Phantom of the Paradise
Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper
Review by Jordan
Before Phantom of the Paradise, Brian De Palma hadn’t made much of note. The Wedding party (1969), which lays claim to boasting Robert De Niro’s first starring role, was released on DVD by purveyors of schlock and sleaze Troma which says enough of its quality, and Hi, Mom! (1970), also featuring a young De Niro, has possibly been treated even harsher by time. Sisters (1973), though, is the exception, being a lurid yet disciplined thriller in the mold of Hitchcock and featuring the enchanting Margot Kidder.
It’s surprising, then, that after his dazzlingly bonkers, camp and horrifically outrageous 1974 cult musical/horror he went on to have the career he now lays claim to.
De Palma’s curiosity is the insane story of amateur singer/songwriter and monumental schmuck Winslow (William Finley), whose life’s work (an epic sonata based on the tragic story of Faust) is stolen by the enigmatic head of Death Records and ruthless visionary Swan (Paul Williams), before he succumbs to a terribly (and terribly comical) unfortunate fate, resulting in wrongful imprisonment and the severe disfigurement of this face and transforms into the vengeful Phantom of the Paradise.
His quest, as Phantom, now that he has lost his voice and been left with the ghoulishly husky remnant of one, is for the lovely and talented Phoenix (the equally lovely and talented Jessica Harper, whom once you glance upon instantly floods your subconscious with just how good Suspiria is) to bring his masterwork to life at the Paradise theater in his absence. But will she be corrupted by the scheming Swan and left muddied with the other tramps that have gone before her before time to prove her worth? Only fate, and some lengthy, legal and life binding contracts will tell…
Showing-off a masterful usage of split screen that would later be used to even more tremendous effect in Carrie (1976), and featuring a bloody climax that too acts as a precursor for what would come 2 years later at a high-school prom, this early classic from a film-maker who would also go on to direct little titles such as Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981) and Carlito’s Way (1993) and even smaller ones like Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987) and Mission: Impossible (1996), also throws into the colorful mix an exuberant sense of wild humor and songs actually worth listening to. You’ll find your foot tapping and your head shaking in equal measure as you try to comprehend just what exactly you are bearing witness to, and when the curtain closes on this particular trip to the theater, complete with exploding cars, accidentally assassinated priests and toothless inmates, no doubt you’ll be asking around as to whether you actually saw a performance, or fell asleep and dreamed one.
Enjoy your night at the Paradise. Don’t forget to watch for low-flying electrical lightning bolt props.