KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park
Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 9.5 Beans
ETER CRISS: His twin? Gene's brother was an only child.
PAUL STANLEY: Easy, Cat-Man! They are serious!
--response to the allegation that Gene Simmons or "his twin" vandalized an amusement park.
Director: Gordon Hessler
Screenplay: Jan Michael Sherman and Don Buday
Stars: Kiss, Anthony Zerbe, and a bunch of people with no apparent talent.
Suppose you have just ended your tenure as one of the top ticket-selling rock bands in the world. You're still popular, but sales of your merchandise is starting to wane. You used to have an "edge," but now people see you as entertainment for kids, and you've reinforced that impression by appearing as superheroes in Marvel Comics and on lunch boxes for grade-schoolers.
Well, if you're glitter-rock icons Kiss in 1978, you hire Hanna-Barbera to produce a made-for-tv movie in which you use your superhuman abilities to save a second-rate amusement park from a mad scientist who, annoyed because he's been fired, sets loose an army of robots of such sophistication that he should really be making a fortune off the technology, instead of fuming about losing his job at a second-rate amusement park.
A sizable percentage of the film's early scenes deal with Chopper and his buddies, a trio of over-the-top hoodlums. They roam the park, cause mischief, and then get turned into robots by the evil scientists. And that's it. We never see an end to this sub-plot. It establishes that Abner Devereaux (Anthony Zerbe), the park's chief technician, in addition to making robots from scratch, can temporarily robotize humans. Otherwise, they're an idiotic waste of time. It's as though they wandered off the set of a Dead End Kids remake and into this film, and the cameras kept rolling because someone hoped their presence would improve things.
Another plot concerns Sam, who works in the park. After a thrilling roller-coaster ride with his girlfriend Melissa, he announces that "something"'s going on in the park, and he's going to find out what it is. No explanations. No backstory. He's off to solve some mystery about which we know absolutely nothing, and he'll meet her, say, four-ish, at the hot dog stand.
We also see the park's owner firing Abner Devereaux. Of course Devereaux gets fired! He claims he spent $30,000 dollars and one year stuffing a lame ape-costume with enough high-tech to make it repeat the same simple movement. Even the U.S. military doesn't overprice that much. Sure, the ape is secretly one of the mad scientist's wonder-bots (we can presume-- it never reappears to confirm the hypothesis), but the owner doesn't know this. Anyway, the owner has a plan to get the place back on track; he's hired Kiss. While Kiss playing a second-rate amusement park certainly seems prophetic of their career in the 1980s, one would think it was beyond them in 1978. No matter; they've agreed to play. Devereaux, meanwhile, swears revenge.
Along the way, Sam finds himself turned into one of Devereaux's robo-zombies. At least the robot-izing process explains the wooden acting. Seriously, why not surround the non-actor rock band with some talented people? Or were they afraid that would just call attention to Kiss's lack of Thespian skill?
Finally, Kiss appears. The supergroup takes an interest in Melissa's plight, and decides, between playing shows and lounging around in weird silver robes, to help. This devotion to a fan pits them against Devereaux, and thus do our title characters met.
Devereaux sends an assortment of robots. Apparently, he's already rigged the Chamber of Horrors monsters to rise up at his command, and he can build robo-cat-apes and robo-Kiss duplicates in one afternoon.
Why was this guy working for Six Flags Magic Mountain, again?
The fight scenes require the foursome to use their metahuman abilities.
Paul Stanley, the Starchild, has nebulous and variable eye-beam powers. Gene Simmons, the Demon, breathes fire and speaks through a filter. Ace Frehley, the Space-Ace, has electric zapping powers. He can also teleport people, as he does in the Marvel comics, though he doesn't use the ability effectively. Peter Criss, the Cat-Man, has the proportional strength and agility of a cat. All four have the power to be replaced by stunt doubles and acrobats when the script requires.
What they cannot do is act. Kiss's stage theatrics recall Japanese Kabuki Theatre or Chinese Opera. The make-up and spectacle have been designed to be viewed from a distance. Up close, their glitzy outfits, painted faces, and comic-book histrionics look, well, stupid.
Despite fighting the good fight, the boys get captured, and find their magic talismans (the source of their powers) neutralized. Abner Devereaux imprisons them with a force-field (yet another invention that might have made him filthy rich). His pretty pointless evil plot comes to fruition, as Kiss robots take the stage, singing "Rip! Rip! Rip and Destroy!" to the tune of "Hotter than Hell." This actually influences the crowd to a near-riot, thereby arguing the case of those who claim rock 'n' roll has a negative influence on the youth. Fortunately, the real Kiss manages to escape in the nick of time.
The concert footage constitutes the one small positive this film has to offer. Kiss, true to format, recycles some of their bigger hits, and we see them in context, on stage. This is fine if you're a Kiss fan. The incidental music, however, comes from a place beyond awful. Eerie scenes receive bad synthesizer, while cop show fight jazz scores the many battles.
Perhaps the best-known fact of this fiasco is that Peter Criss blew his lines, and would not redo them. Consequently, an actor dubbed over all of the Cat-Man's dialogue. Some sources claim he was stoned the whole time, while others say he was merely ticked off with Gene Simmons for involving the band in this project.
I'll go with the "ticked" explanation. Criss had plenty of reasons to be annoyed with Simmons for dragging him into this mess. I see no on-screen evidence that he's under the influence of drugs.
It seems possible, however, that the entire production staff was.
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