The Bad Movie Report

KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park

Every now and then, a reviewer comes across a film that causes him to ask, Am I truly qualified to judge this film? You know, like Gene Shalit at Eraserhead. Michael Medved at Blood Diner. Roger Ebert at... well, anything. This was the problem I faced with KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. I was never a KISS fan. I found their hits listenable enough, it was just... I dunno. Perhaps, with the outrageousness of their makeup and costumes, I was expecting their music to be more than just straight-ahead, middle of the road rock. Something more edgy, like White Zombie or Nine Inch Nails turns out these days.

So the Doctor fortified himself by calling on a cadre of thirty-low-somethings, who had actually owned the albums at one time or another, and seated them betwixt himself and the TV, so they would catch any stray shrapnel. To safeguard any dignity they might wish to maintain, we shall refer to them simply as Dave, Mrs. Dave, and Alan. Dave remembered nothing about the film except that KISS was in it, and there was a Phantom, and at some point, they met. Alan stated he had seen the film several times before, but this was the first time he would attempt it while sober. The things we do for science...

The Park in question is, economically enough, Six Flags Magic Mountain. The Phantom in question is Abner Devereaux, played by Anthony Zerbe, who seems, much of the time, to be Phantom and fiendish Zerbe Gunattempting a Hans Conreid imitation. Zerbe has engineered most of the rides and all of the robotic creations at the park, and is dead set against the intrusion of modern unpleasantness into his domain. The epitome of such unpleasantness, he feels, is the booking of KISS for three nights of concerts (isn't playing at theme parks reserved for 20-years-later reunion tours, like the Monkees?). Zerbe's partner plans to oust the unprofitable scientist, causing Zerbe to swear undying vengeance (or something), against the capitalist, and especially against that accursed rock group! (Zerbe can now legitimately be called the Phantom of the Park, as the setup is lifted from the Claude Reins and Herbert Lom Phantom of the Operas, the versions with which most people are familiar)

There is a back story somewhere in there about Sam and Melissa. These are our lovers, the sympathetic characters for whom we must root. I have rooted more for mannequins at JC Penney, who show much more of an emotional range. Sam works for the park, and suspects Something Is Up. "There's something I don't understand," he tells her, speaking for the audience. "I'm going to go check it out." He does, and winds up with a diode on his neck (on loan, no doubt, from Zontar, Thing from Venus), which makes him Zerbe's zombie henchman. This is a fate met by anyone Zerbe does not want in his park, such as a trio of punks named Chopper, Slime, and Chick Who Didn't Get A Nickname, who wind up as robots in an American Revolution display.

Melissa must now search for the missing Sam. All this exposition pads the story out to its initial half- hour, with people helpfully mentioning KISS every few minutes so you can remember why you're watching. It was during this part that Mrs. Dave went to sleep for the first time, which is not a very good sign*. (and do you, like I, feel that everytime I must spell out the groups name as KISS, that I am suddenly shouting? You ain't seen nothin' yet.)

Like, zap.When the concert begins and KISS finally appears, they do it in a welter of cheap effects that would make King Ghidorah proud*. They float in, shooting rays from their P-chew! P-chew p-chew p-chew!eyes and fingers. You see, KISS are not merely rock musicians, oh no. They have Mystic Talismans, which grant each of them powers (stop me if I'm wrong, but isn't that the setup from the KISS comic book, released about the same time?). Gene Simmons, the Demon, can breathe fire and speak with a reverb. Paul Stanley, the Starchild, can shoot cheap rays out of his eyes. Ace Frehley, Space Ace, can teleport. And Peter Criss, the Catman, can, uh..... uh.... well, as far as I can tell, he has the power to make lame cat-related puns.

Kiss takes pity on Melissa, and take her under their, um, wing. Late that night, Zerbe tries out hisThis scene alone is worth the price of admission. new Gene Simmons robot, which kicks the collective butt of several security guards, and demolishes a Styrofoam wall and a Corn Dog stand made of FomeCore™. The Park Capitalist and Head Rent-A-Cop confront KISS the next day as the band suns themselves by the pool .... in full makeup ... and hooded, silver mesh robes. Perhaps they forgot their sunscreen.

Still unable to find Sam, KISS tries to cheer Melissa up by singing their hit "Beth", a paean to guys who stay out all night with the boys and the women who wait at home, doubtless planning to leave their asses. The Zombie Sam tries to steal the Magic Talismans (or is that Talismen?), but is stopped by a convenient force field. KISS senses a tremor in the Force, but, being professionals, they finish the song, even though Melissa has gotten thoroughly depressed and wandered off. This allows her to bump into Zombie Sam, and she, too, finally figures out Something is Wrong.

Kiss ponders their next lame fight scene.KISS swings into action, as it were, and breaks into the park after hours by flying over the fence (couldn't Ace have teleported them in?). Zerbe retaliates by sending wave after wave of masked stuntmen.... I'm sorry, robotic assassins ... after them, resulting in some not-terribly exciting fight scenes. Let's face it, it's hard to fight, let alone run, in platform boots. However, kudos are due to Ace's stunt double for doing some impressive flips with the damn things on. It was during the first big fight scene that we lost Mrs. Dave for the second time. Nodding off during a fight scene is definitely a bad sign.

The Zombie Sam goes back to KISS' apartment with a Zerbe Gun, which thwarts the force field, I, for one, feel safer now.allowing the Mad Scientist/Phantom/Classical Music Lover to cut off the plucky band's power, making them ripe for capture. He then substitutes his robot KISS for the real thing, planning to use cleverly re-written lyrics to incite the crowd to riot and destroy the park. Why? Because he's evil! EVIL!!!!!

This is actually not as easy as it looks.


Well, of course the real KISS escapes, makes short work of the Evil Robot KISS (in a fight that had Dave asking, "Why don't the KISS robots look like KISS anymore? Wait a minute.... why doesn't KISS look like KISS anymore?"). Sam is released from Zombie-hood, and Zerbe is either made very old or dead or comatose or SOME DAMNED THING, as the Capitalist opines, "He created KISS to destroy KISS... and he lost." This statement alone beats anything Jodorowsky ever did for out and out huh?ness. The end.

Actually, you should know you're in trouble with KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park right at the beginning , when you discover it is a Hanna-Barbera Production. Older readers (and Cartoon Network subscribers) will recall HB's earlier live-action opus, the serial Danger Island, starring a young Jan-Michael Vincent and directed by none other than Richard Donner. Neither could save it. At least KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park is unmarred by speeded-up fight scenes (or speeded-up anything, for that matter). Hanna Barbera has supplied with us with of the best (and, admittedly, some of the worst) cartoons of my generation. And some of the most wretched live action.

It's hard to compare this to any other rock-group film. Unlike Magical Mystery Tour or 200 Motels, which were basically Home Movies On Acid, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park not only tries to tell a story, but elevates its subjects to Beings of Godlike Power. Dave jokingly refers to this as "KISS' Help!", and there are disturbing similarities. The "Beth" scene in particular, is highly reminiscent of the scene in Help! where the Beatles, pursued by death cultists, decide to stop and, apropos of nothing, sing "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away". In fact, to paraphrase MST3K, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park is just like Help!, only it isn't good.

Of the band members, it is obvious why Gene was the only one who had anything approaching a career in movies afterward. Special mention must be made of the truly horrific performance of Ace Frehley, who not only has a high-pitched girly voice, but persists in shrieking "Awk!" at inopportune moments, like a molested peacock. At least he makes Peter and Paul look... well, not exactly good, but less bad, by comparison.

An odd side-note: the incidental music in the film is not hard rock oriented, not even the fight scenes, which might have benefited from a KISS tune or two - no, it is 1978, so the music is some prime example of 70's cop show fare, courtesy of the ubiquitous Hoyt Curtin. Go, Hoyt, Go! It's a bit of an odd choice, in retrospect, but not an odious one. It is a part of the movie's miniscule charm, next to the hairstyles: it is such a product of its time. I must also confess, with some chagrin, that I now cannot get the song "Beth" out of my head. And I have tried. Strenuously. Awk!

I shall go out on a limb here, and make a prediction: it seems to take about 25 years for these things to take hold, so come the Millennium, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park will take its place alongside Plan 9 From Outer Space and Robot Monster as a Bad Movie For Which We All Have A Soft Spot. All it needs is a new generation that did not Own The T-Shirt to view it in its proper perspective.



At the moment, only curiosity value. AWK!

- July 12, 1998

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