Blu-ray Review: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Phantom of the Paradise BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: Brian De Palma

Starring: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Archie Hahn

Brian De Palma isn’t really a director that you’d associate with rock operas but back in 1974 he set about creating exactly that, and when you cast your eyes over his catalogue of work some 40 years later Phantom of the Paradise does stick out somewhat. But under closer inspection there are many of the De Palma trademarks at work here, and thanks to Arrow Video it all looks and sounds nice and sparkly.

Phantom of the Paradise combines elements of The Phantom of the Opera, Faust and The Picture of Dorian Gray and nails it all together with a 1970s rock opera score and a faux-futuristic sheen that gives it a sci-fi look. The story follows composer Winslow Leach (William Finley – Eaten Alive/The Fury) as he makes a deal with egomaniac music producer Swan (Paul Williams) to provide the music for Swan’s latest venture, the lavish Paradise rock club. However, Swan doesn’t want Leach’s choice of singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper – Suspiria) to perform it, preferring the Bowie-esque glam rocker Beef (Gerrit Graham – Child’s Play 2) to sing Leach’s songs. Swan keeps the music and then frames Leach to get him out of the picture but after escaping from jail and getting his head mangled in a vinyl record press, Leach returns to Paradise dressed in a masked costume and signs a deal in his blood with Swan, and then things get really weird…

Although many are going to compare this to The Rocky Horror Picture Show – the movie of which came out a year later but the theatre show was already a year old – the difference is that Phantom of the Paradise has something of a tragic element to it and isn’t just a farcical romp from start to finish. This is a Brian De Palma film so naturally there are tributes and homages to the director’s influences peppered throughout; there is an obvious (and very amusing) take on Hitchcock’s most famous shower scene as well as more subtle nods to the likes of James Whale, F.W. Murnau and Orson Welles that De Palma fuses into his own rock n’ roll fantasy, but although the tributes are plenty they don’t take over the picture or bog it down at all.

The actors all manage to keep things moving along nicely, with William Finley and Jessica Harper both throwing themselves into their roles and making their characters memorable. Paul Williams gives off a huge Phil Spector vibe with his performance as the sinister Swan but the best and most colourful performance comes from the hilarious Gerrit Graham as Beef, who may be sending up camp glam rockers with his antics but you can bet most of what he says and does actually happened to many of the stars of the era.

Phantom of the Paradise is a very vibrant and colourful film that bounces along on its own energy and manages to hold your eyes on the screen as there’s always something going on. It’s difficult to tell if the acting is good or bad but whichever it is, it works for the film and, much like the visuals, the actors manage to hold your attention. However, the plot does get a little messy in places and, like most parodies, only really works if you’re familiar with the source material. The songs aren’t particularly memorable and need the flamboyant visual spectacle to work on any level, and although the film has elements of horror, sci-fi, musical, comedy, tragedy and drama in it, it never really feels comfortable going the whole way with any of them. That may be what gives it its energy but it also gives it an uneven feel that may be a little too jarring for some. It’s certainly an entertaining film and this Blu-ray edition certainly looks the business with a crystal clear picture that really lends itself to HD, and there’s also plenty of supplementary material for fans to get all giddy over, but be prepared for some seriously silly and campy goings on that may require you to be in a certain mood to fully appreciate.

Phantom of the Paradise

Special Features: Isolated music and effects soundtrack, Paradise Regained documentary featuring director Brian De Palma, producer Edward R. Pressman, the late star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham, brand new 72-minute interview with Paul Williams by Guillermo del Toro, The Swan Song Fiasco featurette, archive interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton, archive William Finley interview, Paradise Lost and Found alternate takes and bloopers, original trailers, radio spots, gallery of rare stills, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth, an exploration of the film’s troubled marketing history and illustrated with original stills and promotional material.

UK Release Date: 24th February 2014

Arrow Films – Website

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