SHOCK looks at the weirdest and awesomely worst rock/horror flick of all time.
There is no other film quite like 1978’s KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK.
A dumbed down, rocked-up retelling of the classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA but set in an amusement park and starring a big comic book rock band, PHANTOM is one of the weirdest chapters in the garish shock rock band’s 40 plus year history.
In 1978 two things were bigger than anything else: KISS and STAR WARS. So, the band and their enablers thought that combining the two in one action-packed prime time TV movie would be a fine idea, a great merchandising tool to grab the kids who were clearing the KISS dolls, KISS lunch boxes and KISS graphic novels off the shelves.
But the movie, filmed at Magic Mountain theme park and featuring the band as inter-dimensional, super-powered rock stars (a carry over from their Marvel Comics book and appearances in a few issues of HOWARD THE DUCK) fighting a mad scientist who is so pissed at being fired from his sweet gig making monsters for the park that he wages war with the band, was a wild misstep.
KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK aired on October 28th, 1978 on NBC and very few serious KISS fans liked it. The band hated it and were rightfully embarrassed. Little kids loved it, but little kids don’t buy records and the film was perhaps the first toll of KISS’ initial commercial decline.
Today the band are better and stronger than ever, a unit that have transcended their era and are immortal, untouchable and even mythological multi-generational icons.
But KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK is still the brightest, weirdest and most memorable blot on their resume.
SHOCK loves this goofy rock ‘n’ roll horror classic and decided to isolate 12 reasons why it truly is the real deal best worst movie of all time.
It’s Directed by Gordon Hessler
Strangely, this totally bananas, hastily produced camp-tastic by-product of rock and roll excess and pop culture mania was helmed by the gentleman who gave the world latter period AIP shockers like CRY OF THE BANSHEE and THE OBLONG BOX, a fact that pleased Gene who was and is a devout horror movie fan. Apparently, even Hessler was confused as to how he got the gig and would refer to the band as “The KISS”.
It’s Produced by Hanna-Barbera
That’s right, the house that THE FLINTSTONES and SCOOBY-DOO built backed KISS’ first voyage into fantasy filmmaking, making the picture that much weirder and one dimensional, with goofball cartoon tropes like electric talismans and silly set designs. Most noteworthy, literally, is the movie’s music, a cheesy jazz rock score by H-B house composer Hoyt Curtain that jacks the tacky factor up to the stratosphere. In the sequence where “evil Gene” crashes through a wall and assaults the guards, what could be a creepy scene is blasted with enough lounge sound to drown out any of its innate macabre surrealism.
It Stars the Villain from THE OMEGA MAN
The great American character actor Anthony Zerbe was ample memorable as the malevolent mutant albino Mathias in the brilliant 1971 creeper THE OMEGA MAN and he’s just as good here, doing the best with the flimsy material. His Abner Deveraux is a bit of a riff on the narcisistic, self-righteous and power-mad Mathias and when he’s on screen, he’s a joy to watch.
Peter Criss is Dubbed by Handy Smurf
Truth! Depending on who you believe, Peter Criss either flaked on showing up for post-production dialogue looping sessions or was there and was simply dubbed without consent. Either way, voice actor Michael Bell, who gave aural presence to dozens of Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters including Handy Smurf, Lazy Smurf and Duke from G.I. JOE, dubbed over Criss’ lips and it’s awesomely weird. Incidentally, Bell is the father of THE LAST EXORCISM and CARNAGE PARK actress Ashley Bell.
Brion James is in it
Yep. Leon from BLADE RUNNER and Meat Cleaver Max from Sean Cunningham’s THE HORROR SHOW shows up a few times in PHANTOM as a security guard. You keep expecting him to say “let me tell you about my mother”, but he never does…
Special Effects? More like Special Defects!
We know that PHANTOM was a low budget affair but sheesh, did the FX have to be so impoverished? Deveruax’s automatons are just actors and, when they’re still and at rest, they shake and jitter and blink. When they’re in action (like in the werewolf monkey roller-coaster battle), they’re just stunt schmoes in silly masks. Either way, they’re Rick Baker creations compared to the slipshod optical effects, like the laser beam from Paul’s eye or the fire from Gene’s throat. We’re sneering but really, the cheapness just adds to the fun.
Paul Stanley’s Noo Yawk Accent
“You-ah lookin’ fuh someone, but it’s nawt KISS…” says Paul. Poor Paul who, like all the band, were not actors and had to be “taught” to restrain their larger than life stage selves for the intimacy of the lens and none too well at that. Paul is clearly nervous and it’s a riot to hear him mouth the goofball dialogue with his then-heavy Queens accent. Incidentally, Paul would go on decades later to play the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in the hit Toronto mounting of that musical. And he was awesome. I know. I was an usher at the theater!
Gene Simmons’ Voice is Scary.
Like Zandor Vorkov in Al Adamson’s DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, Gene’s Demon speaks his dialogue through a garbled echo chamber. Sometimes he roars like the MGM lion. It’s awesome.
Ace Frehley’s “Ack”
Writers Jan Michael Sherman and Don Buday followed the band around to get a sense of their rapport and the result was that Ace’s role was written without dialogue, save for his trademark “Ack”. Frehley was not pleased and after balking, the writers reluctantly scribbled a few useless lines for him. But still, all fans remember is “Ack”. And rightfully so as it’s the best line in the film!
Ace Frehley’s Ever-Changing Ethnicity
During the battle in the chamber of horrors, Ace had fled the set in a boozy huff, leaving his poor stunt double – who was African American – to fill in. Hessler apparently didn’t notice and it’s part of the film’s legend that suddenly, without warning, Ace aint Ace at all.
There’s a Longer European Cut
In 1979, Avco-Embassy released the extended and re-edited cut of the film in European theaters under the name ATTACK OF THE PHANTOMS. This version features many different sequence and shots, including a totally different opening, longer passages of dialogue, more attempts to make Devereaux sympathetic, a different ending and the complete obliteration of Hoyt’s score, replaced instead with cuts from the band’s 1978 solo albums. This time, when “evil Gene” goes nutzoid, it’s to the strains of the Gene tune “Radioactive”. Also noteworthy is Zerbe’s scene where he gets fired, featuring the longest “lonely man walk” in cinema history. And it’s in the movie TWICE!
KISS’ Greatest Hits
As much fun as it is to giggle at this colorful misstep, PHANTOM is an essential part of the KISS experience, especially considering it features many of the band’s greatest hits, some performed in an original concert that was actually filmed at Magic Mountain and features the band at their physical peak. When KISS are in the movie doing their thing, it’s vintage KISS awesomeness. When they’re not…it’s awesomely awful.
KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK is an unforgettable piece of shit. Watch it tonight, with someone you trust.