Written By Zak Attack
A dramatic journey through the dreck we all know and love
Why Did I Watch This?
I’d been curious about KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park‘s infamous reputation for a very long time, mainly because it proved so hard to find. Legend is that the band KISS was so unhappy with the finished project they’ve done their damnedest to wipe the film from existence. Even the most die hard KISS fans are happy to oblige, it seems. A few years back I was lucky enough to find a bootleg copy from a street vendor in Union Square. I think I paid $3 for it.
It’s October, so I am contractually obligated to make all features of the month tangentially related to Halloween. As KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park is kind of a horror/adventure/mystery and originally premiered on October 28th, I think it fits into the theme. Can we call this experiment Schlocktoberfest? Let’s call it Schlocktoberfest.
This is normally where I provide the trailer, but the promotional materials I can find are a bit strange due to it originally airing on TV. Also… fuck this movie. It’s a disgrace to the concept of moving images and the trailer isn’t worth the bandwidth it would take for Action A Go Go to embed it. Instead, I have posted the Family Guy spoof: “KISS Saves Santa”.
How Did I Watch It?
Actually watched this movie the first time in the Summer of 2012 several years after I bought it. I was on a Chinatown bus from New York to Boston and finally broke down to watch. I was intensely bored so decided to live tweet the whole thing. When I rewatched it for this feature, I decided to replicate the experience, so I took my portable DVD player on an Amtrak train while under the influence of “didn’t get enough sleep last night”.
Since the DVD is a bootleg from a VHS version, the quality of the images makes much of the action nearly unrecognizable. There are even some clips on YouTube of much better quality. Seeing those, I was surprised to learn that scenes actually were lit by a professional, you just can’t tell from the print I have. When the movie first fires up there is even an old school VCR “Tracking” dialog at the bottom of the screen. Oh, memories!
What Did I Watch?
The opening credits consist of KISS performing “Rock and Roll All Nite” in front of a blue screen that gives the impression of giant kabuki amusement park destructors. At one point it looks disturbingly like a 60-foot tall Gene Simmons is attempting to mount and mate with a wooden rollercoaster (which seems par for the course for Gene). I’d say that this opening really sets the tone for the whole film (because it kind of does), but that would ignore the fact that KISS doesn’t show up again for over a half an hour.
We’re first “introduced” to a young couple by the names of Sam and Melissa. It’s not clear who they are, but on encountering a parade Sam says “Something’s going on. Let me go check it out. I’ll be back in an hour.” At first I thought he was just really confused by parades, but it turns out he works at the park and is talking about something that the audience is not privy to. He walks into a control room that looks suspiciously like the bridge of a starship, goes in an elevator, screams, and then presumably dies. The next half hour consists of Melissa running around looking for him, juxtaposed with the inner workings of Amusement Park politics. Park engineer Abner Devereaux (Anthony Zerbe) is a cantankerous purist, consistently trying to push forward the field of android technology by using it exclusively for amusement parks. He’s angered by the fact that KISS is playing the park and therefore lowering the bar set by his displays of animatronic gorillas. Quick sidenote: the animatronic gorilla is portrayed by a guy in a gorilla suit, which I found hilarious.
Meanwhile, a gang of bikers show up (still no KISS) and starts vandalizing the park. Devereaux gets pissed and sends them into his House of Horrors ride where a low-rent Mummy, Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster terrorize the gang and send them into secret hatches and doors. This scene really stinks of a strong Scooby Doo influence on the film. From a group of people cartoonishly sneaking around a room filled with monsters to even specific Hanna Barbera stock sounds. This connection was made all too apparent at the end of the film when I realized one of the producers was none other than Joseph Barbera!
So after the bikers we don’t care about disappear, Devereaux’s increasingly erratic behavior gets him fired by his boss. The firing happens in an empty parking lot as they drive around on a golf cart. Devereaux stands up from the golf cart, gives an impassioned defense of his android genius, almost faints, and walks away. For some reason, Zerbe makes the unique acting decision to perform the whole scene with hands firmly planted in his pockets. At one point he does pull one hand out to point at himself… but the awkward fervor with which he sticks it back in his pocket makes the action even funnier.
This is roughly when KISS shows up. It’s made immediatey clear that they apparently all have superpowers since they fly in like Superman and start shooting lasers out of their eyes. At one point Ace Frehley shoots a steady stream of yellow lasers whilst floating through space and Paul Stanley proceeds to walk on top of the lasers! Then they shoot a laser at a blank spot in space and Gene Simmons appears. He breathes fire at nothing and then “nothing” explodes! To get some insight I did a little research Their powers from Wikipedia are as follows:
- Peter Criss, also known as the Catman, has superhuman agility and leaping powers.
- Ace Frehley, also known as the Space Ace, has the ability to shoot lasers and teleport by making a hitchhiking gesture with his thumb.
- Gene Simmons, also known as the Demon, has immense strength and can breathe fire. His voice has a large amount of reverberation, unlike the other three members (ed. note: Not actually a power).
- Paul Stanley, also known as the Starchild, can shoot a laser from the star on his right eye. A similar beam emitted from his eye can control minds and allow him to hear distant conversations.
Just to be up front, nearly all the members of KISS have “leaping powers” since we see them jump over an 8 foot high fence later. So, as is often the case with drummers, Peter Criss is totally useless (I, at one point, was a drummer). It is explained later that they receive these powers from talismans that they keep in a box in their dressing room. Melissa (our sort of protagonist) says “Too bad everyone doesn’t have talismans.” To which Ace Frehley replies, “They do! They just don’t know it yet!” Sorry, Ace. If I had a cookie shaped like a star that made me shoot lasers out of my eyes, I’m pretty sure I’d know.
At this point, it is revealed that Sam is not dead and in fact Devereaux has turned him into an android. I’ll get into the explanation of how he accomplishes this, but it’s way dumber than whatever you’re thinking. Sam is tasked with taking pictures of KISS from “each and every possible angle” so Devereaux can make android doubles. The filmmakers show this by showing a freeze frame of each band member and then a close-up of the same freeze frame. Yea sure, Sam. “Every possible angle”.
In the next scene Gene Simmons straight-up pulls a “Kool-Aid Man” through a concrete wall and then attacks some park guards with his fire breath (one of which is played by Brion James). Then he karate chops a concession stand in half. It turns out it’s NOT Gene, but in fact an android double. Phew! I was worried that the spotless reputation of Gene “Demon” Simmons was about to be sullied. The people who run the park confront KISS about the incident while the band is sitting poolside in lifeguard chairs and wearing glittery, black robes. For some reason the band decides to talk like pirates and make Three Stooges references throughout the scene (there are four people in KISS, dingus). It seems like an attempt to add some family-friendly rebelliousness and irreverence to the strange and mostly toothless movie. Instead it comes off as A Hard Day’s Night for total morons.
At this point, my screen went blue for like, 30 seconds, because the DVD is so shitty. I’m not sure if I missed anything and I really don’t care. When the movie came back, KISS was playing their acoustic ballad “Beth”. Instrumentation consists of Peter Criss on vocals, Paul Stanley on guitar, and everyone else standing around like idiots. While they are serenading Melissa with the song “Beth” (Really? They couldn’t have at least changed the character’s name?), robot Sam goes in and steals their talismans. This is where the “action” happens. The band starts skulking through the park, trying to get to Devereaux’s lab. First they encounter a couple of albino monkey-men who they have to fight. When the monsters first appear, Ace says “Yikes!” Peter replies with “Apes is more like it!” IS THAT YOUR IDEA OF A PUN, Peter Criss?! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!
Then they awkwardly fight some animatronic kung fu masters through the power of awkward back flips and letting themselves get punched in the stomach. At first it looks like the kung fu masters have lightsabers, which might have actually been interesting. But no, their regular boring swords just happened to glow for a couple seconds when they appeared out of thin air. So many missed opportunities!
Finally KISS reaches the House of Horrors but are overpowered by all the monsters. When Ace tries to teleport away the group only travels a couple feet because the talismans are being shot by a laser at the time or something. It’s unclear why Devereaux doesn’t just destroy the talismans, but despite his robotics knowledge he isn’t really the smartest dude out there. Regardless, without their powers, the band is captured and their robot alter egos are sent to the stage where they sing an altered version of “Hotter than Hell” called “Rip and Destroy”. The audience is innately supposed to recognize that this band is terrible. However, while slightly off-tune, I barely noticed a difference between them and the real KISS. The audience does though. The bad playing and lyrical change is meant to start a riot and discredit the band completely because that’s Devereaux’s evil plan.
The members of KISS then use their minds to pick up the talismans from across the room into their jail cell so they can break out. To be clear, KISS cannot break out of jail because they lost their powers. So to get their supernatural powers back they use the telekinesis to transport the talismans back to them. Just ponder that one over for a bit. In the next scene they’re kicking the asses of robot KISS on stage. This was incredibly disappointing because at the beginning of the movie we see a robot barbershop quartet sing a song. Why KISS didn’t end up in a face-melting rock-off against that musical group is beyond me. That would have been way funnier.
So even though Devereaux is still at large and Sam is still a robot, they perform another rendition of “Rock and Roll All Nite” while Melissa cheers along. Finally they remember the plot of the film and get back to the android lab where it turns out that Devereaux is dead. His hair is whiter, he looks generally older, and I’m pretty sure he’s just a realistic latex dummy. How’d he die? Was it the power of KISS’ rock? Did he somehow physically link himself to fake KISS and his life was tied to theirs? Did KISS brutally murder him offscreen after escaping the jail cell? Don’t ask those questions yet, because it gets even dumber. So Devereaux had the ability to create robot doubles as we saw with KISS, right? It’s assumed that he killed Sam and created a double, as he did with the bikers and the other missing park patrons. However, it’s eventually revealed that the human Sam is alive and simply had a piece of circuitry on his neck that bent him to Devereaux’s will and made him seem like an android. It’s also revealed that he turned those bikers into Revolutionary War figures, but we don’t see if they’re rescued because nobody cares. They were assholes anyway. So why did he go through all the work of creating KISS doubles instead of just sticking the circuits on their neck while they slept? Why does he need to leave a trail of missing persons by kidnapping people and turn them into slaves if he has the ability to create near perfect robot doubles from photographs overnight? What the hell was his plan in the first place besides “dick around with KISS”?
As you may be able to tell, this movie’s almost “So Bad It’s Good”. It’s not quite there, but if I watched in a better environment (i.e., not sweating my balls off on a bus) maybe it would have been fun. The Wasted Cinema treatment, for instance, might actually make this movie watchable. The nonsensical screenplay, the terrible performances, and the scene with Anthony Zerbe’s pockets are all ripe for some good-natured mockery. My favorite part of the movie, however, occurs right at the end of the fight against the albino monkey men (“Yikes!”) Paul Stanley kicks one of the monsters and then holds a kung fu pose while making a duckface at the camera for, like, 6 whole seconds.
Whether you’re a fan of KISS or not, you have to admit that their cock rock personas being given the Scooby Doo treatment is just a strange, hilarious concept. The movie is so freaking stupid that I actually enjoyed it even more the second time. I was dreadfully bored by the lack of forward momentum the first time I watched this, but being prepared for it made the movie go by much more quickly.
I said it’s “almost So Bad It’s Good”… it’s not quite there. Despite it being slightly better on rewatch the movie is still incredibly boring and makes little sense. The main sin, however, is the terrible attempt at humor. It was as if they were going for the easy, variety show humor of 60’s and 70’s Hanna Barbera cartoons, but didn’t even succeed in those type of simplistic punchlines. At one point a strange sound emanates from another room and Melissa says “What’s that?” Peter Criss replies “Beethoven’s Fifth?!” and laughs his God damn head off for what feels like an eternity. The whole movie is filled with cartoonish sound effects, fake puns (I’m still not over that yikes/apes thing), and the inept performances of four central non-actors.
Was It Worth Watching?
Movies with real musicians playing themselves are strange because they almost always force the audience to imagine a world that vastly overrates the musician’s importance. Several times KISS is referred to as the biggest rock group in the world by people who aren’t Gene Simmons. However, we’re also supposed to believe that Paul Stanley and crew are disrespected at every turn by the goofy squares in charge. Despite the groupies, thousands of adoring fans, magical powers, and stockpiles of cash, KISS is still a bunch of well-intentioned, misunderstood underdogs. The result is a mixed message of characterization that stands out like a sore thumb… especially against the illogical, bare bones plot. No, it is not worth watching. It was in fact a complete waste of time and I can’t believe I watched it twice! I’ve only seen Citizen Kane once. I own the Criterion Blu-Ray, but I’ve only seen Henri-Georges Clouzot’s fantastic Les Diaboliques once. Yet it boggles my mind that I’ve seen KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park twice. I could go on, but I’m downright embarrassed. I blame you, dear reader. I blame you.
But make sure you’re here next week for the continuation of Schlocktoberfest!
Schlocktoberfest Part 1: You just read it!
Schlocktoberfest Part 2: Q: The Winged Serpent
Schlocktoberfest Part 3: Bloodlust!
Schlocktoberfest Part 4: Constantine
Schlocktoberfest Part 5: Dollman Vs. Demonic Toys
Zak has been an avid movie fan since his mom made him cover his eyes before the “icicle stabbing” when they rented Die Hard 2 in 2nd grade. As a consolation, in 6th grade he got straight A’s so she gave him the entire Die Hard trilogy on VHS. The rest is history.
All images courtesy of Hanna-Barbera Productions