Like many cult titles, Phantom Of The Paradise is one of those films that has his­tor­i­cal­ly inspired just enough love in the peo­ple who han­dle home video cat­a­logs in the U.S. to get out there con­sis­tent­ly, albeit with lit­tle fan­fare.  The old Key Video VHS was pass­able for the days of analog, full-frame trans­fers and it got a decent, extras-free release to DVD in 2001.

POTP-bluThat said, this is a film with a fanat­i­cal fol­low­ing — check out the excel­lent Swan Archives web­site for proof — and it has always cried out for a spe­cial edi­tion.  Scream Factory has answered that call in the U.S. and the result is a blu-ray/DVD set that is packed to the gills with the kind of Phantom-mania that will make the film’s fans smile.

Though this is the film’s high-def debut in the U.S., it is actu­al­ly had more than a few releas­es in Europe and Australia.  There is no infor­ma­tion for who did the trans­fer but it looks rem­i­nis­cent of the remas­ter done for Arrow Films in the U.K., sport­ing a detailed image with often intense col­ors and a look that is slight­ly dark­er in tone than the bright French blu-ray trans­fer.  Either way, it’s a big step up from the DVD edi­tion and is com­ple­ment­ed nice­ly by 5.1 stereo mix, pre­sent­ed in loss­less DTS form on the blu-ray.  It deliv­ers the film’s com­plex mix in a suit­ably punchy style, with the fre­quent songs real­ly spread­ing out nice­ly across the speak­ers.

POTP-07However, where this set tru­ly excels is in the extras depart­ment.  Scream Factory, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Swan Archives, has put togeth­er an awe-inspir­ing assem­blage of bonus fea­tures that mix choice extras from the French and U.K. releas­es with a vari­ety of new items pro­duced espe­cial­ly for this set.  In fact, there’s so much bonus mate­ri­al on this set that the blu-ray and DVD fea­ture entire­ly dif­fer­ent sets of extras, thus mak­ing it the rare com­bo pack where you actu­al­ly need to watch both discs to see every­thing the set has to offer.

POTP-08The glam-rock ball gets rolling on the blu-ray with a pair of com­men­taries.  The first is a star-stud­ded affair that fea­tures stars Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor and Peter Elbling (a.k.a. Harold Oblong).  Thankfully, this is not one of those rau­cous group com­men­taries where every­one strug­gles to get their voic­es heards: instead, it was record­ed in three dif­fer­ent ses­sions — one for Graham, and one for Hahn/Comanor/Elbling — and art­ful­ly edit­ed togeth­er into a scene-speci­fic com­pos­ite in the same style you hear on the spe­cial releas­es for James Bond films.

Everyone involved in this track appre­ci­ate the film’s devot­ed fol­low­ing and each shares plen­ti­ful sto­ries about the pro­duc­tion from their per­spec­tives.  Hahn, Comanor and Elbling reveal how they designed their own chore­og­ra­phy with lit­tle input from Brian DePalma, Harper dis­cuss­es how co-star William Finley was a gen­er­ous act­ing men­tor and Graham talks about how he was pranked by a crew that at first mis­tak­en­ly believed him to be a diva.

POTP-09The sec­ond com­men­tary is a solo track that fea­tures pro­duc­tion design­er Jack Fisk.  It’s rare to hear a P.D. get their own track but Fisk was cru­cial to devel­op­ing the film’s visu­al style so it’s inter­est­ing to hear him describe his process and meth­ods.  He gives tons of great info on how sets were built and loca­tions were dressed, right down to the speci­fic mate­ri­als used to achieve dif­fer­ent effects.  He also tells a fun­ny tale about the first time he real­ized DePalma liked his work and even tells a sto­ry about when his wife, Sissy Spacek, won the lead role in Carrie (she was a set dec­o­ra­tor on Phantom!).

The next extras on the blu-ray are a trio of inter­view fea­turettes.  The first offers a 35-min­ute chat with DePalma, who dis­cuss­es the tor­tured gen­e­sis of the script, reflects on his work­ing rela­tion­ships with dif­fer­ent cast and crew mem­bers and reveals what moti­vat­ed visu­al choic­es for par­tic­u­lar musi­cal num­bers.  In an inter­est­ing moment, he reveals how much his ear­ly exper­i­men­tal film Dionysus In ’69 influ­enced the stag­ing of the finale, right down to the use of actors from the stage show record­ed in that film.POTP-10

The next inter­view fea­tures Paul Williams, who cov­ers a lot of ter­ri­to­ry in 35 min­utes.  He talks about his oft-pun­ish­ing dual work­load of act­ing and song­writ­ing in detail, reveal­ing how he craft­ed songs to fit the sto­ry­line and how dealt with the chal­lenge of writ­ing pas­tiche num­bers with­out let­ting them get too know­ing­ly campy.  In a touch­ing moment, he reveals how his mother’s ter­mi­nal ill­ness influ­enced the mind­set he express­es in the lyrics of “Old Souls.”

The last inter­view is a quick but infor­ma­tive 4-min­ute chat with Tom Burman, who quick­ly runs through the design of the hel­met as well as the scar make­up and den­tures he did for Winslow.  He also reveals why John Chambers got cred­it for the make­up on the film despite doing no work on it.

POTP-11There is also plen­ti­ful out­take footage on the blu-ray.  Over 26 min­utes worth of alter­nate footage allows the view­er to see a series of alter­nate takes for sev­er­al dif­fer­ent sequences, as well as addi­tion­al angles (the­se are real­ly inter­est­ing when they show addi­tion­al footage from the musi­cal num­bers).  Along sim­i­lar lines is 7 min­utes’ worth of footage show­ing how the film­mak­ers had to alter or remove sev­er­al “Swan Song” logos in the film after Led Zeppelin’s man­age­ment threat­ened a law­suit!  A still gallery with just over 60 images rounds out the blu-ray, offer­ing posters, lob­by cards and easy-to-read repro­duc­tions of mate­ri­al from the film’s pro­gram and press­book.

The bonus mate­ri­al pre­sent­ed on the DVD isn’t minor stuff when com­pared to the blu-ray’s extras.  It begins with “Paradise Regained,” an excel­lent 50-min­ute oral his­to­ry of the film orig­i­nal­ly done from the film’s French DVD and blu-ray releas­es.  DePalma appears here with vir­tu­al­ly every major cast and crew mem­ber as they lay out the film’s con­vo­lut­ed path to the sil­ver screen in a clear, engag­ing man­ner.

POTP-12There’s lot of inter­est­ing mate­ri­al here: the musi­cal-chairs nature of the film’s ear­ly cast­ing choic­es, a bril­liant edit­ing trick that edi­tor Paul Hirsch used to cre­ate Beef’s elec­tro­cu­tion sequence and the most com­plete account of the four law­suits that dogged the film before it was released.  It’s par­tic­u­lar­ly great to see the sad­ly depart­ed William Finley talk­ing about his role here: he is wit­ty as he reveals the rig­ors of work­ing with the mask and how he real­ly almost got his head crushed in that record press(!).

Another Paul Williams inter­view fol­lows — and not only is it epic in scope (72 mins.), it also fea­tures him in con­ver­sa­tion with direc­tor and life­long Williams fan Guillermo Del Toro.  The first half fea­tures William speak­ing frankly about the health prob­lems that dogged his youth as well as the drug and alco­hol prob­lems that almost derailed his career.

POTP-13The sec­ond half fea­tures Del Toro art­ful­ly prompt­ing Williams through a dis­cus­sion of his song­writ­ing process as well as offer­ing his own analy­sis of the goth­ic touch­es that dis­tin­guish Phantom.  It’s more like a chat between peers than a con­ven­tion­al inter­view and it offers plen­ty to inter­est fans of both men over its lengthy sprawl.

A series of short­er inter­views fol­low.  The first is a ten min­ute, sin­gle-angle cam­corder chat with Rosanna Norton from 2004.  The now-famous cos­tume design­er talks about the chal­lenges of doing her work with lit­tle mon­ey and how she com­bined influ­ences as diverse as drag queen cou­ture and Brazil’s Carnival into her designs for the film.

The next is a near­ly 20 min­ute chat with pro­duc­er Edward Pressman, who reveals the tricky financ­ing tan­gle involved in get­ting Phantom off the ground, includ­ing some vil­lain­ous moves from A.I.P., and the insur­ance and law­suit prob­lems.  He also reveals how he designed a suc­cess­ful POTP-pos2reis­sue ad cam­paign for the film after the ini­tial release fal­tered at the box office.

The musi­cians are rep­re­sent­ed by a 17-min­ute chat with drum­mer Gary Mallaber.  He talks about how he devel­oped his work­ing rela­tion­ship with Williams and then goes on to cov­er the specifics of how the music was record­ed as well as a few men­tions of work­ing on the set in the musi­cal num­bers.  The last and per­haps most unique inter­view offers almost 12 min­utes with Andrea Alvin, the wid­ow and part­ner of John Alvin, who designed the film’s strik­ing neon-tinged poster art.  She offers a detailed break­down of how his air­brush-dri­ven style was achieved and offers a nice appre­ci­a­tion of his oft-unsung tal­ents in gen­er­al.

The next two pieces serve up pro­mo­tion in satir­i­cal ways.  The first is a record­ing, accom­pa­nied with still images, of Gerrit Graham read­ing the biog­ra­phy and syn­op­sis he penned for the film’s presskit.  Though he is self-dep­re­cat­ing about his efforts, his style is pret­ty wit­ty in an in-your-face way that suits the film.  “Finley and Toy” is a fun bit from the film’s French edi­tion that has the film’s star doing a 30-sec­ond faux ad for a then-new Phantom action fig­ure.

The remain­der of the DVD’s extras cov­er the film’s pro­mo­tion­al details in great detail (this is where the part­ner­ship with the Swan Archives comes in handy).  There are two and a half min­utes worth of radio ads, most of them voiced by Wolfman Jack and promi­nent­ly fea­tur­ing song clips, plus one hPOTP-posorror-themed spot from the Pressman-con­ceived cam­paign.  The t.v. spots are divid­ed even­ly between the Fox and Pressman cam­paigns, with the for­mer try­ing to mix hor­ror imagery with an appeal to the rock crowd while the lat­ter goes exclu­sive­ly for sell­ing the title char­ac­ter as a new hor­ror icon.

The the­atri­cal trail­ers are inter­est­ing: the first seems more like a pro­mo reel than a trail­er (it doesn’t even fea­ture titles) while the lat­ter is the best exam­ple of Fox’s horror/rock crowd crossover cam­paign, with some great fast-cut edit­ing.  The last inclu­sion is an image gallery that includes 30 col­or stills as well as a series of lob­by cards, posters from dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies and pic­tures from a screen­ing.

All in all, this is the spe­cial edi­tion American Phantom fans have been wait­ing for.  Not only does boast a more impres­sive trans­fer than past U.S. edi­tions, it offers over nine hours of extras that rep­re­sent every key par­tic­i­pant and take the view­er deep into the heart of Phantom-mania.  If you love this film, you need this set.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Phantom Of The Paradise, click here.