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You could say that one mark of a truly great Rock and Roll band is the existence of a movie centered around them. The Beatles and The Who have had several each. Pink Floyd, The Band, and The Ramones all have films that they've taken part in. These films vary in content: some are straightforward documentaries while some feature the band in actual acting performances. It only seems natural that KISS, a band known for their outrageous costumes and makeup, would eventually be given a vehicle in the cinematic realm.
Well, that happened more than once. There's the 1999 comedy DETROIT ROCK CITY, of course, which is most likely the best-known KISS movie to the casual observer. But die-hard KISS kans are bound to remember their 1978 made-for-television feature KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK. They're probably wishing they could forget about it, but they still remember.
One group of people would definitely prefer for you to forget its existence, and that's the members of KISS themselves. That's because this is a downright awful piece of celluloid; the kind of film that Roger Corman wouldn't even touch. It's even bad for a TV movie, and that's pretty bad in its own right. But it's certainly worth a watch for sheer kitsch value, especially if you're a fan of the band it stars.
The title of the movie tries to clear up a grammatical dilemma I've had for some time in regards to band names. When you mention a singular person performing an action, you always add an "s" onto the verb, right? For instance, I would say "John Doe meets the Phantom of the Park", if I were referring to John Doe. But if I were referring to two people, the verb would become singular again. Like "John Doe and Joe Schmoe meet the Phantom of the Park." But the dilemma comes when there's a name for the group. Take, for instance, KISS. Kiss is a single entity, but it's made up of four different people. So it's always been confusing to me whether "Meet" or "Meets" would be appropriate in this case. According to the title of this film, KISS is treated as a singular entitly, so the title becomes KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK. But what if, say, I was talking about a band that by name indicates a plural -- For instance, The Beatles? Would the title be "The Beatles Meets the Phantom of the Park?" In this case, is "The Beatles" a singular entity or are they considered a plural? I mean, there's still four members of the band like KISS has, but that just sounds stupid. My head hurts.
So anyway, back to the movie, which first appeared a quarter-century ago as a Halloween special on network television. Yes, this was a far cry from It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Halloween is Grinch Night. The film centers around the idea that KISS is not just four guys in make-up, but rather are four superheroes placed here to rock and roll all night and party every day. We all know the four main members of KISS: There's Paul "Starchild" Stanley, Gene "The Demon" Simmons, Ace "Space Ace" Frehley, and Peter "Cat Man" Criss. Each of them has a special power in the magical world of KISS: Starchild shoots lasers from his eyes and can eavesdrop from long distances; Demon breathes fire and roars like a tiger; Space Ace can float and teleport; and Cat Man, uhh, well, wears make-up that makes him look like a cat. What does a Cat Man Do, besides being a really bad pun?
So anyway, as the movie begins, we're exposed to a huge amusement park getting ready to kick off its biggest season ever. At the helm of the park are Calvin Richards and Abner Devereaux, two men that have very little in common outside their work. Calvin has booked the hottest band in the world to appear at the park, but Abner doesn't care too much for the rock and roll. Devereaux is responsible for the amazing animatronic displays that pepper the park's landscape. He makes robotic characters that makes the Abe Lincoln at Disney World pale in comparison. He's so protective of these creations, that he's willing to go to great lengths to protect them. When three hoodlums mess with his prized robo-gorilla, he subjects them to the Chamber of Horrors, in which they meet unusual fates. He's kidnapped a young man named Sam, whom he keeps tabs on by planting robotic nodules on his neck and basically zombiefieing him. Sam's girlfriend Melissa is looking to meet up with Sam to attend the concert, but can't seem to find her beau and goes to the lab of Devereaux to find him. Melissa can't help but think something fishy is going on when Abner shuns her away. Unfortunately for Devereaux, though, the powers that be have picked up on his spiral into madness and decide to let him go. Fortunately, though, he still has access to his super-secret robot laboratory far below the park.
The night has fallen, and it's time for the boys to take the stage. And in this world, KISS flies in from the sky, riding their own poorly-drawn laser beams toward the stage to rock you. After the concert, Devereaux unleashes his zombiefied Sam to take pictures of the band, because he has evil intentions. In a plot setup you can see coming from about ten miles away, Devereaux decides he's going to create robotic doppelgangers for the band, and takes his first step by unleashing his own Demon later that night to vandalize the park and strike fear into park security guard Brion James.
Of course, the following day, the authorities pay a visit to the real KISS, who are hanging out by the pool. From the looks of it, it appears they just got done taking a dip, but they're still in full makeup and wearing these crazy silver robes. Cue the award-worthy performances: Paul Stanley is about as wooden as Pinocchio, Peter sounds like he's high on cocaine, and Ace talks like Curly from the Three Stooges. Gene just growls at this point. It's interesting to note that Peter Criss wasn't even present to do his own lines. That's not the voice of Peter you're hearing when he opens his Cat-Man mouth. Calvin is able to keep the authorities off the backs of the boys in paint long enough for them to complete their tour of duty performing at the park.
The next step for Devereaux is to send Sam to steal the talismans that KISS derive their magical superpowers from. Yes, you read that right. You see, each member of KISS has his own little trinket which he needs to have in the vicinity in order to use his power. While Sam is stealing these icons, Melissa is hanging out with KISS, who apparently spend their free time playing "Beth". Over and over and over and over. I mean, "Beth" is a pretty short song. It's like two minutes long. This scene, however, is about ten minutes in length. There's only so much Peter Criss crooning one can stand.
Sam is unsuccessful in his attempt to secure the talismans because they're protected by a force field. Good thinking, KISS! When Melissa finds Sam fleeing and realizes he's all zombied out, KISS springs into action. They assume something's wrong, so they wander into the park at night to investigate. First they have to fight a wall of white monkey robots, then they fight some evil ninja robots (who apparently have The Force, because their swords extend from the handles like lightsabers,) and then wander into the Chamber of Horrors that led to bad things for the hoodlums from earlier. Sam goes back to retrieve the talismans again, this time armed with some wacky gun that fires really bad special effects, and is able to capture them this time around. As a result, KISS winds up behind bars, and their evil robotic twins are sent to take their place in concert.
The fake KISS gets up and starts playing "Hotter than Hell", except that the lyrics have been rewritten as "Rip and Destroy" to incite the fans into a riot. The crowd is predictably outraged, and begin to give the security guys a run for their money. But before they can do too much damage, the real KISS have focused their collective mindpower to retreive their talismans and bust free from their prison. Their stunt doubles then arrive at the stadium and take on, uh, their other stunt doubles. Ace Frehley at one point is portrayed by a black man. I'm not making this up. Yeah, so eventually the good KISS prevails and takes us out with their signature hit, "Rock and Roll all Night". Sam gets back to normal as well when his zombie nodes are pulled off and he and Melissa get to enjoy their life together.
Unfortunately, the title is pretty misleading. KISS never actually get to meet the Phantom of the Park. They fight his robotic creations and they deal with Zombie Sam, but as far as I can recall, even while captured in their energy-bar-enclosed prison, they don't really get to meet him. Oh well. At least we get to meet him, because he's about the best thing going in this movie.
So yeah, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK is a pretty god-awful movie. Sure, it's rather amusing for those like me who enjoy a good train wreck, and it's something no fan of schlock films or the band themselves should go without seeing, but it's still really goddamn bad. But I'm sure you already knew that. The movie was produced by Hanna-Barbera, the team that brought us Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, and Scooby-Doo. The cartoon influence is highly evident here, which leads to an overall feeling of campiness. And of course, since it was made for television, it was created with commercial breaks in mind, so there are lots of opportune fades to black right at the height of the action.
Chances of getting a copy of this one are a bit slim. It was released on GoodTimes video back in the early 1980's, but has been out of print for well over a decade. Pristine copies can fetch up to $100 each on eBay. Your best bet is to search for a used copy if you're really interested in owning this piece of rock and roll history.
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