Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factory - PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and MOTEL HELL on Blu-ray ""

Friday, August 1, 2014

Scream Factory - PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and MOTEL HELL on Blu-ray

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974; Brian De Palma)

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is sort of a prototypical cult film. I've never particularly been a huge fan of the movie, but it is quite a remarkable phenomenon for sure. The passion shown by ROCKY HORROR fans in their decades upon decades of attending midnight screenings of the 1975 film is quite an outpouring of affection to say the least. Brian De Palma's film PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE came out circa October 31st in 1974 (a little over a month after I was born). I have an odd curiosity about things that emerged in the culture just as I was coming into the world. The week I was born, the PLANET OF THE APES TV Series aired for the first time. I've always thought that was kinda cool. Even cooler though is that some folks were seeing PHANTOM in what was probably a small group of theaters so soon after my birth. It gives me some tenuous connection to a film I've come to love very much. 
I have been fascinated with the idea of cult films for a very long time. When I first picked up Danny Peary's book Cult Movies it changed my life (as did his other books). I was immediately taken in by the idea that movies could be loved and shared so passionately from person to person over many years. I had to see these movies to see exactly why they were so special. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE was one of those movies (Peary didn't discuss it until Cult Movies 2, but I got all of the books at once so I came across it right away). I was aware of De Palma at the time, but had no idea he was capable of something like this. His musical collaborator Paul Williams was clearly a big part of what made PHANTOM so amazing and different than any of De Palma's other films. Williams is, for me, one of the great songwriters of all-time. Up there with Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and my contemporary favorite Stephin Merritt. PHANTOM is such an explosively awesome melding of story, production design, music, visuals and great actors. I have gotten a bit cynical as I've gotten older and started to realize just how difficult it is for films to get made in general, let alone GOOD films. So for something like PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE to exist is quite a coup. A lot of cult films are these wonderful little miracles where a whole bunch of things align perfectly and it is so glorious to know that they can and have happened. I often find myself comparing PHANTOM to ROCKY HORROR and lamenting the fact that one is this mega-cult favorite and the other is a much more meager cult classic these days. Still, PHANTOM has some seriously devoted fans, not the least of which is director Guillermo del Toro (who makes an appearance with Paul Williams in the special features on this disc). I've heard Drew McWeeny speak of it before and how he and del Toro talked about it when they met for (I believe) the first time.
Drew also has a great story about a set visit he did during the production of KICK ASS. He recounts it here:
For some reason, it hadn't dawned on me immediately upon seeing it that Nicolas Cage's Big Daddy mask in the film is a dead ringer for Winslow's mask in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. It clearly is. Cage said as much in his interaction with Drew. I love this story because I am already a Cage fan and the fact that he credits PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE with him wanting to make movies is pretty spectacular. I just love the story as another example of what a cult movie is and how strong the power of PHANTOM is over those that have discovered it for themselves. That coupled with the idea that the Phantom himself might have been an influence on one of the most recognizeable icons of our culture today(Darth Vader) is even more gratifying.!uqYwQ

There are few films out there that I take notice of when they are called out by people as their favorite films of all-time. I just think there are only a small group of movies that are really worthy selections. I apologize if that sounds judgmental, but it's kind of how I feel. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is one of those movies though. It's just got so much perfection in it from the music, the production design, the cast and the direction. It's just outstanding and if I meet someone that tells me it is their favorite movie, they have my immediate respect and understanding. It is that good and embodies everything a cult film can and should be.

I've seen some great artwork for PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE over the years (see examples at the bottom of this page),  but Scream Factory's new Collector's Edition Blu-ray cover is one of my favorites. So gorgeous (as is the Blu-ray transfer by the way!)!

Special Features:
--NEW Audio Commentary with Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and the Juicy Fruits (Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor and Harold Oblong aka Peter Eibling)
--NEW Audio Commentary with Production Designer Jack Fisk
--NEW Interview with director Brian DePalma (33 minutes) - "Brian De Palma - Backstage at the Paradise". This was something I'd been waiting a long time for. I've always wanted to hear De Palma go in-depth about PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. I was very pleased pleased with this interview. De Palma has a lot to say about all aspects of the movie from the origins of writing it and reworking the script, the actors, the production design (& films like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and so forth). He even gives a brief tour of many of the locations for the film.
--NEW Interview with Paul Williams (35 mins) "Paul Williams - Soul Inspiration" features Williams talking about the music of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. He really takes it all apart and talks about the influences of the music he loved growing up. He also talks about the nuts and bolts process of recording the songs and his personal history as a songwriter/singer that brought him to PHANTOM. I've been a big Paul Williams fan for some time and I think he's one of the great songwriters ever. He's a very soulful, philosophical mind and has a way of speaking that makes him extremely interesting and insightful to listen to.
--NEW Interview with Make-up Effects wizard Tom Burman (4 mins) "Behind the Mask with Tom Burman" in which Burman discusses the origins, design and process of making the Phantom's iconic Helmet.
--Alternate Takes (27 minutes) - in true De Palma form these takes are often displayed in split screens against the final version that ended up in the film. Very cool presentation.

--Swan Song Outtake Footage (8 minutes) - shows the original sequence and has an intro by Jack Fisk that sets it up. What follows is a detailed account (in text above picture) of all the parts of the sequence that were changed.

--Paradise Regained – documentary on the making of the film featuring director Brian DePalma, Producer Edward R. Pressman, William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and more… (50 minutes)
--Interview with Paul Williams moderated by Guillermo Del Toro (72 minutes)
--Interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton (10 minutes)
--NEW Interview with producer Edward R. Pressman (15 minutes)
--NEW Interview with drummer Gary Mallaber (15 minutes)
--NEW Alvin’s Art and Technique – a look at the neon poster (15 minutes)
--NEW Phantom of the Paradise Biography by Gerrit Graham - 1974 Publicity Sheet written by and read by Graham (8 minutes)

The bottom line here is that this is a magnificent release and easily one of the best of the year. It's among the best discs that Scream Factory has put out. A great transfer and great extras put this one almost above Criterion level stuff. An unquestionable must own.

MOTEL HELL (1980; Kevin Connor)
Growing up as a video store kid in the midwest in the late 80s, I spent my fair share of time wandering around the various horror sections of our local VHS renting establishments. One thing that always fascinated me about horror films on video was looking at the cover art. Like so many of my peers, I was suckered on many occasions by some salacious cover art. A good tagline was even enough sometimes(case in point: "Ding-Dong, You're Dead" or "The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is... they're dead."). Over a short period, I became quite well versed in the slasher and other horror subgenres of the 1980s, but MOTEL HELL was one film I somehow never got around to until now(even though the VHS could be found at practically ANY video store I went to during that period).
MOTEL HELL is of course part of the "crazy hillbilly family" horror subgenre. In this case, such a family traps and kidnaps people that pass by their roadside motel. Once incapacitated, they bury their victims up to their necks and proceed to feed them via funnels till they're plump. After that, they carve them up and mix them with other meats to make a unique(apparently delicious) concoction. Admittedly, I've always preferred a nice 80s slasher to this kind of film. Seems like the "catching up" period(how long it takes the victims to figure out they're dealing with some very bad folks) tends to take a little longer in this kind of film than I'd like. Also, there's often a smugness to these psycho families that drives me insane. Like nails-on-a-chalkboard insane. I get that that is by design and we are meant to want to wanna see the evil-doers get their just desserts(pun intended here) in the end, but the obnoxious quotient is just too high for my tolerance most of the time. I'm quite sure I'd have had a bit more affection for this if I'd chosen to rent the VHS back in the day. That said, as a longtime fan of 80s horror, I'm glad I finally saw it.

MOTEL HELL is a bit like Jackie Kong's film BLOOD DINER(which I like considerably more than this). BLOOD DINER is a film that really "goes for it" in a way that unfortunately MOTEL HELL doesn't quite do. I understand they were shooting for some dark comedy, but it didn't quite come together for me. MOTEL HELL's director, Kevin O'Connor, was more of a sci-fi genre guy with films like THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, AT THE EARTH'S CORE and WARLORDS OF THE DEEP preceding this one.

Special Features:
--NEW Audio Commentary with director Kevin Connor, moderated by filmmaker Dave Parker.
--NEW "It Takes All Kinds: The Making of MOTEL HELL" featuring interviews with director Kevin Connor, producers/writers Robert Jaffe and Steven Charles Jaffe and actor Marc Silver.
--NEW "Shooting Old School with cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth".
--"Another Head on the Chopping Block: An interview with actor Paul Linke".
--"From Glamour to Gore: An interview with actress Rosanne Katon".
--"Ida, Be Thy Name: A look back at MOTEL HELL’s frightful female protagonist Ida Smith".

Both PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and MOTEL HELL can be purchased via Shout Factory's site: