Oct. 5: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 This underrated early gem from director Brian De Palma update the classic tales Phantom of the Opera and Faust and turns them into a very bizarre and fresh satire of the record industry, a sort of Phantom of the Rock Opera. This movie isn'92t that well known, but it'92s too much fun to be ignored.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a struggling composer who has written a '93rock cantata'94 that he wants to be performed at the opening of the titular theater, owned by sinister record mogul Swan (tiny songwriter Paul Williams), the head of Death Records.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Swan sees the quality in Winslow'92s work, but he doesn'92t particularly like to share, so he frames Winslow for a crime and sends him to prison (Sing-Sing, naturally). After Winslow escapes, disfiguring his face in the attempt, Swan gives him a mask and agrees to let him hide in the bowels of the Paradise while he completes the cantata. Swan asks for very little in exchange for the opportunity, though Winslow finds it odd that he has to sign the contract in blood.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 While lurking in the recesses of the Paradise, Winslow falls in love with comely young singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper, a few years before Suspiria), and takes steps to assure that she becomes the lead in the show. To do so, Winslow has to wrest the show out of the hands of Beef (!), a talentless, flavor-of-the-moment star hilariously played by Gerritt Graham.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Ever an appropriator, De Palma borrows from Phantom and Faust, and mixes it with horror, comedy, rock '92n'92 roll and a bit of Hitchcock, all filtered through his own bizarre sensibilities, and the result feels entirely original. It'92s playful and creepy, and a little sad. And the songs are quite good.
The movie'92s look and feel make it seem like a bit of an anomaly in De Palma'92s filmography, but you can still see the director'92s trademark style and energetic camerawork in action in every scene. Even when the movie shouldn'92t work, De Palma'92s enthusiasm and glee pull you through.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 There are a few creepy bits here and there, but the movie isn'92t particularly scary. However, it is so bizarre and energetic that it must be seen to be believed.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 Sisters (1973): The film De Palma made before Phantom, this twisty, Hitchcock-inspired thriller seemed to birth De Palma'92s style onto the screen fully formed. It stars Margot Kidder as a pair of Siamese twin sisters whose bodies survived when they were separated, if not their sanity. It also co-stars Phantom'92s William Finley as one of the villains. Available in a beautiful Criterion Collection DVD.
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Phantom of the Opera (1925): You can'92t go wrong with the original, silent version of the story, starring Lon Chaney and his horrifying makeup as the Phantom. It may be over 80 years old, but it can still scare you.