anthony zerbe

#951: Set Your VCR, It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!

Special thanks to Jennifer Ladano for telling me to write this story down!

RECORD STORE TALES #951: Set Your VCR!
It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!

When thinking back about my earliest rock and roll discoveries, it’s important to recall the order in which I got the albums, or first heard the tunes.  It seems like I had always known “Rock N’ Roll all Nite”, but since my first Kiss albums were Alive! and Hotter Than Hell, those were the songs I knew best.  And I barely knew them!  I got my first Kiss in September of ’85.  But I was learning slowly.  Eventually I’d get Asylum, and gradually tape Kiss albums from my neighbour George.

Something else happened that exposed me to Kiss in a new way, that I sometimes forget about.  It was the first time I saw Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

Everybody knew about Kiss Meets the Phantom, but few of us were old enough to have seen it.  When it showed up in the TV guide one week, on some Buffalo station, it seemed like every kid with access to a VCR set it to record.  It was being shown at something like 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday.

Upon waking, I got my sister up early and we raced downstairs to watch.  We did not have time to watch the whole thing that morning.  It was winter, possibly the tail end of Christmas holidays, and we were off to the lake for one day.  We watched some, went to the lake, had lunch at the Embassy, and came home to finish the movie.

I noticed there were far more ads to fast forward through on late night TV than during the day!


Actual ads from the actual tape of the actual night.

My sister recalls liking Kiss Meets the Phantom; my memories are quite different.  I was bored to tears any time Kiss wasn’t on screen, and you had to wait through, like, an hour (with ads) for Kiss to arrive at the bloody park!  I didn’t know who this Anthony Zerbe fellow was, but at age 13 I considered him possibly the worst actor I had ever seen.

It was my first time seeing Peter Criss on video and not just still photos, and I was surprised at his voice.  I told everyone, “Peter Criss sounds like Aquaman.”  I had the show right, but the character wrong.  Michael Bell did the voice of Peter Criss in Kiss Meets the Phantom, and Wonder Twin Zan in the cartoon Superfriends.  Legend has it that this was because Peter didn’t show up to loop his lines in post-production.  Whatever the case, it led to a different urban legends:  that Peter Criss had given up rock and roll, and taken up a lucrative career as a cartoon voice actor!

I thought Gene’s distorted voice was tiresome after a while, and Paul seemed the coolest.  My sister liked that Kiss were like superheroes with powers.  On the other hand, I didn’t like that.  If Paul Stanley couldn’t shoot a laser beam out of his eye in real life, I didn’t understand why he would in this movie.  They were still Kiss, still playing the same Kiss songs, but also super-powered.  My rigid brain couldn’t reconcile the two.

As for the music, the movie contains several songs that I heard for the very first time that day.  “Beth” (acoustic, no less), “Shout It Out Loud”, “God of Thunder” and “I Stole Your Love”.  (“Rip and Destroy” doesn’t count.)  Now, because I didn’t know these songs, and there were no captions, I had to guess at the titles.  “Shout It Out Loud” was the easy one.  But these were the live versions taken from Alive II, fast and reckless.  Not to mention we were hearing it on a TV with mono speaker; state of the art for the time, but not for proper music listening.  So that’s why, for that day at least, I thought “God of Thunder” was “Not a Doctor”, and “I Stole Your Love” was something that sounded like “I Ho-Jo-Ho”.

The process of discovering Kiss was so memorable because it’s so fun.  The superhero character aspect appealed to my sister and there’s no denying that it had something to do with why I loved Kiss too.  But hearing the songs and albums for the first time can only happen once.  And I can clearly remember a tinge of sadness when I finally acquired Rock and Roll Over, the last original Kiss album I needed to finish my collection.  I was starkly aware that I was having this experience for the last time:  hearing a classic Kiss album, guessing who was singing the songs by the title alone, and discovering hidden favourites.  As I learned when Crazy Nights came out, hearing a new Kiss album was simply not the same as discovering the classics!

Kiss Meets the Phantom was a struggle to sit through then, but fortunately I saw it at an age when Kiss still seemed larger than life.  Objectively, it is a pretty terrible film, best enjoyed as a trainwreck.  The best parts are the concert scenes, which was the closest I got to seeing Kiss live at age 13.  It was my first exposure to some really important songs even if I wondered why Gene was singing about being “Not a Doctor”!

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

MOVIE REVIEW: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (aka: KISS in Attack of the Phantoms)

You know what I forgot to review? KISS Meets the Phantom! So, belatedly: Part 29 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

“I will destroy you!  All of you!  You, Kiss, will be my instrument!”

KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (NBC, 1978)

Context:  In 1978 Kiss were arguably the biggest band in the world.  Like the Beatles before them, they sought to conquer movies as they prepared to do their solo albums.  They did it…much less successfully than the Beatles.

I’ll try not to shoot ducks in a barrel here.  This made for TV movie is now available in its superior international version on the KISStory II DVD set.  It’s marginally better than the version we’ve had to endure here.  It had more Kiss music (17 songs) and a different cut to the film.

However if you want campiness at its 1970’s worst, watch the regular version.  Bad acting, no budget, bad dubbing (even Peter Criss was dubbed, by Michael Bell!), hell the special effects from the 1967 season of Star Trek are vastly, incalculably superior.  The familiar North American version excises much of Kiss’ original music and replaces it with disco funk!  Chicka-chicka-chicka guitars and hilarious horns.  Oh, and on top of it, Ace has hardly any lines beyond “Ack”!

Phantom stars classic Bond villain Anthony Zerbe as the insane Abner Devereaux, the mastermind behind the amusement park’s “amazing” robots!  (Incidentally that’s two actors who later appeared in Star Trek:  Bell and Zerbe.)  And of course Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter headline as well, even though they don’t even appear in the movie for what seems like an hour.

Plot?  Fuck it.  Who cares.  Madman in theme park is insanely jealous of Kiss.  Kiss have super powers.  Madman sends robots after them.  The end.

The movie is notable on the positive side for some exclusive music:  An acoustic version of “Beth”, and something called “Rip and Destroy” which was “Hotter Than Hell” with new (evil) lyrics.  I don’t know who plays the guitar on “Beth”, but it’s not someone from Kiss.  Paul mimes it in the video.  “Rip And Destroy” basically consists of one verse and one chorus repeated ad nauseum.  Having said that, fans have been begging for years for an official release of these songs.  Maybe on a future box set?  That would be cool.

For the film, 1/5 stars.