Phantom of the Paradise (1974) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Around 1976, director Brian De Palma came up with "Carrie", and assured that he would have enough money to become a highly commercial filmmaker. In the 1980's and early 1990's, he directed some memorable pictures like Body Double, Scarface, Carlito's Way, and Dressed to Kill. 

Most of us who first developed an interest in film in the 1970's, the director era, tend to associate De Palma with the group of directors who first made their marks in that decade. Coppola, Scorcese, Lucas, Spielberg, De Palma ... right?

Not really. Although De Palma first scored big in the mid 1970's, he made a lot of films dating back as far as 1959, and was praised by many critics for elements of his work. 

There were some bad movies in that early group. As late as 1972, he was still making "B" films like "Get to Know Your Rabbit", a Tommy Smothers vehicle about a guy who drops out of the corporate rat race to become a tap-dancing magician.

Phantom of the Paradise is from the period in between the early failures and the mature respected work. Between Rabbit and Carrie, De Palma did three pretty good films that prefigured his elevation to directorial stardom: Obsession, Sisters, and Phantom of the Paradise. 


This is not a mainstream film, to say the least. It's "Faust" crossed with "Phantom of the Rock Opera", the story of a poor schmuck who writes a rock "cantata" which is stolen by a big producer. Perhaps the word "big" is not precisely appropriate here, since the part is played by Paul Williams. Turns out Williams is either Satan or one of Satan's important minions, and eventually ends up cutting a deal with the composer. As is typical with Satanic deals, the terms are not entirely favorable to the non-Satanic parties, and include such paragraphs as "everything excluded is hereby deemed to be included". The film follows the efforts of the poor schmuck to get his music and to save his beloved from Satan's grasp.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • no significant features

It treads a strange line through comedy, horror, and pathos, and includes 30-40 minutes or more of actual rock singing. If you aren't a fan of Paul Williams or 1970's rock operas, this movie could represent a long, long evening for you. I guess I should also warn you that the film is dated. It parodied existing trends in rock toward commercialization and soullessness. In fact, rock became much more commercial, more glitzy, and less soulful than anything in their lame parodies.

On the other hand, it is a strange movie and fairly slick, so you may get into it if the premise sounds OK. De Palma, as always, astounds with some wild camera angles and imagination.

It's an average movie, but with greater ambitions, and some greater moments. 

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.6 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C to C+. Offbeat film, sometimes highly entertaining.

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