Sunday, October 6, 2013


Every horrorhound's favorite month is upon us, and to celebrate, I'll be dishing out a personal pick from the genre for every day in October. Some will be obvious and rather unoriginal (sorry that I like movies other people like), while some will be a little more oddball and off-the-wall. Some may even challenge your idea of what constitutes a "horror" movie. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the month with some good movies, even if they aren't ones I recommend!

Today's Pick: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Horror movies and music seem to make good companions when they (rarely) join forces. Everybody is aware of the cult infamy The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but while the music, performances and B-movie homages in that film are great, the actual story and plotting of the film is noticeably lackluster. Luckily, there's a fantastic alternative to be had in Brian DePalma's secret masterpiece, Phantom of the Paradise, which not only features all the positives I listed for Rocky Horror, but has an excellent story that draws inspiration from two of horror's most classic tales: The Phantom of the Opera and Faust.

Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a nobody with a dream: to produce his lyrically beautiful version of Faust, with beautiful lead singer Phoenix (Suspiria's Jessica Harper) at the forefront. However, when he gets involved with mega mogul Swan (the incredible Paul Williams), his music is stolen from him and misappropriated into pop garbage for Swan's headlining band. This leads to Winslow being disfigured and taking on the persona of The Phantom, causing chaos for Swan wherever he can. Eventually, Swan agrees to produce Winslow's music and offers him a record contract that has to be signed in blood. Things only get crazier and more supernatural as we learn about Swan's past and why he seems to be one of the music industry's most successful and ageless figures.

I can't sing (har har) this film's praises enough, and I'm not the only one, as recent genre-loving filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Guillermo del Toro have helped new generations discover this unsung (ugh. I hate myself sometimes) piece of brilliance. The music and lyrics are provided by none other than Paul Williams himself and they are catchy as hell. He plays in different genres and has a ball with them all. The soundtrack to this film is incredibly enjoyable and works outside the context of the film as well.

This is also one of those genre mash-up films, where horror, comedy, fantasy and extravagant musical segments all collide at once to form something insanely rewatchable. The performances in the film are just as intoxicating, with Paul Williams again leading the way. Swan is one of those "love to hate" villains, always smiling and manipulating those around him with the most devilish of charm. William Finley's Phantom is visually unique and instantly memorable, and his portrayal of Winslow is both maniacal and relatable. The other big standout is Gerrit Graham as glam rock singer Beef. Every time he's on screen it is a laugh riot, whether it's his audacious onstage persona, or his backstage diva attitude.

The last thing I want to mention is the visual component of the film. This is by the same director who just two years later would bring us one of cinema's most classic horror films, Carrie, and it shows. DePalma not only writes but directs this film and his fingerprints are unmistakable. There's a great split-screen bit (a favorite technique of early DePalma's) involving a bomb in the trunk of a car that brings to mind the opening of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. The look of the film pops with vivid colors and indelible images (the shot of The Phantom racing down the hallway with his cape billowing is just one example) that only further the argument that this is a defining film of both its decade and its genre.

Thankfully, Phantom of the Paradise is finally getting the recognition it deserves from a larger audience, and if you can't count yourself among that audience, do what you must to rectify that. There have been rumblings of a stage version of the show, and while I support that idea wholeheartedly, I can't think of a better medium this story belongs in than film. Buy a ticket to Phantom of the Paradise before Broadway jacks up the price.

Tomorrow's film is going to be a weird one! If you have any Freudian fantasies about members of your family, you may want to stay away. Catch you then!

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