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File:Potp.jpg


"He sold his soul for rock n' roll!"
—Tagline

A musical Cult Classic from 1974, directed by Brian de Palma.

Winslow Leach is an aspiring singer/songwriter who's quite thrilled when powerful music producer, Swan (Paul Williams, who wrote all the film's songs), expresses interest in using his music -- a rock version of Faust -- to open The Paradise, the ultimate rock theater. However, Winslow quickly finds out that Swan wants absolutely nothing to do with him after taking his music. While Winslow gets lucky the first time he sneaks into Swan's mansion (by meeting Phoenix, a cute wannabe singer), he isn't so fortunate the second time, where he's beaten up by Swan's men, framed for drug dealing, and sent to prison for life.

Life in prison isn't so kind to Winslow. His teeth are extracted for experimental purposes, and he winds up with a set of sharp metal replacements. One day, when he hears one of his Faust songs on the radio -- watered down into cutesy pop and performed by Swan's most popular band, the Juicy Fruits -- he manages to escape prison, but ends up in a freak accident with a record press, severely deforming his face and damaging his vocal chords. Angry and desperate, Winslow heads to The Paradise and dons a cape and a mask, now becoming the titular phantom. He attempts to kill The Juicy Fruits (now retooled into "The Beach Bums") with a bomb, but fails. When he confronts Swan alone shortly thereafter, he's put off-balance by Swan's now conciliatory manner.

Swan not only gives Winslow a shiny new voice box, but the opportunity to have his music produced properly. Winslow agrees, but only if Phoenix can be the only one to sing his songs. Swan agrees and insists that Winslow sign a contract with his own blood. However, Swan doesn't care to keep his promises and instead hires glam-rocker Beef to perform with "The Undead" (previously The Beach Bums). Outraged, Winslow decides to take matters into his own hands...and discovers Swan's plans for Phoenix -- and his very nature -- are even worse than he thought.

A combination of Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Faust, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Phantom of the Paradise is rather polarizing film, having been a complete flop when it was first released (though at least receiving an Oscar nomination for its soundtrack). It's now considered a cult favorite.

Compare and contrast The Rocky Horror Picture Show, another 1970s rock musical that tackles horror themes (albeit in a much spoofier manner).


This film contains examples of:

  • A Chat with Satan - Satan talks to Swan when he attempts to kill himself in a bathtub.
  • Affably Evil - Swan.
  • All Part of the Show - The audiences at the Paradise apparently think everything is this, including Beef's death and the chaos at the wedding in the end.
  • Bury Your Gays - Beef gets impaled with a fake lightning bolt.
  • Camp Gay - Beef. Just Beef.
  • Casting Gag - Paul Williams, who plays the diabolical, 5'2, top-hat-wearing, bird-obsessed Swan would later voice the diabolical, 5'2, top-hat-wearing, bird-obsessed Penguin on Batman: The Animated Series.
  • Clumsy Copyright Censorship: A rather unfortunate case. Swan's record label, Swan Song, was featured in many scenes, including long shots and panning shots. At about the same time they were filming, Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant started a real record label with the name, and beat Phantom by a couple months with their first album release. Grant threatened to block release of the film, so dePalma and his editor very poorly covered up the offending words with the new label name, Death Records. Even worse, several long take scenes with too much movement were reedited so as to not show the original name, wasting the long single take shots. That name was everywhere. Luckily, the original takes survive in the hands of a fan, though who knows if they'll ever be used in a future release.
  • Deal with the Devil - Swan made a deal with the Devil so that he wouldn't age. He also has his bands and singers sign contracts to him, not allowing them to die until he does. The catch is that he must film himself each day of his life and watch the results daily(in which he looks and sounds wretched), or the deal breaks; Winslow finds this out and destroys the reels, leaving Swan vulnerable.
  • Disproportionate Retribution - Winslow kills (or attempts to kill) anyone who isn't Phoenix that sings his songs.
  • Downer Ending - Winslow dies after killing Swan, leaving Phoenix heartbroken and alone.
    • This troper would still call that a Bittersweet Ending, as Swan is exposed and humiliated on TV before being stabbed to death and presumably going to Hell.
      • Yeah, but the extremely mocking lyrics Swan sings to "The Hell of It" over the credits seem to suggest that Swan somehow won in death anyway.
      • Paul Williams, not his character Swan, sings "The Hell of It", and it's not directed at Winslow(who obviously didn't "die in vain" or "love himself as he loved no other"). If it is supposed to be Paul Williams singing the song as one of his characters, this troper thinks it's Satan singing it about Swan. So we're back to Bittersweet Ending
  • Dramatic Unmask - Averted. Winslow removes his mask as he approaches Phoenix, but she's the only one who cares. The crowd just thinks it's part of the show.
  • Girl-On-Girl Is Hot - Swan likes his female auditionees to have sex with each other for his own enjoyment.
  • Glamour Failure - Swan refuses to be photographed or recorded by anyone but his lackeys because though he has eternal youth from his Deal with the Devil, he shows up the way he truly looks and sounds on film.
  • Glam Rock - Beef. Blech.
  • The Hero Dies - Poor Winslow.
  • Hey, It's That Voice - An uncredited Rod Serling provides the opening narration.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Winslow is initially sent to (the real-life prison of) Sing-Sing. Doubles as Fridge Brilliance for this troper.
  • Large Ham - Everyone. The whole film.
  • Nice Hat- Phoenix's fedora she wears as she sings "Special To Me" at her audition.
  • Only One Name - Everyone except for Winslow Leach.
    • And Philbin. Arnold Philbin, that is.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise - Winslow's attempt to infiltrate Swan's mansion as a harem girl.
  • The Piano Player - Winslow at the beginning of the film before Swan "discovers" him.
  • Playing Against Type - Paul Williams as Swan. Williams' on-screen appearances are usually as much friendlier characters, but moreover, his best known songwriting efforts are tunes such as "Evergreen" and "The Rainbow Connection", which are worlds away from the grimmer, even cynical tunes here.
    • For example, here's the chorus of "The Hell of It":

 Good for nothin'

Bad in bed

Nobody liked you, you're better off dead

Goodbye (goodbye), we've all come to say goodbye (goodbye), goodbye (goodbye)

Born defeated

Died in vain

Super-destructive, you were hooked on pain

And though your music lingers on

All of us are glad you're gone

If I could live my life half as worthlessly as you,

I'm convinced that I'd wind up burning too.

  • Record Company Drug Enforcement: Death Records does this with all there musicians, for example when one of the "Beach Bums" complaines that he's too sick to sing, Philibin just shoves some pills down his throat and shoves him back on stage.
      • He wasn't just sick, he heard the ticking from the bomb.
    • Also happens later with Beef, when he doesn't want to perform because of the phantom.
  • Sequel Escalation - A kind of in-film example, with Swan's public shows. The first in the film features a singer bloodlessly miming hari-kari on stage. The second involves dummy audience members being hacked up by the singers and turned into a Frankenstein-like man. This show ends with said man being electrocuted on stage. The final show, the wedding, features a man being shot in the head, the Phantom's wounds re-opening, and Swan himself being graphically stabbed to death on live TV, with the theater audience themselves finally climbing up to take part in it all. This troper didn't think about this until repeat viewings, so it counted as Fridge Brilliance too
  • The Seventies
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism - Pretty damn cynical, but at least with a bittersweet, tragic hero ending.
  • Soul Jar - Winslow's contract with Swan, and the tape of Swan making his contract with the Devil.
  • Stalker with a Crush - Winslow pretty much has to become this after his deal with Swan.
  • Villain with Good Publicity - Swan is this to a T.
  • Villainous Breakdown - Swan, having realized he's mortal again and putrefying by the second, attempting to strangle Phoenix while raving about being promised her voice, as per the demonic contract he got her to sign, which has now been burned along with his own.
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