Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
A horror rock opera inspired by Phantom of the Opera and Faust ... Hell ya!
"Half asleep, I hear a voice. Is it only in my mind? Or is it someone calling me, someone I failed and left behind? To work it out, I let them in. All the good guys and the bad guys that I've been. All the devils that disturb me, and the angels that defeated them somehow. Come together in me now."
Finally, an early stylistic Brian De Palma film that I could really sink my teeth into! Quip of the review: Hey, isn't that Suzy from Suspiria.
Phantom of the Paradise is about a talented musician and composer named Winslow that is trying desperately to get a deal with a music mogol named Swan, who is the head of Death Records. Swan is currently focused on his 60's Beach Boys styled band 'The Juicy Fruits', but does get interested in Winslow's music. But when Winslow tries to follow up with him several times, he just gets kicked out. During one of these attempts he runs into a young female singer named Phoenix, that he instantly strikes a connection with. But she is not thrilled to find out that all the girls she is auditioning with are not there to sing, but instead be eye-candy for the performances.
Eventually, Winslow's repeated attempts to try and talk with Mr. Swan lands him in prison. He then becomes enraged to hear that Swan plans to use his music and cut him out, so he breaks out of prison. He goes to the record pressing factory to cause trouble, but ends up falling and becoming disfigured in one of the presses ... thus turning himself into the Phantom who is hell-bent on creating chaos at Swan's new Paradise performance hall.
I have periodically seen the somewhat bird-like phantom mask and never realized it was from this movie, and I thought it was clever how that mask matched the logo of Death Records which was a dead bird.
It was neat to see such a wild fantasy, horror, musical premise in this 70s aesthetic. I am glad I checked out other De Palma films like 'Sisters' and 'Dressed to Kill' from this era, where I thought stylistic touches like split screens and cheesy bright fake blood were just ok. But in movies like Phantom of The Paradise, and 'Blow out' I found myself really loving these touches. The newspaper and magazine article zoom-ins were also a nice touch. I also really liked that scene where Swan is sitting in a big record chair surrounded by darkness, and one by one all these different kinds of singers perform to help decide which direction he wants to go next with Winslow's music.
William Finley as Winslow seems like a lot to take in at first, but his expressive acting is perfect once he becomes The Phantom. I was amazed by how he could hold his eye open so wide to make it stand out while wearing the mask. Also his metal teeth and synthesized voice helps make him one of the most memorable characters I have ever seen in a musical. The performances were all so different with their look and sound. I especially found it interesting that there was a rock group that looked like 'Kiss', and a glam rock band. It was very comical so see the antler belt that guy was wearing poke the stage manager in the gut.
If you like musicals and are interested in is seeing something completely different but still had a solid story, then you must check out this cult classic.
It was cool to see how much the Faust element came into play, not only with the music Winslow was writing but also in the magical horror elements that begin to immerge toward the end of the movie, as blood contracts come into play. During the moment when The Phantom destroyed Swan's film room, I remember thinking to myself how much I was enjoying this wild multi-genre spectacle, and I did not want it to end.
The ending makes sense with The Phantom having to die along with Swan per the contract, but it still felt so sudden. At least we got that recap during the end credits to give us a little more Phantom, and see Brian De Palma's name in lights once again.
Thanks for reading.
Happy movie watching ... SKOL!