Double Exposure: ‘Phantom of the Paradise’ (1974)


Nova Clark

“He sold his soul for rock ’n’ roll,” declares the tagline of Brian De Palma’s devilish rock opera, hinting at themes to come.

The opening narration by Rod Serling (of “Twilight Zone” fame) alludes to the story’s music-centric plot and “the man who made it, the girl who sang it and the monster who stole it.” Viewers are ushered in with the 1950s nostalgia anthem “Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye” performed by fictional group The Juicy Fruits. They’re being observed by Swan (Paul Williams), the elusive owner of Death Records who’s preparing acts for his upcoming spectacular, “The Paradise.”

But it’s the intermission that captivates him: bookish pianist Winslow Leach (William Finley) proudly sings his melodramatic cantata, “Faust,” which Swan deems “perfect” to open the Paradise. Winslow cautiously relinquishes his work, but after months without updates, he heads to Swan’s mansion to find a plethora of women preparing to audition “Faust.”

Here, Winslow meets down-to-Earth Phoenix (Jessica Harper) and it’s love at first sight — until he’s framed and sent to Sing Sing. Knowing Swan has stolen his music, Winslow escapes; but upon returning to Death Records to wreak havoc, he accidentally falls into a record press.

Mutilated and without voice, he isn’t dead yet. Wearing a mask and cape, Winslow haunts “Paradise” rehearsals until he cuts a deal with Swan: Locked in a room of synthesizers, Winslow can rewrite his cantata for Phoenix — but it doesn’t go as planned.

When Swan wins Phoenix’s affection and Winslow’s music is glammed up for flamboyant rock singer Beef (Gerrit Graham), Winslow takes drastic measures to seek revenge and warn Phoenix of Swan’s true colors.

The eccentric soundtrack includes Phoenix’s feisty “Special to Me” and poignant “Old Souls.” The Juicy Fruits return to the stage as The Undeads to execute the delightfully gothic “Somebody Super Like You” and the witty closing theme, “The Hell of It,” saves best for last.

Thrillingly theatrical and hellishly hilarious, this otherworldly horror romp is guaranteed to entertain.