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USA 1974
Directed by
Brian De Palma
92 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

Phantom Of The Paradise

The high regard in which writer-director Brian De Palma's film is held is a mystery to me. Of course it’s meant to be camp  but this film careens way off the unsubtle into the flat-out awful. But then again his nearly-as-bad previous film Sisters (1973) also has its fans so clearly there is a question of taste (or lack of it) at work here.

A reworking of Gaston Leroux's  much-reworked 'Phantom of the Opera' it transposes the story to the contemporary pop world with Paul Williams as ruthless record mogul and club owner, Swan, ripping off novice songwriter Winslow Leach (William Finley) who is in love with singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper). Disfigured in a record pressing machine Leach enters an unholy pact with Swan but the latter betrays him and Leach extracts his revenge.

Well who really cares about the plot as the story is simply an excuse for an over-the-top parody of everything to do with the pop industry. A commendable idea but the trouble is that it is so badly done. A year later The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out and had everything that this film does not – a talented cast, great music and an classy production design.

If William Finley and Paul Williams, who contributed the forgettable songs, are pedestrian, they are at least intended to be naff characters. However, in what seems to be the film's only attempt to be sincere, Jessica Harper is woefully miscast as a wannabe chanteuse with a cringe-worthy dance style. If the Phoenix role had gone to someone who really could sing this might have been enough to save the film. Gerrit Graham as a glam-rock star is about the only player who comes close to displaying any reason to justify sticking with it but this sort of thing would be much better done by Todd Haynes in Velvet Goldmine (1998).

The only explanation I can think for the high rating of this film is that there are a lot of people out there who can't tell trash from treasure. It’s all very well to poke fun at other people’s work but if you’re going to do so you'd better be better at it than they are and no-one in this film is.




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