By at February 5, 2010 | 7:17 pm | Print

by Scott David, posted 02.06.10
4 / 5 stars

Phantom of the Paradise Movie PosterThe late 1960s and early 1970s gave us a wealth of American cult films. One of the forgotten gems of this era is writer/director Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974), a wonderfully hysterical, visually opulent tongue-in-cheek horror movie that pokes fun at the burgeoning glam rock scene while playfully criticizing the cutthroat record industry.

A mixture of “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Faust,” Phantom of the Paradise stars Paul Williams as Swan, a combination Elvis, David Bowie, The Beatles, and Phil Spector wrapped up in an ultra-rock-god package. After hearing composer Winslow Leach’s new rock opera, Swan decides to steal his music and play it at Swan’s new club, The Paradise. After being wrongly imprisoned, Winslow escapes, dons a leather suit complete with dark cape and silver, bug-like mask, and plans to wreak terror and vengeance upon Swan and the newly opening Paradise.

Featuring classic De Palma direction, Phantom gives us the split-screen technique he later used so deftly in Carrie and Blow Out. With this style, De Palma gives us simultaneous events and character reactions across wide spaces, thus expanding his film frame, and creating interesting suspense and parallel imagery.

Phantom of the Paradise Anniversary PosterAs much as Phantom of the Paradise is a vehicle for De Palma’s camera, it is equally engaging due to its cast and soundtrack. Williams wrote all the songs and music (garnering him an Oscar nod), showing off a wealth of talent with songs that range from doo-wop to folk ballad to hard rock. His performance is at once spectacularly funny and creepy. And extra kudos to De Palma for photographing Williams without drawing attention to his short stature.

Rounding out the supporting cast is Jessica Harper, in one of her first roles, excellent as a singer Phoenix who’ll do anything for fame. Gerrit Graham gives a memorable performance as hard rocker Beef, with a goofy, effeminate portrayal that’s hilariously reminiscent of Dick Shawn’s role as the hippie actor in The Producers. And William Finley does a good job making The Phantom spooky without being ridiculous.

Phantom of the Paradise remains a very watchable, critically acclaimed cult film that any horror fan, rock-n-roll listener, or student of cinematic technique will certainly find enjoyable — and maybe even inspirational. It’s even too much fun for just one viewing.

(Trivia note: Phantom of the Paradise set designer? Sissy Spacek. Also, the IMDb lists a remake on the way.)

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  1. […] and the gang heading to Hollywood with aspirations of seeing their names in lights. Paul Williams (see our review of The Phantom of the Paradise) wrote the music — two of the seven songs would live beyond […]

  2. […] … You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a … The Quirky Queue: PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE :: Meet In the …by Scott David, posted 02.06.10 4 / 5 stars The late 1960s and early 1970s gave us a wealth of […]

  3. […] much more inspired music. So skip this moody clunker, and go directly to Wild In The Streets or Phantom of the Paradise […]


  1. Principal archivist, 7 years ago Reply

    Ms Spacek was the set dresser, a far cry from set designer. And the remake …. exists only in the imagination of some random wishful thinker who recklessly posted to imdb. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

  2. Scott David, 7 years ago Reply

    You are of course correct. My error, Spacek was just the set dresser. As far as the remake, I know that many IMDB listings for future films never come about. I’m sure it is just as you said: wishful thinking.

    -Scott David

  3. Wesley, 7 years ago Reply

    Wow! An incredible blast from the past. I remenber seeing this one at the Drive-in.
    Paul Williams was legendary at the time. Classic flick, and incredible movie poster.
    I’ll be looking for this one.

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