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Shock-O-Rama: How I Learned to Stop Worrying
And Love the Phantom
By Chuck Francisco
August 14, 2014
Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise
© Scream Factory
There was a time when I was completely indifferent to the mad-cap rock n' roll shenanigans of Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise. Horror genre blasphemy? Perhaps it is, though I still contend that genre fans should never be so quick to swing the splattery judgmental machete at fellow buffs. For in cutting the carotid of their contemporaries, they'll be forever locked out of fully engaging in films they're afraid to be caught enjoying. Whatever the case may be, the root cause of my own original lack of interest in Phantom of the Paradise is planted in the soil of bitter horror fan bile. Let's track back a bit.
1974's Phantom of the Paradise is a rock n' roll parable which cunningly blends shades of The Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. It cleverly calls out onto the carpet the rampant whorism infecting the record industry, while simultaneously skewering the sellout nature of many so called artists. The entire proceedings are accompanied by an Academy Award nominated soundtrack from Paul Williams (and features set dressings by a young Sissy Spacek). The film also includes perhaps the most dynamic looking hallway chase camera work ever capture to celluloid. Oh, and there's also Supsiria's Jessica Harper too.
So why would did I harbor such lukewarm feelings for a film that is obviously so beloved by the cult cinema masses? It's all derived from the virulent animosity of friend who dearly loves Phantom of the Paradise. He loves it so much that he vehemently loathes The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a contemporary flick with certain similarities but more mainstream recognition. Indeed both films flopped out the chute at the box office, then went on to accumulate legendary cult status. They're both rock 'n roll musical films (to differing degrees), and there are some shared visual motifs (the heavy influence of glam rock in particular). Yet one film is known to all, the other only to the cult initiated. This has become a festering boil, a nagging burr on the butts of a contingent of horror fans, and it was this animosity which lead me to barely care about Phantom for many years (and also to avoid this person- don't be that guy).
I'm here to tell you that it's ok to love both Phantom of the Paradise AND The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I'm living proof. Let that seething nerd rage go, shave off the neck beard, and stop being a hater. The timing could not be more fortuitous, as the RHPS' 35 anniversary Blu-ray from 2010 is spectacular, and the brand spankin' new collector's edition Blu-ray of Phantom of the Paradise from Scream Factory absolutely blows the doors off. Let's pop the plastic on the Scream Factory edition, and dig around the nitty gritty, shall we?
The new high definition transfer seems like the best launching pad. In my years I've seen Phantom of the Paradise via crummy VHS, on more than one worn 35mm print, and most recently as a DCP restoration in February. I remember that my jaw hit the chair in front of me at the DCP show, and now that I've watched the new Scream Factory set, I have to wonder if this is the same high res transfer. It is simply visually stunning. The vibrant colors of the title screen blast forth at viewers as from a neon flamethrower. The blacks have depth, and the contrast is sharp. For a deliberate director and film such as this, being able to ocularly register all of this minutia is so critical. The transfer is of such high fidelity that one can easily pick out all the texture of George Memmoli's greaser styled hair as the detestable Philbin. View this with the lights off to let the rich color and clarity wash over you (the film, not Philbin's coifed maine).
Similarly the audio mix has been given tender loving care with the DTS-HD Audio 5.1 Dolby Digital Stereo treatment. Since sound and music are so intricately woven into the fabric of Phantom, the importance of this rock star treatment cannot be overstated enough.
And then there are the special features, which pack this release so tightly that different feature span both the BR and DVD discs. Normally in dual format releases, the features are simply the same on both, or the DVD doesn't contain as many. No so when Scream Factory pulls out all the stops. There's seriously so many that it will just be easier if I list them out (bolded ones are new, non-bolded are legacy from other releases).
Disc 1 (BLU-RAY)
-Audio Commentary with Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, and the Juicy Fruits
-Audio Commentary with production designer Jack Fisk
-Interview with Brian De Palma (36 minutes)
-Interview with Paul Williams (30 minutes)
-Interview with Make-up effects wizard Tom Burman
-40 minutes of alternate takes
-10 minutes of Swan Song outtake footage
Disc 2 (DVD)
-Paradise Regained making of documentary (50 minutes)
-Interview with Paul Williams moderated by Guillermo del Toro (72 minutes!)
-Interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton
-Interview with producer Edward Pressman
-Interview with drummer Gary Mallaber
-Alvin's Art and Technique - a look at the neon poster
-Phantom of the Paradise Biography by Gerrit Graham
So, as my fellow Maniacs can imagine, I was up quite late last evening filling my noggin with all things Phantom. It was awesome. Of special note are the new interview with De Palma (which is just illuminating on so many levels), both features that include Gerrit Graham (because everyone loves Beef!), the legacy del Toro interview, and the new interview with Paul Williams, who is still just as awesome as remembered. With so much to see and do, Phantom freaks and horror fans alike should be foaming at the mouth to add this to their collection.
The Phantom of the Paradise Collector's Edition 2-disc set released this past week via Scream Factory for $29.93. They continue to demand your dollars with every subsequent product; you need this in your life.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.