Brian De Palma's glam rock version of the famous Phantom of the Opera story stars singer-songwriter Paul Williams as Swan, a music business tycoon who steals the work of talented composer Winslow Leach (Finley), along with his girlfriend Phoenix (Harper). Leach plans to get revenge, but his plans soon go horribly wrong and he ends up with a terrible facial disfigurement. Assuming a mask to hide his injuries and his identity, Leach's next move is to sign a pact with a Swan to write a rock opera version of 'Faust'.
In the mid-'70s, the American public and the critics weren't ready for musical comedy horror films, as 20th Century Fox would find out with the release of Brian De Palma's 'Phantom of the Paradise' (1974) and Jim Sharman's 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' (1975). After flopping at the box office, 'RHPS' started its ascent into becoming a worldwide phenomenon the following year when it first found its audience on the midnight-movie circuit. 'Phantom' has only been able to generate a small cult of fans over years, but deserves a bigger following.
'Phantom' is a wild mishmash of ideas taken from 'The Phantom of the Opera', 'Faust' and 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' blended together to comment on the music industry. Swan (Paul Williams, who composed all the songs), founder of Death Records, is a mysterious figure. He wants to open a concert hall called the Paradise and decides the perfect music to do it is being created by Winslow Leach (William Finley), who is telling the story of 'Faust' in a cantata. Winslow will soon be living the story after the contract he signs with Swan.
After a month goes by, Winslow breaks into Swan's place and discovers a number of women auditioning with his music. Winslow meets Phoenix (Jessica Harper) and immediately falls in love. He decides she is the only one who can sing his music. After Swan's men dispose of Winslow, he seeks revenge but with tragic results. Not only does an accident occur that damages his face and voice, but he also becomes Swan's prisoner to complete 'Faust'. Swan uses some equipment to create a singing voice for Winslow, which is performed by Williams, leading to a funny in-joke when Swann calls it perfect.
Swan changes his plans and rather than giving the music to Phoenix, he gives it to an outlandish glam rocker named Beef (Gerrit Graham in a wonderfully over-the-top performance). De Palma uses Beef to comment on the sacrifices an artist is expected to make for his audience. Winslow is not happy about the change, leading to the Phantom being unleashed on all who stand in his way.
Williams' songs are a highlight of the film. Previously known for writing pop hits, such as Three Dog Night's "An Old Fashioned Love Song", and the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" and "Rainy Days and Mondays," he got to stretch out into other genres and does so very well. The film opens with '50s doo wop, "Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye." "Upholstery" is in the style of the Beach Boys, and "Somebody Super Like You" would have fit well into an Alice Cooper setlist. He also delivers the classic Williams sound with "Old Souls" sung by Harper but could easily have been a hit with Karen Carpenter.
Hopefully, Scream Factory's release of 'Phantom of the Paradise' will lead to a reappraisal of the film. It's got plenty of humor and thrills. And in addition to its Academy Award-nominated song score, the film has a strong directorial hand in De Palma. Not only does he get the cast to commit to these characters, he makes interesting stylistic choices, like the unexpected visual reference to Orson Welles' 'Touch of Evil.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Scream Factory has released 'Phantom of the Paradise' on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc paired with a DVD of additional extras. They are housed in a standard bluecase and come with a slipcover. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video for 'Phantom of the Paradise' has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The print looks clean and has a pleasing amount of grain.
The colors are seen in bright hues right from the get go in the opening credits. Blacks are frequently rich but falter in a couple of instances mentioned below. There are great texture details seen in close-ups and jacket fringe.
During Phoenix's tryout, it looks like a softer focus was intentionally used. During this scene, lights appear with a bit of banding and there's some black crush as singers disappear into the background space. Soft focus on objects and black crush can also be seen in the double exposure shots during "The Phantom's Theme (Beauty and the Beast)".
Other deficiencies can be seen in the split screen with Swann and Phoenix in bed and the Phantom on monitor. When the Phantom learns of Swann's ultimate plan, there is major banding on the red walls, and the multiple images on the monitor lose clarity.
The biggest problem is the traveling mattes that were inserted in post-production (See Swan Song Outtake Footage in the supplements). They can be distracting, particularly during Beef's introduction at the airport, and grow more so when one knows where to look.
The audio is available in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 and sound free of signs of wear or damage. Dialogue sounds clear, other than the intended distortion when the Phantom speaks. The music sounds great as it fills the surrounds and demonstrates how wide the dynamic range is. The bass supports the music well and also helps the thunder rumble.
Effects are well positioned. When Swan and Winslow work together and Swan speaks over the PA, his voice echoes around the surrounds. During the split screen in the Beach Bums scene, voices are properly positioned on the left side.
The soundtrack is balanced well together, although the music during "Life at Last" sounded louder than Beef's vocals (performed by Raymond Louis Kennedy). The canned applause at the Paradise is flat.
On Disc 2 (DVD):
I highly recommend Scream Factory's 'Phantom of the Paradise'. The genre-blending film offers a wild ride and the Blu-ray delivers a pleasing high-def viewing experience. The highlight of the set are the special features that give well-deserved recognition to many people who worked on the film.