Paul Williams (who also wrote the score), plays Swan, the ever-youthful head of Death Records, who has pledged to contract new souls for his satanic master.
Swan’s own earthly instincts are to pirate a new rock cantata written by Winslow Leach (William Finley) and use it to open his 24-hour rock palace, The Paradise.
A vengeful Leach gets his head caught in a record-pressing machine and lives on, a masked, voiceless disfiguration, to haunt The Paradise and covertly supervise the career of Phoneix (Jessica Harper), a girl singer he adores.
The climactic orgy of massacre and mayhem (televised coast to coast) as Leach brings an act of final revenge to purge his soul is pure De Palma and a portent of what was to come in such extreme De Palma films as Dressed To Kill (1980) and Scarface (1983).
Supposedly a rock version of Phantom of the Opera, this film was really more a satirical fusion of elements of Faust, Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray.
It was all too much for sniffy critics when it came out, and cinemagoers stayed away. But in the spirit of all cult classics, a different, more lasting kind of success followed that crashing box-office failure. An entire Phantom-worshipping town in Winnipeg has gathered for a Phantompalooza since 2004, even earning it a starring role in a documentary called Phantom of Winnipeg.
Brian De Palma