The Phantom of the Paradise

Phantom #1Horror? Musical? Horrusical?

Whatever the nomenclature, horror and music, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, are two tastes that go great together. In the mid 1970’s, two such hybrid-creatures were unleashed. One, the far-inferior Rocky Horror Picture Show, went on to cult infamy, still drawing wannabe Brad and Janets to midnight screenings to this day. The other, The Phantom of the Paradise, faded into obscurity only achieving the cult-success it deserved in Winnipeg, Manitoba of all places, where it played for months on end. Still, considering there really isn’t that much to do in Manitoba, this is a dubious honor at best. Phantom may not be as famous as Rocky, but a) it doesn’t feature any permutation of Meat Loaf, and b) it’s way better. So put away your toast and rice, sweet transvestites, and check out the real deal.

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An early directorial effort by the once phenomenal, now terrible Brian De Palma, Phantom tells the story of Winslow Leach, played by the late William Finley. Winslow, an aspiring composer, literally sells his soul for Rock N’ Roll. See, Winslow has composed a musical version of Goethe’s Faust, but he has his lyrics stolen by the diabolical Swan, owner of Death Records, who wants Winslow’s music to open his rock mecca The Paradise. Swan, who may or may not have made a Faustian bargain himself, steals the music and gets poor Winslow sent to Sing Sing. Winslow ultimately escapes but returns to the Paradise voiceless and grotesquely disfigured, the result of a horrific record press accident. Guess he hadn’t received the crucial “never escape from jail and run into a record pressing plant” lecture that all responsible parents are giving their over-coddled kids nowadays.

 

Those who have even the most fleeting familiarity with Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera can see where this is going, but it’s not the destination that’s important but rather the journey. Winslow’s version of Christine is Phoenix, played by Suspira’s Jessica Harper. When not executing the most awkward dance moves this side of Elaine Benes, Phoenix is batting her big, doe-like eyes all over the place. Why Harper never became a bigger star eludes me as, un-coordination aside, Harper is cute as a button and is a serviceable actress and singer to boot. Ironically, she did take over the role of Janet from Susan Sarandon in the equally ill-received Rocky sequel, Shock Treatment.

Phantom of the Paradise is a Technicolor marvel that also happens to be an incisive satire of the music industry of the time. Virtuoso direction, literary allusioimages (3)ns (there’s even a little Dorian Gray thrown in for good measure) incredible songs composed by Swan himself, Paul Williams, audience dismemberment and decapitation, and Gerrit Graham: This one has it all. So next time you get the urge to do the Time Warp again, sit yourself down and watch this under-appreciated gem instead.

**** (out of 5)

LISTEN TO OUR CHAT ABOUT PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE AND OTHER LOW BUDGET MOVIES WE LOVE, ON THE PODCAST. 

Slumber Party Massacre II

slumberparty_massacreThe “driller killer” (pictured here) coos lines like “…got a penthouse at the Ritz, I bought it with my hits!” and “let’s buzzzzzzz!” lights up smokes, chugs wine and shimmies his hips before putting his victims through any more horrors. As Confucius says: “clever talk and a domineering manner have little to do with being man-at-his-best.”

The sequel, minus the definite article, follows on the heels of the fun 1982 exploitation film as Courtney, the younger sister to the star of The Slumber Party Massacre, still suffers from nightmares related to the first film. And rightly so. That one was pretty bad.

There’s also a great subplot involving an all-girl group whose music melts the heart of the local dreamboat (who, when invited to “the ultimate slumber party weekend”, is at least a decade older than anyone who would conceivably ask “whether the parents will be there.”)

slumberparty_massacreIIThe group’s drummer’s reading tastes lean toward “Hot, Wet and Wild”, presaging a corny pillow fight and dialogue to match when their suitors arrive to the party at the window: “I didn’t know girls really did this stuff!!”

The killer, the love-child of Gene Vincent and John Travolta (Grease-era) prefaces his kills with the witch cackle from the Surfaris 1963 novelty hit “Wipeout“. In dispatching the scantily-clad cast he spoils the fun – as usually happens in these kinds of flicks.

Despite favoring the look of 60s leather / rockabilly / greasers the driller killer opts for the screaming Van Halen guitar histrionics popular with the 80s, and memorably puts his guitar / drill through the chest of the boyfriend.

Sadly, the Runaways-style girl group cannot live up to that concept, by escaping. However, one does, leaving the film open for a sequel!

**1/2 (out of 5)