Phantom of the Paradise
Winslow Leach (William Finley) is an up-and-coming singer and composer who is seen by Satanic record producer Swan (Paul Williams) during his performance as a back-up act to the nostalgia band The Juicy Fruits, whom Swan produces. Swan is deeply moved by Winslow’s song, and, deeming Winslow’s music as the perfect music to open “The Paradise” Swan’s highly anticipated new concert hall. Swan sends his loyal right-hand man Arnold Philbin (George Memmoli) to steal Winslow’s song and claim it as his own. When Winslow arrives at Death Records, Swan’s record label, he is thrown out.
Winslow sneaks into “The Swanage”, Swan’s private mansion, to find out what’s going on, he observes several women all rehearsing his music for an audition. One of them is Phoenix (Jessica Harper), an aspiring singer, whom Winslow deems perfect for his music and the two quickly fall for one another. Winslow is told of Swan’s plan to open the Paradise with Winslow’s music. When Winslow sneaks in once more, Swan orders he be thrown out again and for his minions to beat up Winslow and frame him for drug dealing.
Winslow is given a life sentence (due to more of Swan’s manipulating the legal system) and is sent to Sing Sing Prison. In prison, Winslow’s teeth are extracted as part of an experimental prisoner program funded by the Swan Foundation. His teeth are now replaced with shiny metal ones.
Six months later, Winslow hears on the radio, while assembling tiddlywinks games in the prison rehab center, that The Juicy Fruits, whom he hates, have made an anticipated hit record of his music with Swan’s backing. Winslow goes berserk, punches out a guard and escapes from prison in a delivery box driven off prison property. He breaks into the Death Records building and tears the place up. He then breaks into Swan’s record factory where he sets out to destroy a record press. When a guard catches him fiddling with the record press, Winslow slips and the record press catches his sleeve, tumbling him head first into the record press which crushes and burns his face and destroys his vocal cords. Bleeding profusely and with his face now severely mutilated, a very disoriented Winslow makes his way to the edge of the East River and tumbles into the water. The newspaper reports the details of the night and that his body was not recovered.
Sneaking into the Paradise, Winslow makes his way into the costume department where he dons a black leather costume, a long, black cape (though later in the film he also wears a red one) and a silver, owl-like mask to cover his now scarred face, becoming the Phantom of the Paradise so he can terrorize Swan and his musicians. In a musical split-screen sequence, Winslow plants a time bomb on a prop car during a musical act and nearly kills The Beach Bums (formerly The Juicy Fruits). Swan, seeing the Phantom on a security camera, realizes there is an intruder about.
The Phantom confronts Swan who recognizes him as Winslow. Swan offers the composer the chance to have his music produced his way. Auditions are held and the Phantom selects Phoenix. Later, in a secluded recording studio in the basement of the building, Swan provides the Phantom with an electronic voice-box, enabling him to speak and sing (but with the voice of Paul Williams). Swan asks the Phantom to rewrite his cantata for Phoenix. The Phantom reluctantly agrees on the condition that Phoenix is the lead singer and that Swan plays “what I write!” Swan promises and the Phantom signs a contract in blood.
Swan is later shown bitterly listening to the recording session with Winslow: while he sounded normal at the time, the tapes mysterious play back Swan’s voice as ragged, wicked and monstrous-sounding. While the Phantom remains in the recording studio rewriting his cantata, Swan breaks the deal by telling Philbin that he resents Phoenix’s “perfection” for the lead role: “You know how I abhor perfection in anyone but myself.”
Swan puts a pill-popping, effeminate male glam rock prima uomo simply dubbed “Beef” (Gerrit Graham) in the lead of Winslow’s Faust with Phoenix as a backup singer. Beef is revealed to the media at a press conference where all cameras and recording devices are strictly banned, as per Swan’s policy.
After days of isolation, the Phantom completes Faust, Swan having gotten him hooked on uppers in the process. Swan steals the completed cantata while ordering his minions to seal the Phantom up inside the recording studio with a brick wall. However, when the Phantom awakens that night to realizes he has been betrayed again he manages to escape in a fit of fury and kills Swan’s guards. The Phantom then confronts Beef (in a comic allusion to the shower scene in Psycho) and threatens to kill him if he performs. Beef tries to flee, but is stopped by Philbin outside the building, who suggests to Beef that it was all a drug-induced hallucination.
Onstage the glam-rock band The Undeads (formerly The Beach Bums), costumed to resemble the sonambulist from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, sing of the ultimate man, appearing to dismember audience members (actually planted actors with dummy limbs) and making a show of appearing to turn the parts into Beef, now costumed as a glitter-clad Frankenstein’s monster. As Beef performs a completely rewritten glam-rock version of Winslow’s “Old Souls”, the Phantom, hidden in the rafters, strikes and electrocutes Beef (to the great delight of the crowd) with a lightning-bolt-shaped neon sign.
Horrified, Philbin orders Phoenix onstage as a replacement. Phoenix, singing the slow true version of Winslow’s music at last, is an immediate sensation with the audience. As they continue to cheer for Beef outside as his dead body is loaded into an ambulance, Swan now realizes the potential of the situation.
In Phoenix’s dressing room, Swan arrives and seduces Phoenix, telling her of her future stardom. As she leaves, she is nearly overwhelmed by the zealous crowd, but is quickly carted away by the Phantom. On the roof, the Phantom tells Phoenix his true identity. He implores Phoenix to leave the Paradise so Swan won’t destroy her like he has destroyed everything else. Phoenix does not believe him and, fearing the Phantom, flees.
At the Swanage, the Phantom observes Swan and Phoenix locked in a tight embrace. Heartbroken, he commits suicide by stabbing himself through the heart with his own knife. However, the Phantom awakens from death to see Swan standing over him. Pulling the knife out, Swan tells the Phantom that he cannot die because he is locked to the blood contract he had signed earlier: The Phantom cannot die until Swan himself has died. With that knowledge, the Phantom attempts to stab Swan through the heart, but Swan is unharmed and merely pulls the knife away replying, “I’m under contract, too!”
Rolling Stone Magazine announces the upcoming wedding between Swan and Phoenix during Faust’s finale. While everyone prepares, the Phantom sneaks into Swan’s private taping room to watch the tape containing the blood contract. Watching the tape, the Phantom then learns that Swan made a pact with the devil over 20 years ago: Swan will remain youthful forever unless the videotaped recording of his contract is destroyed. Future photos, videos and recordings of Swan will age and fester in his place, explaining why he abhors being caught on film. The tape goes on to reveal footage of Winslow signing his contract with Swan and finally a new one Swan made with Phoenix when she was stoned, promising him “her voice” upon her death (presumably to finally overcome Swan’s voice’s wretched sound when recorded, as per his own contract). Then, on a live TV camera, the Phantom observes a hit man assembling a rifle and realizes Swan is planning to have Phoenix assassinated during the ceremony. The Phantom destroys all the recordings by setting them on fire and heads off to the wedding between Phoenix and Swan.
The wedding is in full swing onstage, with Philbin officiating and Swan wearing gloves and a silver mask of his own face to prevent being properly filmed. The Phantom manages to throw off the assassin’s aim to stop him from hitting Phoenix, causing him to shoot and kill Philbin instead. With the tapes destroyed and Swan now mortal once again, the Phantom swings down onto the stage and rips off Swan’s mask, finally exposing him as a monster on live television. Swan’s face is now hideous, burning away like the tapes and contracts. Realizing what’s happening, a crazed Swan gropes for Phoenix’s throat, demanding she give him her voice, beginning to strangle her. The Phantom intervenes and stabs Swan repeatedly in the chest with the metal beak of a backup dancer’s bird-shaped headpiece. The moment he does, his own fatal chest wound reopens.
As he is dying, Swan is carried around by the audience, who are driven to the point of hysteria and join in stabbing him. The dying Winslow also removes his mask to reveal his own face, and cheered on by the crowd, crawls on the floor towards the shocked Phoenix. Just as he holds out a hand to her, Swan dies, allowing Winslow to die of his own wound. As Winslow collapses, Phoenix finally recognizes him as the kind man she met in line. Phoenix rushes over and lies down next to him, crying and heartbroken as the audience raves.
The closing credits feature a series of montages of the cast members, identifying each by name, commencing with the musical trio and concluding with Winslow/The Phantom. Most of the shots in these montages are from the film, but there are also several from outtakes.
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