Cult Classics: “Phantom of the Paradise”

Somewhere in between Goethe and Randy Newman, director/screenwriter Brian De Palma teamed up with songwriter/actor Paul Williams to concoct this 1974 cacophonous cinematic deconstruction of “Faust”-meets-“Phantom of the Opera.”

As the devilish Swan (portrayed by Williams) explains to a gaggle of reporters at a press conference, “It’s an opera, a kind of pop cantata. It tells the story of a young man who sells his soul to the devil to become a pop star. It will be the first rock version of ‘Faust.'”

And yes, apparently the film is supposed to be a contemporary (for ’74) rock & roll rendition, but with music penned by Williams – the composer of “Theme From the Love Boat,” the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” and the recent stage musical “Happy Days: The Musical” – the rockin’ never really gets started.

The tag line on the DVD cover proclaims the film to be “the most highly acclaimed horror phantasy of our time,” but I have no idea whose time they’re actually talking about. So ridiculously over the top, the film seems to make a run for the midnight movie circuit, and at times it’s clearly a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” wanna-be.

Chockful of delightfully awful scenery-chewing acting and incredibly over-cooked dialogue (“The karma is so bad around here you need an Aqualung to breathe,” for example), it’s no surprise that the film was panned by reviewers.

The best thing about this movie? The voice-over narration at the beginning of the film – by an uncredited Rod Serling.

So what is it?
A horror musical comedy?
Keenly observed satire?
A total trainwreck?

Well, maybe it’s all of those things. But one thing is for sure – it’s a hoot and a half.

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