Lee Rodriguez | Panels on Pages
Ah, nostalgia! Be it that old cartoon, a favorite toy or a comic book from days gone by, isn’t it great, when out of the blue, the memories come flooding back, and you’ve no choice but to exclaim ”Holy Crap! Remember…?”
Guilty pleasure alert: I love KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Sure, I’m younger than the average KISS fan by about 25 years, but I can’t help it. My first vinyl albums (Google it, kids) were KISS hand-me-downs. To put it mildly, KISS kicks ass. They’ve endured for decades thanks to their spectacular stage shows and the awesome power of their rock. That’s just science. Most people, especially in the comic community, are aware that in the height of their popularity, KISS was featured in a Marvel comic book and they mixed some of their blood into the ink. It’s one of those “that has to be fake” stories that is 100% true.
Since then, they’ve starred in numerous comics, including the recent KISS Meets Archie and the long running McFarlane jam KISS: Psycho Circus. These guys (or at least Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley) are comic enthusiasts. What many people don’t know, however, is that comics aren’t the only medium in which the band was featured as a superhero team. Oh, no. In 1978, KISS starred in a made for TV movie on NBC produced by Hanna-Barbera. Yes, the same Hanna-Barbera known for cartoons like Scooby-Doo. It’s obvious while watching it. Aside from the stock Hanna-Barbera music, this thing might as well have been one of the New Scooby-Doo Movies. If Scooby can meet Abbott and Costello and Batman and Robin, why not KISS?
Remember Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker? That movie is insane because it’s all over the place. It’s really cool in places, but it’s a collection of “short films” more than a full-length feature (or so they’d have you believe). KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park is insane, too, of course, but in a completely different way. This movie knows exactly the kind of story it’s telling. That story just so happens to be completely ridiculous in the most wonderful way imaginable.
The movie begins with Sam and Melissa. Sam works at Magic Mountain under the genius robotics engineer Abner Devereaux. Devereaux has apparently perfected not only humanoid android technology, but also mind control. Still, he can find no better use of his amazing skills beyond designing attractions for a theme park. This will be the least ridiculous plot point of the movie, so strap in. Sam goes snooping in Devereaux’s lab, sees something he shouldn’t and gets himself disappeared.
The park’s owner tells Devereau that his budget is going to be cut (and one would have to think it’s a temporary cut) so that he can help pay for this huge KISS concert they’re putting on at the park (they really did put on a free concert at Magic Mountain when they filmed the movie, believe it or not). Abner does not approve. Shortly thereafter, he gets blamed for an accident on one of the rides and gets fired. This officially turns Devereaux into a mad scientist. He vows revenge on the park, its owner… and KISS.
Oh, hey, that’s right. KISS is in this movie. It’s easy to forget that in the early scenes since there’s a lot of theme park politicking and evil geniusing going on. But KISS finally shows up and they’re… superheroes. Or at least, they have super powers. What they typically do with those powers is never specified beyond this particular adventure, so maybe “superhero” is a stretch. I mean, just because Paul Stanley can fly, and shoot a laser out of his eye that blows stuff up, lets him control people’s minds and hear conversations from great distances (ALL of these things happen in this movie) doesn’t mean he’s a superhero. Maybe he’s a rock star with a penchant for eavesdropping and pyromania (but Gene Simmons can breathe fire, so I guess he’s the group’s resident pyromaniac).
Since they never took away his keys, Devereaux still has access to his evil laboratory on park grounds and releases a Gene Simmons robot to wreck the park. Despite it looking EXACTLY like him (because it’s just Gene Simmons playing the robot. It’s not like he actually looks like a robot) and there being several witnesses to the rampage, no action is taken against the creepy dude that for some reason speaks in reverb. It was a solid plan on paper, I guess. How was Devereaux supposed to know the police would be so amazingly inept? Later, while Melissa is crying about Sam being missing, Devereaux send his mind-controlled Sam to steal the band’s magic talisman, the source of their power… I’m dead serious.
They follow him back to the park and have a fight scene with a bunch of insanely realistic park attractions. This scene is amazing because Gene Simmons (in full reverb) at one point has a mummy on his back and says the line “This dead man won’t die!” as he smashes it into the wall behind him. It’s a glorious moment. But the joke’s on them! Devereaux got himself a laser gun and shoots their talisman, thus draining their powers and locks them in a laser cage… that he built in an amusement park. I told you it was like a Scooby-Doo episode. The new plan is to use a full robot KISS (the evil robot us-es?) to incite a riot at the concert that will leave the park in ruins (way to aim big, Abner). But, of course, they get the powers back and destroy the robots. Devereaux is defeated (I guess… the scene where they find him is really creepy, actually), Sam is returned to normal and the power of rock prevails!
Hot diggity, this movie is dumb. It’s amazingly bad, but in the best possible way. It’s actually a lot of fun because of how stupid it is. Nothing about it makes any sense at all. That’s why I love it. I originally saw it on VHS (Google it, kids) and nearly burned a hole through the tape, I watched it so often. The band hates it, so the two VHS releases were short runs. Later, it was released on DVD, but not for long. You can get it now on KISStory Vol. 2, but it’s a different cut than the one that originally aired on TV, and that’s a bummer.
There are all sorts of stories about the making of the movie. Apprently Ace Frehley walked off set a few times. Peter Criss refused to do any looping in post-production, so all of his dialogue was redubbed in ADR. The two of them were getting heavy into drugs at the time (they left the band shortly after the movie’s release), so it was not a fun time. In KISS and Tell, it’s revealed that for years, no one who worked with the band directly was allowed to even mention the movie. That’s how much they hated it. To be fair, this was a few years before Stanley and Simmons would completely sell out and Simmons would auction off the last of his dignity on Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels. But seriously, if someone made a movie this awesome about me, I would never watch anything else ever again. So let’s do it. Let’s make PoP! Meets the Phantom of the Con, Any takers? That’s a sound investment, Hollywood. Let’s do this!