocky Horror. Both were made and released around the same time, even sharing a double bill on American college campuses in late-1975. Both are essentially collections of horror, sci-fi or other B-movie references, bundled together into an outlandish plot with even more outlandish characters. Neither of the films take themselves very seriously, and both have seen their tongue-in-cheek nature rewarded by large cult followings. Perhaps the relative recognition of Rocky Horror lies more in the continued success of the stage show than any real cinematic merit.

De Palma's films, and especially his thrillers, have always been unashamed in their references to other films or directors. Dressed to Kill and Body Double drop in Hitchcock motifs like there's no tomorrow, while the train station scene in The Untouchables is a very conscious homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin. Occasionally these references have been so overt that he has been accused of having no real style of his own, but with an early effort like this, when he was still learning his craft, this can be easily forgiven.

Phantom of the Paradise, as the title suggests, is primarily a reworking of The Phantom of the Opera. The touchstones of Gaston LeRoux's novel are plain to see: the central character (played by De Palma regular William Finley) is a composer whose work is stolen by a jealous impresario (Paul Williams), and in trying to recover what is rightfully his, the composer is horribly disfigured. The Phantom, as he now is, becomes infatuated with the young lady who performs his music (Jessica Harper), and struggles to balance these new-found feelings of love with a murky desire for vengeance and redemption.

In the later stages of the film, De Palma draws on the archetypes of Faust and The Portrait of Dorian Gray to flesh out the enigmatic character of Swan. The character is interesting in that he exhibits aspects of both Faustus and Mephistopheles: he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth (hence Dorian Gray), but he also acts in a diabolical fashion towards all who sign his contracts. There are also fleeting references to Frankenstein and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in the stage show, and a very witty restaging of the shower scene from Psycho: the Phantom corners Beef in the shower, cuts through the shower curtain... and then shoves a toilet plunger over his mouth to prevent him from talking.

What distinguishes Phantom of the Paradise from Rocky Horror is the purpose to which these horror references are put. In Rocky Horror, the B-movie dialogue and horror imagery was largely a celebration of scary movies of the past, and by extension the pleasure and entertainment that comes from being scared. The plot eventually became secondary to "giving oneself over to absolute pleasure", with the film's unique identity coming from the extent of its madness rather than a conscious attempt to retune these conventions into something more modern.

Phantom of the Paradise, on the other hand, takes all these horror conventions on board and gives them a 1970s sensibility. It recognises the moral lessons and warnings in these stories, and re-moulds them into some kind of analysis of the music industry in general and rock music in particular. Some of De Palma's re-mouldings are witty or make a crazy kind of sense: if Dorian Gray had been pouring out his narcissism today, he would have made a video recording of himself rather than gone to the trouble of painting a portrait. While the original Phantom's mask was rather modest, this Phantom's mask is as ostentatious as the costumes of the rock stars performing his music.

The film is a fairly scathing depiction of the music industry, with the executives and management coming under fire from all sides. Swan is clearly inspired by Phil Spector, the enigmatic producer who created the 'wall of sound' recording technique and produced some of the biggest hits of the 1960s. The film takes the concept of 'selling one's soul' to another level, characterising the industry as the embodiment of evil, pilfering other's creativity to keep the gravy train rolling. Considering that Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here was released not long after, one can't help wondering what would have happened had the two collaborated.

Phantom of the Paradise also sheds light on the excesses of 1970s music, both on and off the stage. Swan spends much of his screen time in the company of beautiful women, many of whom he has promised fame in exchange for satisfying him. Phoenix becomes a victim of this dark world after covering for Beef; Swan gets her drunk and seduces her, promising her the world if only she will give him her voice. The excess is also present in the sets used for the rock shows: the elaborate costumes and incorporation of theatre recall the kind of unconscious pomposity that would be sent up so brilliantly in This Is Spinal Tap.

The music of De Palma's film is both a big strength and a telling weakness. In recreating or capturing a period in time or particular genre, Paul Williams' score is very good indeed. The opening number, 'Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye', is a very convincing recreation of 1950s greaseball pop, while 'Upholstery' has the same tinny, irritating quality that the Beach Boys had. But with the possible exception of 'Old Souls', sung mournfully by Harper, the songs are not as memorable as those in Rocky Horror or even its sequel Shock Treatment. Because the songs are there for context rather than for breathing life into the characters, they can feel like well-written wallpaper as opposed to anything more personal.

The real unmitigated strength of Phantom of the Paradise lies in its technical aspects. De Palma's penchant for camera trickery, and split-screen in particular, has often compromised his films by causing us to lose focus, but on this occasion the creative decisions pay off. We see via split screen the Phantom put a bomb inside the boot of a prop car, and then watch it ticking down as the number goes on, blowing up the stage and the various reactions thereafter. Hitchcock famously said that the key to creating tension was giving the audience information that the characters don't have. The split-screen works because we know what we are looking for, whereas in the pig-blood scene in Carrie we do not.

There are other impressive technical features too. One of the Phantom's first scenes, as he walks through the Paradise planning his vengeance, is shot on a combination of crane and dolly. We see the corridors of the Paradise from the Phantom's POV, and look up with him as his vision round 360 degress rises up the spiral staircase, leading to the box from which he will observe the carnage. Later on we have further impressive shots of him fleeing down a corridor, the intensity and speed of which recall Ripley's later scenes in Alien.

The film has any number of moments which are purely and simply weird. Beef's entrance, coming out of a coffin standing up on the runway of an airport, ranks among the strangest in cinema. His entire character is a compelling bundle of eccentricity, from his diva-like complaints about the score to his shocking demise (pun intended). The final scene sees all the horror references come together in a car-crash of make-up, madness, fake blood and scantily-clad backing singers. The film eventually runs out of steam, collapsing into a horror-ridden heap in place of a proper ending.

Phantom of the Paradise is an interesting if heavily flawed oddity which finds Brian De Palma rummaging around for the kind of film he was truly brilliant at making. The perfomers give their all, with Paul Williams excelling as Swan and 'the Queen of Cult Films' Jessica Harper setting herself up nicely for her subsequent brilliance in Suspiria. While Rocky Horror is funnier and has much better songs, it scores over Rocky Horror as a piece of narrative, if only because its references are so clear that you always know roughly where it's going. But in the end both are lovably bonkers and will reward the attention of any film fan.
cosmo313
cosmo313

Super Reviewer

August 16, 2006
Combining Faust with Phantom of the Opera (and tributes/homages/references to many other films (horror and otherwise)), this is Brian De Palma's contribution to the world of rock opera musicals. It actually has quite a bit in common with a little film that came out a year later called The Rocky Horror Picture Show, although, while both films are campy cult classics, the latter is better known and has a far larger following.

This is still a fun little movie though. It is kinda weird and campy, and I'm not real big on glam rock, but I can appreciate it, as well as this film being a satirical look at a couple of things such as 70s nostalgia for the 50s, and fame and show business. It is weird and campy, but it seems, dare I say it, maybe mroe accessible than Rocky Horror. I don't think it is quite as godo or enjoyable as that one, however, this one at least shows evidence of cinematic artistry and gimmickry thank's to it being directed by De Palma, who employs, among his trademarks: tracking shots, long takes, split screen, and who knows how many other camera tricks.

Usually these sorts of things overshadow the stories of his films, but here the story seems to actually be fairly strong. Well, it is derivative, but it is a strong take on it, that is. Plus, the music could be worse. Acting wise, there is nothing remarkable, but the singing is good and the cast are nice to look at.

All in all, I'm being a bit kind here with my grade, but the film is made with lots of love, energy, and style and I rather like that De Palma did this because it seems unexpected to me. You should give it a chance.
FilmFanatik
FilmFanatik

Super Reviewer

March 17, 2008
Brian De Palma is a real chameleon of a filmmaker. He can make a hard-edged, balls-to-the-wall gangster flick like Scarface; an edge-of-your-seat action film like Mission:Impossible; an all-time scarefest like Carrie; and then he can pull something like Phantom of the Paradise out of nowhere. This is most certainly a salute to cult and b-movies, operas (certainly Phantom of the Opera), musicals, comedies and horror films. It's really got everything going for it. The cast in the film is superb; Jessica Harper (who horror fans may recognize from Suspiria), Paul Williams and William Finley, all give terrific performances. Gerritt Graham is also phenomenal in his role and really made me laugh out loud several times. The film is also shot amazingly. I particularly liked the shots of the phantom running down a long hallway with his cape flowing behind him. I also dug Beef's death scene, where they somehow sped the film up and cut frames for his electrocution. I thought that was genius. The score and, of course, themusic in the movie is all just wonderful. All stemming from Paul Williams, it really is fantastic opera rock at its best. The closing credit song was a delight, as well. I guess I can't go by without mentioning how this movie is alluded to The Rocky Horror Picture Show because they both have the same kinda feel and content and both came out around the same time, but I think this movie is the superior one. On a sidenote, I have no idea how they got Rod Serling to do the opening credits, but it was a perfect touch! By and large, not everybody will like this movie, for a lot of reasons, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Brian De Palma is really on top of his game here.
MissMorganLeee
MissMorganLeee

Super Reviewer

September 15, 2010
A fantastic Campy movie with some AMAZING MUSCI! Even If you dont see the movie, I really suggest you check out its soundtrack. Beautiful, BEAUTIFUL songs. I found this movie through an awesome video blogger, The Phantom Reviewer. If you love Phantom of the Opera based films. CHECK HIM OUT. He is absolutely hilarious. Anyway, the movie is actually very amusing and sad at some points, apart from being a Phantom based movie, there are also elements of the Picture of Dorin Grey, which added some intest to the flim. I had a good time watching and I think others will too.
Beefy
Beefy

Super Reviewer

June 10, 2007
Great fun, 70's style. Catchy music, silly but enjoyable plotting, a game cast and some smart, involving direction. Could have been a little shorter, perhaps, and could have trusted it's musical numbers a little more, but still solid.
Conner R

Super Reviewer

March 30, 2010
Itâ??s funny that most people see Rocky Horror Picture Show as the original rock musical film, but this is the original and lots more fun. Sure it doesnâ??t have Tim Curry, but it does have a much more interesting plot and overall experience. Brian De Palma shows off his multi-purpose style, ironically his particular shot composition isnâ??t the most bizarre aspect of this descent into madness. The Phantom, played by William Finley is even more deranged than most interpretations of the character and certainly one of the best. Jessica Haperâ??s second best role next to Suspiria, sheâ??s a great element to the film. What I also love about this is that it doesnâ??t rely on the musical numbers to be original, in fact itâ??s only second rate compared to the amazing visuals and story. I would definitely say itâ??s one of the few musicals that I will praise.
Pierluigi P

Super Reviewer

August 31, 2007
Wonderful nostalgic cheesy musical, parodic and vibrating blend of concepts and myths from literature, film and rock n' roll that transcends thanks to Brian DePalma's trademark bizarre and striking mise en scčne. Jessica Harper is an adorable doll, William Finley and Paul Williams are also stupendous, the first as the affable phantom, and the latter as a Phil Spector kind of mephistophelean record producer.
Cindy I

Super Reviewer

June 11, 2007
Tried to watch this again recently. Had given it a decent review based on memories of seeing it a LONG LONG time ago. Boy, can memories be deceiving! This movie is damn near unwatchable. I couldn't sit through more than about 5 minutes at a time. Between the performances and the music and the general production values, I'm amazed DePalma could even get this released to theatres, and even MORE amazingly that he had any kind of career after this. It's THAT bad gang.
Mr Awesome
Mr Awesome

Super Reviewer

November 5, 2008
An odd movie along the lines of "Deathrace 2000", Phantom of the Paradise attempts to re-tell the "Phantom of the Opera" story in an updated, rock-n-roll style, comedic form. It stars Paul Williams (writer of such classic songs as "We've Only Just Begun", "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song" and "Rainbow Connection") as the evil Swan, a record producer who somehow is in league with the devil, and now acts as an agent of him. William Finley is the innocent song-writer, horribly mutilated and otherwise done wrong by the evil Swan. It's after Swan steals his greatest work, a massive operatic interpretation of Faust, that the innocent song-writer becomes The Phantom, and begins to haunt Swan's new music venue, the Paradise. Jessica Harper stars as the (very plain) singer the Phantom becomes infatuated with, and in the process, he sells his soul to Swan in order to make her a star. But somehow, Swan betrays the contract and gives the music over to "Beef" (Gerrit Graham), an up and coming (and super-DUPER gay) rock singer who has a flair for bad guitar playing and overly dramatic swishing about the stage. This is such an affront to the Phantom, that he goes crazy and attempts to destroy the whole show. Phantom of the Paradise is an early film of Brian De Palma's (it came 2 years before he directed "Carrie"), and it's not the greatest piece of directing. In fact, it's pretty lousy in spots, and could've used alot of editing. Some scenes seem to go on forever. The music, written by Williams, was nominated for an Oscar in 1975, but it's baffling as to why, because it's uniformly pretty awful. In fact, the biggest flaw in the movie is the music, and that's a pretty big flaw indeed when the movie in question is a musical. The acting is pretty generic all around, except for Gerrit Graham, whose portrayal of Beef is so campy and over the top, it seems he was the only one to realize he's in this movie to entertain. Also, Paul Williams is incredibly short. As for the plot, there are so many twists and holes that I soon lost interest in what was happening on the screen (when Swan sent the composer to his private prison, they inexplicably removed his teeth to keep him safe from "germs"... huh?). I can only recommend this movie to people who partake in illegal substances, because I'm sure this movie is hilarious when you're high. Sober though, it's a bit much to sit through.
Kylie B

Super Reviewer

April 22, 2007
Quirky. It has shades of Phantom, Faust and The Picture of Dorian Grey fused with a killer 70s wardrobe. I find it a bit strange how it was overlooked for so long.
Ken S

Super Reviewer

May 20, 2007
Holy coke fueled horror/comedy/romance musical Batman!

Does anyone else think William Finley looks like Allison Janney?
Stephen M

Super Reviewer

December 6, 2007
A reinterpretation of "Phantom of the Opera" as a camp rock opera, this is one of Brian De Palma's most interesting departures, and also one of his most downright entertaining movies. Unfortunately, although Paul Williams turns in an excellent performance as the villain, record producer Swan, his song-writing contributions, however sophisticated, tend to be ghastly sub-Carpenters ballads that offend the ears and date the film terribly. Rather than being the highlights, as they ought to be, the musical numbers here, excepting a rock 'n' roll and a Beach Boys pastiche, become opportunities to put the kettle on.
Apeneck F

Super Reviewer

July 11, 2007
i liked it...i still know the words to all the songs...go from there
Lafe F

Super Reviewer

June 10, 2007
Contemporary 70's rock version of "Phantom of the Opera" with great songs by Paul Williams. This movie has many rock songs in it, but is not a musical, as all of the dialogue is spoken instead of sung. The Phantom (William Finley) is a former songwriter, who is betrayed and disfigured, so now hides behind a mask and lives in the recesses of the Paradise Theatre. He falls in love with a beautiful singer named Phoenix (Jessica Harper). Like the classic story, the Phantom demands that his lovely lady be featured on stage, or terrible tragedies will befall the Paradise theatre. The theatre owner Swan (Paul Williams) has other plans for the Phantom, which sets a series of tragic events into play. A nice modern musical-comedy-horror twist on a classic tale! I love this film.
Adam M

Super Reviewer

June 2, 2007
great satire on rock 'n' roll, with a fast-paced updating of the old theatrical style of horror films; the editing is musical, the songs are hokey but suit the drama well
Michael S

Super Reviewer

March 4, 2007
Wierd movie, but very enjoyable.
Alec B

Super Reviewer

October 26, 2012
Faust + Phantom of the Opera means that I'm already on board for whatever the film is going to be. Its perhaps a little too bonkers on occasion, but still rather hilarious. Williams and Finley give two wonderful comedic performances.
Duncan R

Super Reviewer

May 14, 2009
I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. It's cheesy, yeah, but it's a fun kind of cheesy. The acting was better than it deserved to be; particularly Paul Williams as the snaky music producer, Gerrit Graham as a flaming rocker, and Bill Finley as the Phantom. The music was great, the costume design was inspired, the cinematography was as good-looking as it is in most of DePalma's movies, and the ending was Wagnerian in its tragedy. All in all, the movie was an entertaining spin on Phantom of the Opera and Faust.
divinetrash
divinetrash

Super Reviewer

February 23, 2008
I don't think there'll ever be enough words to describe how much I love this film. The entire experience of watching it is dreamlike and fascinating.
Patrick D

Super Reviewer

August 12, 2007
I love the music in this movie. It's really strange and amazing. If you are a fan of Brian DePalma's earlier stuff, definetly see it. It claim to be the most acclaimed Horror-Fantasy of all time, which I'd probably agree, yet I can't really think of any others.
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