31 October 2014

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
92 min.
Directed by Brian De Palma.
With Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, George Memmoli, Gerrit Graham, Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor.
Horror musicals are tricky, subjective birds. Memorably good ones can be counted on one hand.

But when they're good, they can be oh, so good.

Thankfully, De Palma's 1974 stab at the subgenre is a rip roaring triumph.

Winslow Leach (Finley) is a talented music composer who just hasn't had his big break yet.

So when he meets weird impresario Swan (Williams), Leach is confident that success is right around the corner.

But Swan railroads Leach, steals his unpublished cantatas, and leaves him for dead.

Furious, Leach escapes from prison and infiltrates Swan's headquarters at Death Records.

There, he accidently gets his head stuck in a record press, and his face and voice are irrevocably maimed.

Unfazed, he dons a black suit, cape and owl-like mask and transforms himself into the sinister 'Phantom.'

Signing a pact with the trustless Swan, the Phantom agrees to compose a rock opera for the opening of Swan's new club The Paradise. But with one caveat: Swan must cast pretty young singer Phoenix (Harper) in the lead.

When Swan reneges by hiring effeminate screamer Beef (Graham), the Phantom decides he's been doublecrossed for the last time...and now there'll be hell to pay!

Ingeniously mixing themes from Goethe's Faust, Leroux's original Phantom of the Opera - and channeling a bit of Richard O'Brien's 1973 stage musical Rocky Horror Show - Brian De Palma's offbeat terror fantasy is a surprisingly fresh concoction.

Finley is a revelation as the tortured Phantom, and Harper - in her film debut - is wonderful as an impressionable songbird.

De Palma's work is always visually satisfying, and here's no exception; Williams gets extra kudos both for his delightful portrayal of the eccentric Swan, and his energized glam pop score.

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