Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

20th Century Fox

Before he gained much deserved acclaim for films like CarrieScarface and The Untouchables, Brian De Palma was best known for scrappy experimental films like Hi Mom and SistersThe Phantom of the Paradise was an apparent attempt at a commercial breakthrough. But some audiences were weirded out by its garish ambience, and some jaded critics considered it a ho-hum satire of the music industry.

In retrospect, it’s simply one of the strangest movies we’ve ever seen — and one of the coolest. Music producer Swan (Paul Williams, who also provides much of the haunting music) makes naive songwriter Winslow Leach (William Finley) sell his soul and his songs so that they can be performed by Swan’s pet protege, Phoenix (Jessica Harper). He seeks justice by becoming The Phantom of the Paradise.

The atmospherics are incredible — doomed and portentous, without ever veering fully into camp. It’s also fun to note that Williams would, just a few years after this, co-write “The Rainbow Connection” for Kermit the Frog — and to wonder if, considering that De Palma and George Lucas traveled in the same circles, The Phantom influenced Darth Vader.

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