Saturday, October 12, 2013

Film Review: The Phantom of the Paradise

"The Phantom of the Paradise"  *** (out of ****)

Boy was I duped! Walking into Brian De Palma's "The Phantom of the Paradise" (1974) I wasn't really quite sure what to expect. Naturally, given the title of the film, I figured we were getting a modern twist on the Gaston Leroux novel, "The Phantom of the Opera". And, since De Palma is known for cinematic homages (Hitchcock anyone?) I also assumed perhaps the movie would tip its hat to the best known screen adaptation of the novel, the classic 1925 silent film starring Lon Chaney. Nope! I was wrong.

"The Phantom of the Paradise" is only partially something near to that. It is a campy, rock n' roll, satircal look at the music industry and a phantom of the opera update mixed in with the legend of Faust and hints of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray".

Yet, for some reason, it works. I was expecting something slightly campy, I find elements of camp in all of De Palma's films, but I thought it would have some suspenseful moments and play up the horror angle a bit more. It doesn't, going more for musical camp, think "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". Though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't entertained. This is a silly movie but harmless. Not terrible. Well made. De Palma shoots the movie straight, just as he would any other movie. The acting is a bit on the ham side, especially the lead, William Finley as a struggling composer who enters the world of a great music producer, Swan (Paul Williams), who promises to produce his musical adaptation of Faust.

One day Swan hears Winslow (Finley) play one of his original songs. Swan is impressed. The music may be just what Swan has been looking for. A new sound to open is upcoming club, The Paradise. Swan is not really interested in Winslow, just his music, and wants a rock band to sing it. Winslow will not hear of this. No one will ruin his music. It is his labor of love. Only he can do justice to it. So on and so forth. You've heard this stuff before.

A double-cross happens and now Winslow finds himself disformed and without a voice. He hears an attractive woman audition for Swan, Phoenix (Jessica Harper, making his debut. She was in the horror masterpiece "Suspiria" (1977) directed by Dario Argento) and falls in love with her. Both with her and her voice. Now only she can sing his music. And he will kill, if he has to, to make it happen.

I won't go into much more of the plot details. For one thing, there really isn't any point and for another I wouldn't want to spoil anything. Although if you are familiar with the phantom of the opera, there aren't any major surprises here.

This isn't one of De Palma's best films. For that I would suggest "Sisters" (1973), "Obsession" (1976), "Dressed to Kill" (1980) or "Body Double" (1984). But "The Phantom of the Paradise" is not without its own charm. The satire works, the songs are pleasant to listen to (Paul Williams wrote the score and received an Oscar nomination for it) and the movie is only 90 minutes. So, you never really get bored watching it.

Not a great choice if you are looking for something scary to watch this Halloween but a good choice if you are looking for something campy to watch with some friends.