Dir: Brian De Palma, 1974
Sitting alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a misunderstood cult, Brian De Palma’s plush musical hardly made an impact with critics and only gained the recognition after the film had done the rounds.
Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a budding musician who has just finished his opus on Faust. Influential record producer Swan (Paul Williams), frames Leach and has him put in prison, while stealing the musician’s work.
Escaping from his confinement, Leach attempts to destroy Swan’s record pressing plant but is caught in the machine and disfigured.
As, now, the phantom, Leach resides in the Paradise theatre, sabotaging Swan’s efforts to stage his stolen concerto, while falling deeply in love with singer for the show, Phoenix (Jessica Harper).
Taking inspiration from several classic sources, Phantom Of The Paradise is a hit and miss affair. High camp and stage theatrics, De Palma’s film is successful in some areas but a failure in others.
The set design is, rather, minimalist but effective. A film like this could, easily, have had a grandiose look that overshadows the film as a whole.
However, the most glaring flaw is The soundtrack. The main point of a musical is the music, but it just isn’t that great or catchy. Aside from the final number by its star, Paul Williams, the numbers are instantly forgettable. Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show had a basis for him to work from. An homage to rock ‘n’ roll music and love of fifties sci-fi movies, allowed O’Brien a guide and to create one of the most wonderful musicals of all time. De Palma doesn’t really have a guide and the result is inconsistent.
Phantom Of The Paradise is certainly very clever with it’s plot, utilising Faust and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray plus a few others, but parts of it are just boring.
The director tries to be outrageous but it all feels forced. Aside from Finley, none of the cast are particularly any good, with Harper being the worst. A deep flat voice, Harper is unable to bring to the music to life, a trait that also hindered Shock Treatment.
Although inventive, there’s very little else to recommend it.
An interesting facet is the legal troubles the film had to manoeuvre at the last minute. Originally, Swan’s record label was called “Swan Song” and that’s how it was filmed. However, it became apparent that rock band Led Zeppelin had a label under that name, resulting in many scenes having to be re-edited and all instances of “Swan Song” masked with “Death Records”. The changes are blatantly obvious and don’t match the quality of the film. If you look carefully, some instances of the original title are still present.
Drab and disappointing, this film had so much potential but is, ultimately, executed badly.
A curiosity piece that should have been so much more.