Brian De Palma’s glam-goth-rock-opera is definitely a movie to watch, though your mileage to how good it is may vary. It depends on a few things. Do you love glam rock? Have a love pastiches of classic horror stories? Are you really into Paul Williams? If you answered yes to all three, then The Phantom of the Paradise is going to appeal to you.

Synopsis

A singer-songwriter by the name of Winslow Leach auditions his work at a club following a 1950s novelty band called The Juicy Fruits. His work catches the eyes and ears of a mega-producer named Swan. Swan’s henchman convinces Leach to trade his music for a future contract on Swan’s review. Swan, however, seeks to use Winslow’s musical adaptation of Faust to open his dream club, The Paradise.

Swan has Leach imprisoned at Sing Sing. Leach escapes Sing Sing but is disfigured in an accident while taking revenge of Swan’s label, Death Records. Leach enters the Paradise, seeking vengeance, taking on a costume and messing with Swan’s production of Faust. Winslow becomes the Phantom of the Paradise.

Several double crosses and musical numbers occur, as the Phantom finishes his work, aided and exploited by Swan. The Phantom also seeks to unite with a singer who was kind to him in the past. However, the mystery around Swan may doom all three.

The Phantom of the Paradise is directed by Brian De Palma. It stars William Finley as Winslow Leach, Paul Williams as the mysterious Swan, and Jessica Harper as Phoenix. Paul Williams also doubles as the Phantom’s singing voice and is credited for all music and lyrics in the film.

Winslow Leach/The Phantom’s costume is incredible

Review

While not quite the midnight-musical icon as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Phantom of the Paradise has many fans. The films are equally strange and pay loving tribute to classic horror tropes, updating them for the more subversive 1970s audience. As a whole, the film is successful in parodying several horror stories with that subversive-edge. The clear nod here is to The Phantom of the Opera with the addition of Faust. However, The Picture of Dorian Gray also manages to sneak into the proceedings, albeit a little sloppily.

The music in the film, while generally good thanks to Paul Williams, just does not come across as sing-a-long worthy. There are no bad songs, but nothing in the soundtrack is likely to be found on a karaoke machine. For a film where music is a driving component, this is a problem. With that said, “The Hell of It” is a peak Paul Williams tune and is definitely the best song in the film.

The performances in the film are appropriately ridiculous and oversold. William Finley does a fantastic job as a good-natured goober and as the scheming, passionate Phantom. Jessica Harper plays the doe-eyed singer Phoenix with aplomb and a great voice, and also sells her turn from innocent to glam-hound. The real star of the show is Paul Williams. He is absolutely magnetic as Swan and is an excellent, charismatic villain.

Final Thoughts

Though The Phantom of the Paradise doesn’t quite reach the level of an icon as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it is still a great film and should be experienced at least once by horror fans. It’s a prime midnight movie and is pure, mainlined 1970s.

Haunted MTL gives The Phantom of the Paradise:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

You can catch The Phantom of the Paradise on Shudder.

About the Author

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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