Friday, August 15, 2014

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: PG
Duration: 92 Minutes 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Harold Oblong, George Memmoli, Archie Hann, Jeffrey Comanor
Director: Brian De Palma

Rock n' roll musicals just don't get any better than Brian De Palma's cult-classic Phantom of the Paradise (1974) starring William Finley (The Funhouse) as awkward composer Winslow Leach. A gifted songwriter who's Faustian rock opera is stolen by the sinister music producer Swan (played Paul Williams) . 

The  composer assumes this theft is just a misunderstanding and arrives at the producer's mansion to straighten things out.  While there he meets the sweet-voiced singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper, Suspiria)  whom he falls for right away after hearing her sing one of his songs. Moments later Leach is beaten by Swan's goons and toss him out of the mansion and he's framed for drug possession. Now in the slammer Winslow's teeth are extracted and replaced with metal chompers (don't ask why) while Swan plans to use pilfered songs to open his new music club, the Paradise. When Leach learns that Swan's bubble-gum band the Juicy Fruits have recorded his song he snaps and manages to escapes the prison in a fun vaudevillian scene. In an effort to stop the music from being released he breaks into Swan's record pressing plant to destroy the album before it can see the light of day. But destroying the albums Leach clumsily falls into the record press and the LP's grooves are seared in his flesh destroying his face and voice. 

Deformed and desperate Leach throws himself into the river and is presumed dead though his body is not recovered. Very much alive the scarred songwriter is bent on revenge, gaining access to the Paradise he dons a bird-of-prey styled helmet and haunts the club where he causes the death of the Juicy Fruits in a fiery explosion during a video shoot. Somehow Swan convinces Leach to work for him, promising that only Phoenix will sings his songs from now on. Once again the producer betrays him by hiring a new shock-rock singer named Beef played with delicious flamboyance by Gerrit Graham (Used Cars) who steals every scene as he struts around the stage like glam rock diva. Once Leach discovers this new betrayal he sets out to exact revenge on beef beginning with a shower attack with a plunger! . 

Phantom of the Paradise is dripping with camp and perfectly overacted with a fantastic set of songs - which are truly fantastic and subversive. William Finley as the nerdy Leach is a sympathetic character and you want to see him have his revenge against the sleazy producer, he to convey a lot of pain through that one-eyed mask. Paul Williams is pretty great as the pint-sized producer who may just be the Devil incarnate, sinister and smooth. Jessica Harper is also quite good as the ingenue Phoenix, her voice is surprisingly strong when she belts out a few numbers which sound great, I definitely picked up a Karen Carpenter vibe from her performance.. 

Love that De Palma satirizes the crooked music industry scenarios through the filter of Faust and Phantom of the Opera with some fun commentary about artists rights but it's not too on the nose, this is a great satire. De Palma's fingerprints are all over this with his particular wink at the audience and the visual style you've come to expect including extensive use of the split-screen. Visually Phantom of the Paradise is one of De Palma finest films, great set pieces scenery and an amazing set of songs. 

A lot of great touches fill the screen, back-up singer auditions quickly turn into orgies, the fun send-up of corporate rock, the sleaziness of the music industry and some memorable musical performances. When the Juicy Fruits sing "Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye" is a fun time, love it when the singer mimes shooting heroin into his arm. Then there's the amazing shock rock concert with the band ripping body parts from the audience members which they stitch together the create singer Beef - it's quite an fun time and Beef's exit is a memorable one. Jessica Harper's performances of "Special to Me" and "Old Souls" are soulful and sincere moments, the latter song reminding me a bit of the Carpenter's "Superstar", gave me goose bumps. . 

The Screams Factory transfer has a natural layer of film grain and a fair amount of fine detail with a pleasing amount of depth  and clarity. Skin tones are accurate and the color reproduction is great - the colors really pop. Audio options include both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Stereo 2.0 with Paul Williams musical numbers sounding superb, dialogue and effects are nicely balanced. Unfortunately there is not an option to listen to the isolated score as found on the Arrow UK Blu-ray. 

Disc one features brand new interviews with director Brian De Palma, Make-up effects wizard Tom Burman  and songwriter Paul Williams.Tthe music genius speaks at length about the process creating music for the film and the freedom of crafting satirical versions of songs in the style of the Beach Boys and glam rock excesses. Mentioning that the legacy of Phantom of the Paradise  continues to  give him gifts, including  the collaboration with Guillermo del Toro on Pan's Labyrinth and teaming-up with Daft Punk. 

Make-up Effects wizard Tom Burman speaks very briefly about the design of the Phantom's helmet design and then we get a brand new interview with director Brian De Palma who touches on his unique shooting style, Hitchcock influences, locations used during the shoot and his view of television versus cinema. He also goes into the lawsuits over the Swan Song logo and what a pain in the as that was - this is a great interview. 

There are two brand new audio commentaries to accompany the film. The first with stars Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and the Juicy Fruits (Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor and Harold Oblong aka Peter Eibling). The commentary is actually three separate commentaries that are scene specific stitched together for the duration of the film. We begin with a fun video introduction from the Juicy Fruits and then into the commentary which is a lot of fun - a real fun bunch of guys who speak about filming the scenes and working with Paul Williams and how they came to the project. Harper speaks about getting the part and really flying by the seat of her pants as it was her first film though thankfully she had William Finley to guide her along. Gerrit Graham also chimes in from time to time with a few Beef-centric anecdotes. 

 The second commentary is from is Production Designer Jack Fisk who's work on this film is amazing - the sets and design are visually dazzling - especially love the backdrops for the musical performances. Fisk who did work on David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001) and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007) offers up a scene specific commentary pointing out specifics of the production design and the inspiration for the Death Records. At the time of filming Fisk was dating actress Sissy Spacek, star of Badlands (1973) and whom would go onto star in De Palma's adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie (1976) a few short years later, apparently she did a lot of painting on the sets of Phantom

Then onto 26 minutes of alternate and extended scene from the film  - my favorite is Jessica Harper belting out "Special to Me" from the audition scene and Beef's shower attack scene - these are presented with split screen comparisons of the final film and the alternate take or extended sequence. We also get an 8-minute featurette chronicling the Swan Song fiasco. Just before the release of the film one Led Zeppelin's manager created Swan Song Records and threatened litigation if all references to Winslow's Swan Song Production company were not removed. It chronicles the many changes that had to made to the final film to mask the Swan Song logo with a split screen presentation of the original and final scenes.  The last extra on disc one is a still gallery of poster art and promotional stills, the press book and program. 

Onto the second disc - a standard def DVD - we begins with the 50-minute documentary Paradise Regained which has been available on at least two foreign releases including Arrow's Blu-ray. This makes it no less interesting - the doc featuring interviews with director Brian De Palma, producer Edward R. Pressman, the late star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham among others. Truly a feast for fans of the film and Brian De Palma's the cast and crew peel of anecdotes about the making of the film. Graham conducts some of his interview in French and he seems like a wonderful weirdo while Finley speaks about nearly having his head crushed for real in the record pressing scene. 

Carried over from the Arrow Video release is a 70-minute interview with actor Paul Williams conducted by director Guillermo DE Toro with the musician/actor discussing his career, being offered the role of Winslow and working with De Palma plus his own addiction and recovery. The two jovially discuss the songs and lyrics of the film and del Toro's fan boy enthusiasm is infectious. 

Scream Factory once again go the extra mile here adding 40-minutes of new interviews with Rosanna Norton (10 minutes), producer Edward R. Pressman (15 minutes) and drummer Gary Mallaber (15 minutes) plus the featurette Alvin's Art Technique (15 Minutes) with the artist John Avin's  widow speaking about her late husband's airbrush style and his creative process, it. Alvins also created the iconic posters for Blazing Saddles, The Color Purple and Blade Runner among others. A very cool extra is the Phantom of the Paradise Biography by Gerrit Graham - 1974 Publicity Sheet written by and read by Graham (10 minutes) who is such a fun guy. At the time of the films release Graham was allowed to write the biography for the press kit and here he reads it - a very nice extra for fans. 

The extras on disc 2 are finished-up with a short segment of William Finley showing off a Phantom action-figure plus the usual array of theatrical trailers, TV spots, radio spots and another still gallery with poster art, promotional stills, and the press book for the film. 

Additionally the set comes with a slipcover with a new illustration by Justin Osbourne and a reversible sleeve of artwork. Scream Factory have pulled out all the stops in an effort to give fans the definitive version of this film and the definitely have achieved that goal - this release is a love letter to the film on every level - there are over eight and a half hours of bonus content on this 2-disc set!  If I were to nitpick I would have enjoyed an isolated score or a three disc set that included a CD of the soundtrack but that's just nitpicking - I love this set. 

Special Features:


  • NEW Audio Commentary with Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and the Juicy Fruits (Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor and Harold Oblong aka Peter Eibling)
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Production Designer Jack Fisk
  • NEW Interview with director Brian DePalma (36 minutes)
  • NEW Interview with Paul Williams talking about the music of PHANTOM (35 minutes)
  • NEW Interview with Make-up Effects wizard Tom Burman discussing the Phantom Helmet (4 minutes) 
  • Alternate Takes (26 minutes)
  • Swan Song Outtake Footage (7 minutes)
  • Still Galley (13 Minutes)

  • Paradise Regained – documentary on the making of the film featuring director Brian DePalma, Producer Edward R. Pressman, William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and more… (50 minutes)
  • Interview with Paul Williams moderated by Guillermo Del Toro (72 minutes)
  • Interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton (10 minutes)
  • NEW Interview with producer Edward R. Pressman (15 minutes)
  • NEW Interview with drummer Gary Mallaber (15 minutes)
  • NEW Alvin’s Art and Technique – a look at the neon poster (15 minutes)
  • NEW Phantom of the Paradise Biography by Gerrit Graham - 1974 Publicity Sheet written by and read by Graham (10 minutes)
  • William Finley and Toy (1 minute) 
  • Radio Spots (2 minutes) 
  • TV Spots (5 minutes) 
  • Theatrical Trailers (5 minutes) 
  • Still Gallery (52 images) 

  • Phantom of the Paradise (1974) is a rock n' roll cult-classic that's immensely entertaining.  A fun retelling of Faust with elements of the Phantom of the Opera infused with satire and memorable musical numbers, this is a rock n' roll fantasy that you need to own and Scream Factory's 2-disc Blu-ray is the one to own.