MOVIE RE-REVIEW: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)

A huge thanks to old buddy Scott who hooked me up with a DVD rip of this movie, taken from the original VHS release.

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 11:  

Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978 Hanna-Barbera TV movie)

A monster-sized, semi-transparent Gene Simmons prowls above a rollercoaster.  Ace Frehley and Peter Criss fly about on a floating amusement park ride, and Gene says “hello ladies” from the top of the rollercoaster.  Paul Stanley dances up a storm, all to the tune of the original “Rock and Roll all Nite” from Dressed to Kill.  This is how it all happened on October 28, 1978 when NBC broadcast the TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

The sheer hubris of Kiss and their enablers in 1978 was out of control.  The band had always intended to conquer TV screens, and silver ones too.  When Gene hyped the proposed Kiss movie as the best thing since either Jaws or Star Wars, skepticism would be justified.   Kiss had a ready-made image for spinoffs, and Marvel comics had first dibs on illustrated Kiss.  But their ambition caught up with their abilities with Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.  Nobody in the band could act.  The script was being changed on a daily basis.  The special effects were a joke.  Stunt doubles looked nothing like the real Kiss.  Jokey fight scenes are accompanied by cartoony music from the Hanna-Barbera archives.

There is a superior European cut of this film called Attack of the Phantoms.  The cartoon fight music is replaced by actual Kiss songs, and it is generally just a better version.  It can be found in the Kissology II DVD set.  The cut that most of us saw on television has been issued on VHS, but never DVD.  For a complete breakdown of every difference between every version of Kiss Meets the Phantom, be sure to get Dale Sherman’s thoroughly incredible reference book, Black Diamond 2.

It is summer in sunny California at Magic Mountain amusement park.  Over the loudspeakers, an announcement is made:  “Kiss is in concert, starting tonight, for three great nights!”  The security guy, Sneed,  is worried about a riot.  Park owner Calvin Richards only sees dollar signs.  And there is a third party too:  Abner Deveroux (the acclaimed actor Anthony Zerbe in his most embarrassing role ever).  Deveroux built the rides and all the park’s robotic animatronics, but things are starting to break down.   Devereux fancies himself a scientist and can’t deal with his budget cuts while money is being spent promoting the Kiss concert.  Throw in a group of thugs (Chopper, Slime and Dee) and you have a potentially dangerous situation.  When Devereux’s assistant Sam goes missing, his girlfriend Melissa goes looking for him.  And, for some reason, she needs Kiss’ help.

Minute after agonizing minute, we sit through clumsy dialogue and wooden lines, as we wait and wait for Kiss to finally show up.  A creepy tour of Devereux’s underground robot-filled laboratory reveals he’s completely nuts, always a good thing to have in the designer of a kids’ amusement park.  He has the will and the means to exact his revenge on those who cross him…and he also has the missing Sam!  But when will Kiss show up?  Not for an incredibly slow moving 30 minutes…and that’s not including commercials.

Kiss’ grand entrance (to the tune of “Rocket Ride” from Alive II) is the first time the audience is given one vital piece of information.  Kiss, apparently, have superpowers.  They can shoot laser beams from their eyes, breath fire, teleport and more.  Why they have chosen to use their powers for rock and roll is never revealed  beyond “you got to have a party”.

The concert continues with “Shout it Out Loud” and “Black Diamond”.  Peter Criss’ drum kit elevates and fireworks explode.  When the movie first aired, it was the first time kids could could see what a Kiss concert was like from the comfort of home.  The concert footage is far too short, but all is not well with the park.  Abner Devereux is fired from his job (yet he’s not removed from the premises, and continues to work in his underground lab)!  He sets into motion a plan to get his revenge…on Kiss!   Fortunately, Paul can shoot a star thing out of his eye that lets him read minds.

“You’re looking for someone.  But it’s not Kiss.”

When Gene seemingly attacks two security guards at night, Kiss is questioned in the classic “pool scene”.   There used to be an urban legend that Peter Criss did voices for cartoons such as Superfriends.  The origin of this is Kiss Meets the Phantom.  Supposedly Peter Criss refused to overdub his lines (as is standard procedure for any show due to the flawed nature of on-location audio) so voice actor Michael Bell was called in.  Many fans never knew Peter Criss’ real speaking voice for years, since Bell’s was the only one we heard.  Worse, Ace Frehley barely had any dialogue at all, beyond yelping “Ack”.  The writers who were hired to follow Kiss around to get a feel for their personalities didn’t pick up much from Ace beyond odd noises.  Lines has to be added for Ace at the last minute when he flipped out over his lack of verbiage in the film.  Therefore, he also got “Hi, Curly!”  Most of Gene’s lines are just lion-like roars.

The plot thickens:

Calvin Richards:  “Look, someone vandalized our park last night, smashed some of our buildings, and injured a few of our guards.  Well Gene, they think it was you.”

Guard #1:  “Think!?  It was him!”

Guard #2:  “Or his twin!”

Peter Criss:  “Gene’s brother was an only child.”

Paul Stanley:  “Easy, Catman, they are serious.”

The best part is that Guard #1 is played by the then-unknown Brion James of Blade Runner and Fifth Element fame.

When Melissa returns (still looking for the missing Sam), Kiss reveals to her the truth behind their powers:  They possess talismans that grant them superhuman abilities…and now an eavesdropping Devereux knows, too!  The second Kiss concert goes off without a hitch.   An exciting “I Stole Your Love” features the band descending from elevating side stage platforms.  The song is edited for length, but Gene blows fire at the end.  What Kiss don’t know is that Devereux has sent Sam, who he now controls, to steal their talismans!

After the concert, Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace are joined by Melissa, heartbroken over Sam.  Neither Gene, nor Paul, nor Ace and Peter attempt to sleep with her.  No, instead, they serenade her to a very special version of “Beth”.  Some in fandom feel that this version is the best ever version of “Beth”.  It has Peter Criss’ vocal from the album, and a single acoustic guitar.  (Paul mimed this guitar part for the movie, though Peter felt it should have been Ace.)  Meanwhile, Sam is thwarted from stealing the talismans by a force field, but Kiss can sense that something is up.  They decide to check out the park and look for Devereux.

Cue that funky fight scene music, white cat!  Four white cat-like people get the drop on Kiss!  “They’re not real, they’re robots!” says Paul.  “It’s all unreal!”  The cats are followed by samurai, wielding lightsaber-like swords. But Devereux is not so easily beaten.  Sam, now equipped with a ray gun from Devereux, has stolen the talismans!  Kiss follow him into the spooky Chamber of Thrills, where they are attacked and captured by even more robots.  These campy fight scenes are either intolerably awful, or the highlight of the movie, depending on your point of view and level of intoxication.

The climax is an epic battle between Kiss and their evil robotic alter-egos, built by Devereux!  Devereux sends the phony Kiss-bots on stage to use music to incite the crowd to riot and destroy the park.  Changing the words to “Hotter Than Hell”, the Kiss-bots almost succeed.

It’s time for everyone to listen good,
We’re taking all we can stand,
You’ve got the power to rip down these walls,
It’s in the palm of your hand!

Rip, rip, rip and destroy!
You know the hour’s getting late.
Rip, rip, rip and destroy!
Break it down and seal your fate.

Can the real Kiss recover the talismans, beat the bots and retake the stage?

Other Kiss tracks heard in the movie include “Christine Sixteen” and “God of Thunder”, but let’s face it, Kiss Meets the Phantom is a shit-show.  It was an opportunity for fans to see Kiss on TV, but it did little to convert anyone to the Kiss cause.   The concert footage is fantastic, although songs are severely edited.  Its greatest value today is as a camp classic, but without a beverage of some kind, it is a lethargic undertaking.  The fact that Anthony Zerbe has this movie on his resume is astonishing; the fact that Kiss have yet to release this version on DVD is not.

1978 was a rocky year for the Kiss army.  Though the Alive II tour started the year on a high, and the Marvel comic was a pretty cool thing, fans were now being fed more product.  Double Platinum (up next) left some feeling exploited for their dollars, and Kiss Meets the Phantom could be considered a complete write-off.

Today’s rating:  1/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/09

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21 comments

        1. Unfortunately I couldn’t stream it online. It’s not available on DVD (except the European cut, on a Kiss box set). So you almost need to hunt to see it.

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  1. Never before has a movie ranked 1/5 been so great at the same time. I remember this from back in the day and then I watched it a few years back and thought wow this was even worse then I remember…but I would still watch it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s Kiss. I remember me and my friends watching this in our teens and just loving how bizarre it was. It was still Kiss and no one was cooler than Gene.And back in those days according to us if you didn’t like this movie you weren’t a true Kiss fan. Fast forward to these days and i can confess even liking Scooby Doo and Kiss movie. It’s Kiss so…but I’m not buying those air guitar strings!!! Gotta draw the line somewhere even if it still is Kiss.

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  3. I’ll bet this would be glorious if you were, um, high as a kite.

    Also: “The sheer hubris of Kiss and their enablers in 1978 was out of control.” And here I always thought KISS was an understated, quiet bunch of nice boys who were in it for the art and money was just a natural by-product. ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pure Junk in 2017 but as a 11 year old in 1978 this was Pure Gold….hahaha…this movie is a mess but the funny thing was around 1990 or so my brother scored this on a trip out west and when he brought it home and we watched it…He was 13 at the time and I was 21 at the time we howled at how silly it was.
    Wish i had a older brother who woulda knocked some common sense into me back in 78…hahaha

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    1. I was 12 when I saw it. I watched it with my sis who was 8. I don’t think we were disappointed because we knew it was supposed to be bad. But we really wished there was more Kiss! She liked Gene’s monster voice.

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