- Gareth Crook
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
This starts with narration from Rod Serling introducing Phantom of the Paradise, a Brian De Palma comedic fantasy rock opera. Strap in! Swan (Paul Williams) is an evil record producer at Death Records. Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a talented musician who’s music Swan wants... but without Winslow attached. It’s a bit bonkers. Purposely over the top and hyper-stylised. Winslow finds himself at the end of a ploy to steal his music and frame him, winding up in Sing Sing (I’m sure the pun is intended) assembling board games and losing his marbles. It’s terribly acted, but shot pretty well, both make it a riot to watch. Especially when a disfigured Winslow returns to thwart the grand opening of The Paradise, Swan’s new club/theatre only to get further entwined in Swan’s dastardly plans. Despite some grand sets, it all looks pretty cheap and thrown together, sorry Sissy Spacek, yes that Sissy Spacek who was the set dresser on this. The story is a knock off Phantom of the Opera, but despite the silliness, it’s quite entertaining. Definitely a cult sort of entertainment, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but not half as good. This is largely down to its biggest downfall, the music, which is essentially a mix of slightly glam MOR and power ballads. In amongst all the kitsch, there’s plenty of striking visuals to keep it interesting though. Winslow getting his head trapped in a record press and his subsequent transformation outfit that’s an amusing mix of Edward Scissorhands, Darth Vader and Robocop. It’s nippy too, at a thrifty 90 minutes, it rips through the plot fast enough to keep you on your toes and forgive/forget some of it’s more preposterous moments. Which could be dangerous, the whole point of it is surely to indulge in the ridiculous. How else do you explain a character named Beef (Gerrit Graham), who sings like a strangled cat wearing gold lame stage gear complete with stacked heels and a skull shaped beauty mark on his cheek. Winslow, now ‘The Phantom’ doesn’t like Beef either. Doesn’t like that he’s replaced Phoenix (Jessica Harper) to sing his beloved opera and certainly doesn’t like that he’s been double crossed again by Swan. Winslow may not like it... but I do. By the time we hit the hour mark I’m all in for the utterly batshit finale. The songs won’t stick with you, but the spectacle will.