Brian De Palma is one of the most notorious directors of all time. He has films like "Scarface" and "Carrie" under his belt, which have made his reputation as one of the most outrageous filmmakers in the business. Back in 1974, De Palma made a movie that was hilarious, bizarre, and masterful all at once. This project was the horror-musical-comedy film "Phantom of the Paradise." This flick has the full package. Great acting, visuals, music, writing, and direction. While it was ignored by critics and audiences during its original release, the film has been reassessed as one of De Palma's greatest works, and it boasts a whopping 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The story begins with a narrative about a record producer named Swan. The viewer is told of how he is trying to make a rock palace called "The Paradise." The film then cuts to the music of a band named "Juicy Fruit," and Swan is very happy about their success. Much to his surprise, an unknown songwriter named Winslow Leach begins to play, and everyone is blown away by his compositions. Swan has his workers tell Winslow of their interest in him, and he thinks that he has something going for himself. Sadly, Winslow is tricked, used, framed, and later caused to be in a horrible accident. Winslow wants revenge on the evil man Swan, but instead signs a contract that basically sells his soul away to Swan. After writing the groundbreaking rock opera for his boss, he is used again. Now he must get revenge on Swan once and for all, and also save the woman he loves.
One of the most important parts of this film was the music, and it sure did succeed. With songwriting genius Paul Williams as the composer, the viewer gets the rock opera experience of a lifetime. The instrumentation spans from heavy to beautiful, and the lyrics are poetic. The genres of music are also all over the place, with sounds similar to the Beach Boys, Alice Cooper, etc. It does not surprise me at all that the score was nominated for an Oscar, and I feel like it was deserving of the win.
The next thing that helped this film be great was the visuals. There were wild sets, colors, costumes, and cinematography. All of this gave a very bizarre feeling to the movie, and it was really amazing. I loved how the smoke and lights would fill the screen at some points, because it gave the eerie mood. One of the coolest cinematography moments was during the electrocution scene, because the shakiness of the screen almost made me feel like I was being shocked.
The acting in this movie was absolutely perfect. Depending on the character, the performances were either heartbreaking, hilarious, beautiful, or dark. Paul Williams was perfectly evil as Swan. With a manipulative way in his personality, he could make the viewer think he was an okay guy, but then he turned into someone completely different. William Finley was very good as Winslow Leach, because he was a very geeky and likable person, and later a creepy but still likable phantom. Jessica Harper was one of the treasures of the film. She had a vulnerable beauty to her, and her singing voice was one of an angel. No one could have been casted better in her role. The real show stealer of the movie was Gerrit Graham as the glam-rocker Beef. I honestly laughed my head off every moment that Graham was on the screen, because he was so perfectly outrageous and flamboyant.
The writing of this film was really awesome, because while it was obviously inspired, it made many twists to add to its originality. "Phantom of the Opera" and Faust were both given great tributes in the screenplay, and they served as a great starting point in the thinking process. The rest of the writing was completely distinct though, with sharp humor, great surprises, and awesome dialogue. I also loved the omages to horror films like "Psycho," because they showed De Palma's dedication to the genre.
"Phantom of the Paradise" is really an underrated treasure from the golden age of cinema. Brian De Palma really excelled on this early effort, and it is definitely one of my favorites of his. I highly recommend this to all horror fans and movie buffs, because it is an essential cult classic.