PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)
By both guest Schlocker Jim and Brad
What’s It About: Faust meets The Phantom of the Opera meets Dorian Grey meets glam rock, with a soundtrack by the genius that is Paul Williams, (who also stars as the film’s protagonist) and directed by Brian De Palma. I could go on, but I don’t think I have to.
Here are some of our observations as we watched the film:
- Brad: You know what always bothered me? How the “0” in the old 20th Century Fox logo was terribly crooked and misaligned with the “2.” How did that ever get approved? It looks ridiculous.
- Jim: It embarrassingly took me years to realize that was Rod Serling doing the opening narration.
- Brad: Every reader of ours probably just asked “Who is Rod Serling?”
- Brad: “He brought the blues to Britain.” He did? Nothing ever good came from that. “He brought Liverpool to America.” A shot in the dark that was.
- Jim: I always enjoyed the fact that Swan hid behind a mirrored-2001 monolith.
- Brad: How did the Juicy Fruits get away with that name and not get sued by Wrigley’s? Remember when Green Jello had to change their name to Green Jelly?
- Brad: Jersey City reference! Toast to the garden state! Eat your heart out Winnipeg!
- Jim: Perfectly timed feedback preventing an F-bomb. Let’s keep it PG here folks.
- Jim: Ah, those completely un-PC seventies. How I miss them.
- Jim: I can’t believe no one has overdubbed Winslow with Billy Joel on YouTube yet. “Piano Man of the Paradise.” See? Even named it for you.
- Brad: After hearing Leach’s song, Swan says that this music is perfect to open up his club The Paradise and that he’s been searching for 2 years for this music. It’s been 2 years since he constructed and planning on opening this club? Is he paying a lease on a 2 year old unopened club in Midtown Manhattan?!
- Jim: What Winslow calls his cantata, would nowadays be called a concept album.
- Brad: Death Records? Are they available through Columbia House?
- Brad: The cute Death Records receptionist has files or notes (I’m not sure what these are) for Winslow Leach as well as Alice Cooper, David Geffen, George McGovern, Bette Midler & Peter Fonda. When she looks under Leach it says, “Never to be seen.” I wish we could see what it said for the others.
- Jim: If only Justin Bieber was on the “never to be seen” list, it would have saved the world immense pain and tragedy.
- Jim: Winslow scales the wall in one jump and right in front of the biker gang providing security at the gate. If such obliviousness occurred at Altamont – maybe it wouldn’t have gone tits-up so fast.
- Brad: I understand Swan hiring biker gang type thugs as bodyguards and security but why do they have the sun-blocking eye stuff like football players do inside and at night?
- Jim: I always wished the “Never Thought I’d Get To Meet The Devil” song was released in its entirety.
- Jim: With all of those girls lined up on the stairs for the audition, it makes me picture what Hugh Hefner’s life was probably like in the seventies.
- Jim: I didn’t think that Superman t-shirts were popular before the first movie opened in 1978.
- Brad: Maybe the Superman shirts are for Godspell?
- Brad: Jessica Harper. What a cutie. I don’t know why her acting career never propelled higher. In my opinion she’s just as good, if not better than Margot Kidder or Karen Allen and easily could’ve been Lois Lane or Marion Ravenwood.
- Jim: The girl at the orgy who wanted Winslow to help her warm her voice up was none other than Rainbeaux Smith – whose roles in Cinderella and Revenge of the Cheerleaders make her a worthy reference.
- Brad: Some girl just said “No, I’m schwaving it for Schwan.” That is one terrible lisp.
- Jim: Unless the director or writer is gay, can you even say “fag” in a movie anymore?
- Brad: At first glance, Paul Williams seems an odd choice for a villain (he seems like an odd choice period) but then you watch him acting like such a creep and you totally understand why he had to be in this movie.
- Jim: The most obvious police frame job ever caught on celluloid.
- Brad: I love the campiness of this flick. De Palma definitely had a lot of fun with this movie. And you can tell Sam Raimi was a fan as well.
- Brad: Sing Sing! The prison so nice they named it twice. Also Sing Sing! Get it? Sing!?, oh forget it.
- Jim: What the hell kind of prisoner rehab involves complete tooth extraction?
- Brad: “All your teeth will be pulled. Teeth are a source of infection. And it pays to be on the safe side.” I’m sorry but what the fuck is this prison warden talking about?
- Jim: Are Swan’s offices located in Midtown? Because it is impossible to run from Sing Sing to L.A. You also can’t get from Sing Sing to Manhattan within the time of a jump cut for that matter.
- Brad: OK this is the second instance of them mentioning that Swan’s gold records are being deposited in Fort Knox. They do know that having a Gold Record is more of a symbolic honor right? It’s not like it’s worth it’s weight in gold. It’s by how many units sold; not every record becoming gold. And if he’s so good, why hasn’t these records become platinum?
- Jim: I understand how the record press destroyed his face, but how in fact did it destroy his voice? Was he shot in the throat? Well, anyway.
- Brad: Leach gets disfigured when a security guard distracts him and he lands in a record press. Then Leach stumbles out of the factory bleeding and falls into the East River. The newspaper says he was shot by a guard. When? We didn’t see it. And if Leach was stuck in the press then how did he get out? Did the Guard give up since Leach simply just walked out of the factory.
- Jim: De Palma beat Bob Clark to the punch with the killer-POV-heavy breathing shot by a full two months.
- Brad: “Then I take the tire and I shove it right in his mouth. Then he really gets mad at me.” What are these bikers talking about?!?!
- Jim: De Palma was one of the only directors to use spilt screen perfectly.
- Brad: You would think that such a highly secretive and elusive character like Swan is, he’d have a better secured club. Leach meanders right in to the dressing room and gets a new outfit without anyone seeing him.
- Jim: So, if you’re in a closed rehearsal, you’re allowed to see Swan. To this day I still don’t fully understand his protocol.
- Brad: How is Meat Loaf not involved in this movie? He would fit in perfectly as a thug of Swan’s. Perhaps he was busy still filming The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
- Jim: Hard to believe that bomb did not take one life in such a closed space.
- Brad: Let’s be honest, I don’t think anyone is sorry The Beach Bums got blown up right?
- Brad: Leach in no way influenced Lucas when he designed Darth Vader. Sure both wear black leather, have a mask, a cape and some sort of voice box on their chest but that’s flimsy at best.
- Brad: Why is Leach terrified of his own face? I can see being pissed or even disgusted by it but when Swan pulls off his mask Leach flat out flips out seeing his reflection in the mirror.
- Brad: On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses? Sorry Swan’s question to Phoenix was oddly reminiscent. Jim Steinman probably saw this flick and got insanely jealous that he never scored or composed a movie.
- Jim: The Jessica Harper “Special To Me” dance was always a source of laughter for us in the old days.
- Brad: Her dance may be Elaine Benes awkward but she sure looks good in that fedora.
- Jim: Pay close attention to Winslow’s voice in the control booth before Swan makes it his – it is the same voice Paul Williams uses in “Touch” off of Random Access Memories.
- Brad: While Winslow fumbles through the contract that Swan gives him I can’t help but think of the infamous Marx Brothers contract bit in A Night At The Opera.
- Brad: OK so there’s a contract but what does Leach really need a contract for? He’s a phantom, a man without a life or country, he’s off the grid for good. It’s not like he’s capable of suing Swan for breach of contract.
- Jim: Montages can only work with Paul Williams music.
- Brad: Why does Leach still wear the mask when he’s alone? I know he’s horribly disfigured but that helmet looks very uncomfortable. It’s got to be hot under there.
- Jim: Peter Grant should have allowed the name “Swan Song” to be used in the movie – I think he was just being his typical dick self.
- Brad: Swan has a giant desk shaped like a replica of a gold Death Records record with him sitting in the center of it. It’s a complete circle with no entrance way. My question is how does he get in the center? He would have to crawl underneath or crawl on top of it until he reaches the center. It’s hilariously poorly designed.
- Brad: Just because you think Phoenix is perfect and you abhor any perfection other than yourself, Swan it doesn’t make her any less perfect when you demote her to back up singer. You should probably just kill her.
- Jim: The reveal of Beef (get your mind of the gutter) has got to be one of the funniest goddamn scenes ever.
- Brad: He makes Paul Stanley seem like Clint Eastwood.
- Jim: That is of course until you hear his voice for the first time.
- Brad: “Swan this was scored for a chick. I’m not singing it in drag.”
“You can sing it better than any bitch.”
“You don’t know how right you are Goliath.”
Watch your language little lady. So many gay overtones in this movie.
- Brad: You gotta love Beef’s deer antler belt. It literally has multiple antlers sticking outwards like little Bambi boners.
- Jim: This couldn’t be a De Palma movie without a very obvious nod to Hitchcock.
- Brad: I wonder if Gerrit Graham still sings this song to this day when he showers?
- Brad: I know it’s an homage to Poe but isn’t bricking Leach into the recording studio a bit too much? Couldn’t he kill him in an easier way? A cheaper way?
- Brad: Swan’s second-in-command, Philbin is going outside at the line waiting to get in the opening of the Paradise, “What about you? You gotta ticket?”
“Sure I got a ticket.”
“OK. Back in line.” What is this, Willy Wonka? And why is checking if the queue outside has tickets. Isn’t that what the ticket takers in the Paradise are for? If someone on line doesn’t have a ticket, deny them entrance like any other venue.
- Jim: It has been argued that Kiss might have had their look inspired by “The Undead.” Even though the timing of the movie and the beginning of Kiss are very close, I never thought that theory held water.
- Brad: Yeah Mr. Simmons can call off his legal team. They more or less resemble Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
- Brad: This opening number I’m sure made Alice Cooper envious with the fake audience member maiming and decapitating. Then the various body parts are sewn together to make Beef like Frankenstein. It’s awesome. How is this movie not a Criterion Collection title?!?
- Brad: Do you want your Beef flame-broiled? Leach sure does.
- Jim: After he electrocutes Beef on stage, the triumphant laugh the Phantom does was used a lot by me and my friends whenever we felt we accomplished something of almost equal merit.
- Brad: How is “Old Souls” not a huge hit still played and covered til this day. This song is fantastic. I should’ve made it my wedding song.
- Brad: Yeah let’s go out and celebrate Phoenix becoming a fan favorite. We’ll feel sorry for Beef being fried on stage another day.
- Jim: Phoenix could have been at least a tiny bit more open-minded and receptive to the Phantom’s warnings.
- Brad: She asks him, “Why do you wear that mask?” Good question but I want to know why he wears a cape? And it’s not so much a mask as its more a helmet no? He can even lift up the visor like a motorcycle helmet. Dammit. now I’m on eBay trying to find a replica to buy.
- Jim: So Swan likes to watch people watching him have sex. Hey, I don’t judge – if I did I wouldn’t have any friends.
- Brad: The most suspension of disbelief in this movie is any woman making out with Paul Williams.
- Brad: And why is Leach just watching Phoenix make out with Little Enos instead of you know break the glass and kill him? What’s stopping him? He’s a Cromdamned monster!
- Brad: Nods and homages to The Phantom of the Opera, Faust, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Edgar Allan Poe, Psycho and now The Picture of Dorian Gray! This film
rips offhas it all.
- Brad: How exactly is the video recording of Swan’s own contract signing cut over to both Leach’s and Phoenix’s contract signing as well as the live feed of Swan explaining the assassination plot of Phoenix to Philbin? Lazy exposition.
- Brad: So why exactly does he want Phoenix dead? Just for ratings? Swan is just not famous, influential or rich enough I guess. Oh woe for the 1%.
- Jim: An assassination live on tv? That’s entertainment! Just ask R. Budd Dwyer.
- Brad: Have fun googling “R. Budd Dwyer” kiddies.
- Jim: The burning of all of that videotape and acetate cannot be good for the environment.
- Brad: If the contract tape is the link to killing Swan, then why wasn’t it more heavily guarded? Especially with a crazy phantom bent on revenge running around?!
- Jim: The music playing during the wedding sequence is undoubtedly the greatest 70’s porno music ever done.
- Brad: The mask that Swan is wearing makes him look like Louie Anderson.
- Jim: That sniper head shot on Philbin was pulled off quite effectively.
- Jim: In tribute to the late great Rowdy Roddy Piper: Swan’s face looks like it fell in the cheese dip back in 1957.
- Jim: I always thought the guy who was helping stab Swan to death was Michael Monroe from Hanoi Rocks.
- Brad: Every reader of ours probably just asked “What is Hanoi Rocks?”
- Brad: In all honesty Phoenix only knew Leach like for 2 minutes while they waited for Swan a few months back before he was maimed. She shouldn’t have much care for him now really.
- Brad: And now for the film flashbacks while the inimitable Paul Williams sings “The Hell of It.” This really should be a Criterion Collection. Shit, a Broadway musical even. Someone please get Paul Williams and Andrew Lloyd Webber on the phone STAT!
Scare Volume: Jim: The poster’s tagline describes it as a “horror phantasy” which works perfect. With absolutely no respect to the Osmonds, I’d say it’s a little bit horror and a little bit rock and roll.
Brad: The only thing scary about this movie is that it’s just a cult classic and not that well known. I didn’t see it for the first time until a decade ago when Jim copied the DVD for me. It should be played in midnight shows as a double billing with Rocky Horror. It’s very campy and fun and one of the best soundtracks to boot.
Gore Volume: Jim: Record press-face melting and some blood here and there, but nothing too extravagant.
Brad: I like how low-budget and gruesome Leach’s maimed face looks by the finale. Swan’s melting face is “cheesy” too.
Nudity Volume: Jim: Silent.
Brad: Sadly, the world will never see Paul Williams’ Little Enos at the height of his prime. Speaking of prime, we never see Beef’s Grade-A choice either. And it will be one more movie into her career to see the lovely Jessica Harper nude.
Best Kill: Jim: Swan’s Bacchanalian slaughter at the films conclusion.
Brad: I’d have to go with the insanely over-the-top Beef electrocution. The faces Gerrit Graham makes being jolted are downright hysterical.
Best Scene: Jim: Jessica Harper’s performance of “Old Souls.” No metaphorical joke needed.
Brad: There’s very few things that can beat an old school De Palma split screen scene for me.
Worst Scene: Jim: Seeing Philbin in his boxers.
Brad: I have to say the finale. Every time I see this picture I always wish it was more gothic in nature. A more personal battle between Swan and Leach. Instead we get a very rushed and hectic as well as chaotic mess of an ending with audience members screaming and fleeing and a now dying Swan and Leach dying. I would’ve loved a high tower, damsel in distress, hero sacrificing himself type ending. Plus, it always annoys me that Swan hires a sniper to kill Phoenix. Not very in touch and tone with the rest of the horror phantasy in my opinion. Minor nitpick really as the rest of the film is golden.
Jim: Then I’ll lend you the novelization of the film – VERY different story.
How ’bout the Tunes: Genius. Here’s the entire soundtrack. You’re welcome.
Band Rating: Jim: If David Bowie and Lon Chaney fucked Kiss, and their child was Mephistopheles – who could direct like Alfred Hitchcock and play guitar like Hendrix; it would almost be as good as this movie and its music. Goes To ELEVEN!
Brad: Exactly what Jim said.
Overall: Jim: In my tenure here with the boys, I have shit on movies like they were actresses in Japanese porn, so for what seems the second or third time; I will give a perfect review of a movie that is very “Special To Me.” My fifteen–year-old self found this movie in our local video store in what seems a lifetime ago. Since then I have owned every video format of the movie possible, and the soundtrack on formats that most of you kids today can only see when you Google-image them. It’s one of those movies that you want your friends to experience – not so much to take the credit for finding it, but re-enjoying its discovery through new eyes. It was a long time coming, but I have dined on honeydew and finally reviewed Phantom of the Paradise.
Brad: Back in the dark days long ago (circa 2004) when I was still breaking my balls as a lowly office drone graphic designer I met a dude, who I knew the moment I met him, was a real cool dude and that we were kindred spirits. He had mini horror movie posters (as well as George Carlin quotes) all over his cubicle wall. One of those posters was for Phantom of the Paradise. Like I said back then I had only heard of the De Palma classic but this new coworker of mine corrected me right so. Jim and I quickly became good friends (Brian came from this same hell of employment as well) and we all quickly became buds with the same penchant for movies and it was only a matter of time we all got canned there and Brian and I started this little movie review/tribute website thing. But back to Phantom of the Paradise—I have my dear friend Jim to thank to showing this classic of a film to me. His enthusiasm for this De Palma masterpiece was key to me understanding and appreciating it. With every new viewing of it I find something new to enjoy and I grow fonder of it. I joked a few times that it should be a Criterion Collection title and I’m not really joking. This was a very early Brian De Palma movie. This was before Carrie, Blow Out and Scarface. Just look at the credits or titles for this film and it stands out above most of the contemporaries of its time.
It’s campy but not stupid. It incites huge literary and cinematic references without being hokey about it. It has a tremendously awesome soundtrack and unforgettable performances. It still bugs me that this movie doesn’t get more recognition. It may have been an early effort from a not well-known director but it wasn’t even a low budget or independent feature. It was produced by Twentieth Century Fox and Edward R. Pressman who has well over 80 feature films produced so far and not all of them stinkers; Wall Street, Conan the Barbarian and Badlands just to name a few. So this movie should be more well known in my opinion. But sometimes the better films are the ones you share with a small community of fans or just close friends.
Score: 10 Plungers to Gerrit Graham’s Face, 10 Infectious Teeth Pulled, 10 Deer Antler Belts (out of 10)