Welcome to the Nightmare on Film Street Video Vault, we’ve been waiting for you.
There was nothing quite like the ambiance of a fluorescent-lit store with countless aisles of cover boxes to peruse back when VHS was king. My personal go-to was (of course) the horror section, and I can vividly recall hours upon hours of studying these wonderfully illustrated movie boxes. Most times not even caring about what the movie may be about. I had memorized all of them and every return trip, I would look them over again and again and again. This, fellow friends, is what the NOFS Video Vault is all about.
In this monthly retrospective, we will be looking back at some of the more obscure films that had their heyday on the home video market from the late 1970’s and well into the 1990’s. Sorry folks, as much as I would like to write about Freddy, Jason, Michael or Chucky (who had their own spectacular VHS runs) this is all about the obscure, the forgotten, the rare.
Later this month, Suspiria (2018), the remake of the 1977 Italian horror classic, will hit theaters. What better way to open our video vault than with a tie-in? The original Suspiria (1977) starred a young and vibrant Jessica Harper – but before she danced for her life from a coven, she also had a visit from a phantom. The Phantom of the Paradise (1974), that is.
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Intro to a Phantom
In Brian De Palma’s classic rock opera/horror-comedy, sleazy record producer Swan (Paul Williams) steals songwriter Winslow Leach’s (the late William Finley) music and gives it to one of his bands. Leach had written the music for the lovely Pheonix, a beautiful and talented singer which Leach loves dearly. Upon discovery of the theft, Leach sneaks into Swan‘s offices to take back his work but Swan catches Leach and frames him for dealing drugs, promptly landing him in prison. incensed, Leach breaks out of the big house with a plan to burn Swan’s empire to the ground but it seems that Leach can’t catch a break and a horrible accident disfigures his face, almost killing him. Leach, hell-bent on vengeance, then dons a costume becoming the Phantom, intent on ruining Swan while saving the apple of his eye, singer, Phoenix (Jessica Harper) from a terrible fate.
A Cool Reception
The film, based on The Picture of Dorian Gray, Faust and The Phantom of the Opera, opened to dismal box office numbers and both critics and audiences alike panned it. Not even the kitschy, Halloween night opening could save the fate of the doomed flick.
But the soundtrack was a different story. In an odd twist of fate, the songs from the film were hits. They became so well received that the praise garnered the tunes Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.
With huge box office disappointment, it seemed the Phantom’s fate was sealed and the film would disappear into obscurity but that changed when the most unlikely place on earth fell in love with the Phantom and his Paradise.
The birth of a Cult Classic
But then something strange happened and in the most unlikely place… Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The cult status of The Phantom of the Paradise starts here. This was the only major market during its theatrical release where it was deemed a success. Opening on Boxing Day (December 26th) 1974, it played continuously in local cinemas for over a four-month period. And then over one-year non-continuously until 1976.
The soundtrack was just a huge and sold 20,000 copies in Winnipeg alone – ultimately becoming certified Gold in Canada. It played occasionally in Winnipeg theatres throughout the 1990’s and even at the Winnipeg IMAX theatre in 2000, each showing drawing a “dedicated audience”.
The film is so loved in Winnipeg that a fan-organized festival, called “Phantompalooza”, was held in 2005. The event organized appearances by Gerrit Graham, Beef in the movie, and William Finley, and it was held in the same Winnipeg theatre where the film had its original run in 1975. A second “Phantompalooza” was staged April 28, 2006, with many of the surviving cast members in attendance and featured a concert by Paul Williams.
Now I know what you’re thinking, where’s the horror? Leach’s disfiguration, Swan’s demise, and the whole phantom motif definitely lend to the film’s horror cred, albeit one with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. But there was one incident behind the scenes that was no laughing matter.
In the accident scene were Leach tangles with a record press the production decided to use a real press. In order to protect the actor, the press had been fitted with foam pads with chocks put in the center to stop it from closing completely. The machine, however, had other plans and was powerful enough to crush the chocks and it gradually kept closing. Luckily Finley was pulled out of its path before injury or death could occur.
The Phantom’s Leading Lady
Suspiria’s Jessica Harper stars as the songstress, Pheonix, a beacon of innocence in the cutthroat world of rock n’ roll. Harper shines in her limited screen-time, especially with the numbers Special to Me and Old Souls. She more than holds her own among this mostly dude-centric film. In fact, Harper’s performance is so captivating that she carries over into other scenes, haunting the viewer with as much haunt as The Phantom himself.
You can see the lovely Miss. Harper in the 2018 remake of Suspiria in theaters October 26th, 2018, and of course – in the 1977 original on home video… maybe even on VHS if you are so inclined!
While high in camp and low in substance, Phantom of the Paradise has a ton of cheesy 70’s heart. It’s a great late night double feature movie to pair with Stardust (1974) or The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). There is something for everyone. Laughs abound (intentional or otherwise), loads of great music, and even some thrills and chills for the horror buff.
Thanks for visiting the NOFS Video Vault. We’ve enjoyed having you. Be sure to drop in every month to see what’s new, er, old among our dusty shelves. Stop by our social media pages for all of the latest news, lists, reviews and so much more! Oh and please to close the door as you leave. We can’t have any of our little video nasties getting out now, can we?