Since I was a teen I have been in love with both of these cult musicals. But as I grew older and began to learn more about the world and classic literature and film art, I began to believe that one was undoubtably "better" than the other in terms of entertainment value and sheer genius.
Phantom of the Paradise was released in the U.S in 1974. The film was one of the firsts of its kind with its gothic style and outrageous plot-line mixed together with characters breaking into song and dance. Sadly, the film was just too strange for most of its audience and it only found success in a small city located in Canada called Winnipeg.
One year later The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out. It too contained an outrageous plot-line complete with spontaneous musical numbers. Although Phantom had introduced the film audience to a similar style of rock-horror parody, Rocky saw little success upon its release and didn't really gain a following of any kind until years later.
For a brief time the two rock-horror films played side by side on a double bill released by Fox. Eventually Rocky's popularity grew and Fox released a participation version of the film, adding fuel to the flame and solidifying Rocky's rise to fame.
Phantom, however, never saw the same kind of enthusiasm.
Why is it that two films with the same genre and style that were released at around the same time could see such differing popularity? It saddens me to know that such an amazing movie like Phantom of the Paradise remains unknown to so many viewers while The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been seen by almost everyone I know. That being said, I think I understand why there is such a vast difference in popularity between the two movies, despite their similarities.
Phantom of the Paradise is a genius mixture of classic stories like The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, and Faust with references to classic films like Psycho and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. When I was younger and had no idea about these books and films, I viewed the film as an odd movie with strange characters and an even stranger plot.
After having completed high school and taken many film courses in university, I now understand the deeper meanings behind the story and where each character's origin comes from. Swan is the man who sold his soul to the devil. Beef is Frankenstein. Winslow is the Phantom. And Pheonix is the innocent with the beautiful voice.
While The Rocky Horror Picture Show does make its own references to classic films like King Kong and other science fiction stories, it's mostly a parody of horror b movies. And even though its soundtrack is entertaining and memorable, in my opinion it lacks the depth and beauty of many of the songs that were performed in Phantom. But Rocky does have the opportunity for audience participation with its "Time Warp" dance and wildly dressed characters. Phantom is lacking in such songs to dance along to and memorable character images aside from Beef's shiny outfits.
To me Phantom of the Paradise will always be better than The Rocky Horror Picture Show based solely on its touching and profound music. At the same time I understand Rocky's popularity driven by its status amongst the younger crowd as the wickedest musical ever.
For folks who have seen both movies, which do you prefer or think is better?