Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park

aka Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park

While Kiss is attacked by Phantoms and they do meet someone (Devereux) who fits the Phantom of the Park description, neither event is a fair description of the events of the movie. (It's almost like naming Star Wars Episode II "Attack of the Clones" or something.) The Phantom of the Opera allusion (fired employee, driven mad, vows revenge on park/ performers who've replaced him) makes more sense than the "Attack of the Phantoms," and I wonder if that's why it was marketed under that title everywhere it appeared after its initial broadcast on NBC on October 28, 1978.

Not that the accuracy of the title is the problem.
I imagine it would have been better received if it was a cartoon instead of live-action. (Critically, I mean; as far as viewers went, accounts vary. It was either the second-most watched TV event of 1978 (behind Roots) or the 5th. Or maybe neither of those, I can't find any two lists that agree with one another.) But probably not by much. It's a big ol' mess.

Gene Gene the dancing machine. All of his vocals are modulated with this weird reverb effect which is meant to make him seem otherworldly. Or something.
While Peter's are overdubbed entirely. Either on account of his accent or his no-show during ADR looping. Opinions differ.
Michael Bell, aka this dude from "Encounter at Farpoint," provides the Catman's dialogue.
No one overdubs Ace's vocals, so his impenetrable Bronx-ese comes through as loud and as unclear as ever.
The screenwriters followed Kiss around for an afternoon to get a sense of how they talked, and Ace, who was sometimes "uncommunicative," said nothing but "Awk!" whenever they tried to engage him. When the script was delivered for the band's approval, Ace threatened not to do the film unless he was given some dialogue. It's funny that the above is how this went down, as no one else in the band sounds anything like themselves (or any rock star anywhere,) yet Space Ace is recognizably himself every time you see him. (Well, except when he's played by his stunt double.)

"Hi, Curly."
And then came Paul.

I read a couple of reviews out there that do a good job of detailing how and where the film goes off the rails (of which this is perhaps the best.) If you've never seen it and are wondering if you should do so before reading on, I get the impression that plot detail wasn't a major concern for anyone involved in this production, so I can't see how it would matter for anyone else.
Among other things, the continuity is consistently confused.

The plot and pacing are similarly baffling. I guess it's meant to follow the logic of musicals or Scooby Doo, where a certain suspension of disbelief is written into the proceedings. (And for the record, had this been a joint venture with Scooby Doo, that would have improved things considerably.) Viewed through either of those lenses, of course it doesn't matter that the band gets on a merry-go-round in one scene and is on a roller coaster in the next.

But in a musical (or Scooby Doo) the people on-screen usually sing a song to help the viewer over the hump of these flights of fancy. (Or everyone breaks into a big dance number or whatever you like.) Here, the music of Kiss is played throughout, but rarely does the song chosen match the mood or need of the scene in any way. And they only perform live - well, "live" - at the very end. I think this is the film's only truly unforgivable aspect: the sound design undermines itself at every turn.

Just a few examples:

- I love both Ace's "New York Groove" and Peter's "That's the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes," but why anyone thought either would be good "fight scene" music is the type of decision I'd love to read an explanation for. Like the Ancient Egyptians, though, Gene and Paul prefer to dwell only on their victories, so no commentary track or further explanation is likely forthcoming.

- Devereux, the villain, is shown wandering under the support beams of the roller coaster to the strands of Gene's nostalgic "Mister Make Believe."

Anthony Zerbe. (Another Trek connection.)
But at no point is Devereux written sympathetically, so associating him with that song (and making such a deliberate point of it) undermines his actual function in the story. And it's even repeated at the end, after his one-dimensionality has been well-established.

He spends most of the film speaking to himself in (bad) super-villain monologue and asking Kiss, whose progress across the park he is tracking on his computers, silly questions and toying with them in pointless ways.

- Finally, when the robot Kiss doppelgangers take the stage and sing a mirror universe version of "Hotter Than Hell" things get especially confusing.

First, the band's performance is not sufficiently different (or "evil") enough to justify the many shouts of "Stop acting like that! Get off the stage!" we hear from the crowd.

Despite the staggering terror of these screencaps, there's no reason anyone in the crowd would notice anything was different.

Second, the switch from crowd disapproval to Nuremberg-esque response is far too abrupt. And only because the aforementioned "Get off the stage!" shouts are prominent in the mix. One minute the crowd seems like it's going to storm the stage to tear the fake-Kiss limb-from-limb and then in the next overhead shot, thousands of fist-pumping, chanting followers are hypnotized and ready to destroy.

Third, with regard to the changed lyrics, ("Rip, rip... rip and de-stroy!") could this be more awkward? It's time for everyone to listen good / we've taken all we can stand / we've got the power to tear down these walls / it's in the palm of your hand. As with the band's "evil" performance, why would anyone assume from hearing this that the message is to tear down the park? And why would an evil genius so garble his call for the park's destruction?

I could be charitable and say Devereux wanted to pick lyrics that would fit right in on a Kiss record. And it's true - when they moved away from sexual subject matter, Kiss had (and has) difficulty conveying any sort of clear message. But I think that would be crediting Devereux (and the screenwriters) with an attention to detail nothing else in the film demonstrates.

- And so on and so on.

This sort of mixed audiovisual messaging lends some unintentional humor in spots. The scene where Peter and Paul give a poolside serenade to Melissa (who was too Plain Jane for such an honor, according to Peter Criss in his memoir) while Ace and Gene silently look on, is wonderfully weird.

Particularly when Melissa leaves, and Kiss remains behind, maintaining some kind of wordless vigil over the pool area. The eternal lifeguards of rock and roll.

Deborah Ryan While we're here, let's get the rest of the non-Kiss cast out of the way:
Godfather vet Carmine Caridi plays Richards, the Park owner.
Melissa's boyfriend, Sam, is played by Terry Lester, the last of our Trek connections.
And perennial-80s-movie-presence Brion James plays one of the Park guards. (It is strongly suggested in Ace's memoir that the late Mr. James was his coke dealer on set.)

He gets one-half of the immortal exchange: "Oh, that's underground."
"Yeah. Waaaaaay underground."
Apparently following the don't-show-the-monster-until-the-2nd-reel rule, the film opens with most of the above characters interacting and no Kiss. And when Kiss does show up, they materialize over the park like The Three Storms. They're not just guys playing a concert but actual sci-fi sorcerers with super-powers.

"Hey, it worked for Magical Mystery Tour!" someone probably said. And no one was around to contradict him.
This particular aspect of Phantoms is very 70s Marvel.

Paul rather adorably wanted to shoot laser beams from his eye throughout the late 70s tours. This never materialized, but they more than make up for it, here, where every other scene has Paul using his special laser-eye power for some purpose or another. 


Why they have these powers and how they got them is never satisfactorily explained, but as Peter (presumably thinking This chick is nowhere near hot enough to hear our origin story like this...! the whole time) helpfully explains to Melissa within range of Devereux's listening devices, without his respective Talisman, each member of Kiss is just an "ordinary human."


Is all of this any fun to watch? Your mileage, as they say, may vary. I wish Nicolas Roeg had directed it. (Or edited it, more precisely.) But I get a kick out of bloated vanity projects of this particular era. And while it be more interesting as a relic of said era than as a story, its re-watchability factor for me is high.

Peter looked for any chance he could get to storm off set and lock himself in his trailer with then-mistress/ later ex-wife Debra Jensen, a mountain of blow and shopping bags of pharmaceuticals.
As a result, as with Ace, a stand-in had to be used.

As a Kiss fan, I like the fact that the movie exists, as bad as it is, and I honestly think the best thing these guys could do in 2014 is make a sequel. Another TV movie, with the original cast, just as goofy, same location, same everything. Take a page out of Shatner's book and have some fun with themselves. Yet another project I'd greenlight in a second were I an eccentric Hollywood type.

We watch you while you sleep...
Unintentional (I imagine) meta-narrative on Kiss in 1978.

Directed by Gordon Hessler. Written by Jan Michael Sherman and Don Buday.



  1. I have never heard of this before!!! WHAT!! I saw they are going to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

    1. It's the hybrid of Magical Mystery Tour and Scooby Doo no one ever asked for! But I'm happy it exists, and I enjoy it. Kiss's overall schtick is a source of such endless amusement for me that even when they participate in train wrecks like this, I'm usually still entertained.

  2. OH, how distinctly I can recall learning of this movie's existence...!

    I was at the height of my Kiss fandom, walking through a Sam Goody, looking at the videotape section, when what to my wandering eye should appear but a heavily discounted VHS of something called "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park." I'd had no clue the movie existed until that very moment. The idea of there being a MOVIE starring Kiss blew my mind. If there was security-cam footage from the era showing definitively that I stood there drooling for three minutes, I wouldn't be all that surprised.

    So, of course, I bought it. It was a cheapie; even worse, it was an EP tape, so the image quality was one step up from nonexistent. So I had a feeling I was in for something fairly dreadful.

    Which, indeed, was the case. But it was a blast seeing Kiss in live action. I don't think I watched the movie more than a time or two, though, and I really don't remember much about it at all. I'll happily rewatch it one of these days, though.

    My big take-away from this post, however, is that I am a moron. Why? Because somehow, it had evaded my attention for over a decade that at no point is there an actual attack of clones in "Attack of the Clones." Derp!

    1. I remember driving home from the theater after Attack of the Clones and my friend bringing up the lack of clones attacking. I got a huge kick out of that. (And still do.)

      Ahh, old EP tapes bought on the cheap. Brings back memories.

      I wish these guys would do a sequel. Or just reboot it. It'll never happen, I know, and I suppose their Kiss Kruises and LA-Kiss arena football adventures are keeping them occupied. But it'd just be a fun, unexpected thing to happen. Get Rob Zombie (and Ed Norton) on board, roll the dice, slay the damn Phantoms again.

    2. Boy, I'd pay good money to see a Kiss movie directed by Rob Zombie. And I'd be okay with that being a movie starring Kiss OR a biopic about them. Preferably, both.

      Got any plans to review "Detroit Rock City" (the movie, that is)?

    3. I hadn't, but that's a good idea. Maybe! I wouldn't mind seeing it again. I only saw it one time, right around when it came out on video. (Well, "video.")

    4. Ditto. I don't remember much about it, except that I thought it was decent-but-unspectacular. I've still got a poster for it somewhere, in one of the dozens of poster tubes scattered around the apartment.

  3. OMG I can't believe how much I have to say about freaking Kiss right here.

    So, the music on the Kissology 2 DVD, the 'Attack of the Phantoms' version, has solo album music on it. But the 'KI$$ Meets the Phantom of the Park' VHS copy that *I* had (taped it off like WLVI or whatever), had its *own* movie music during those scenes ... no music from the solo albums. And while at first I thought it was cool, since on the Kissology series it now stood to represent the solo records ... ultimately it's a fail (for the reasons you suggest) and practically ruins it for me. I'd rather watch the original, if I were to actually sit there and watch it, that is.

    I'd love to see the R&R Hall of Fame thing kick off some nice activity, wouldn't mind something involving the film. Or some new Kiss music maybe.

    I used to want more solo albums; now they've kinda done 'em. Each of the four has issued one solo album since the turn of the century. And now, each has issued a book ... in the same order as the first solo albums were released (Gene, Ace, Peter, Paul).

    Re: Detroit Rock City - I felt bad; I got DRC as a gift and watched it, and then I didn't dig it and was asked about it by gifter ... confessed that I didn't really enjoy it. :-( Is it me? I think it wasn't good, or I thought so when I watched it.

    They should use the RHoF ceremony to induct new makup for Eric & Tommy. It's maybe the only way to redemption other than a full on classic reunion. And let's face it, that's not looking too likely.

    OK, we'll see what these clowns end up doin' I suppose. Paul's book will be out in spring, and he might do a promo tour ... I kind of expected them to follow Monster with another new record eventually ... I bet the RRHoF will throw a curveball at us though and it'll be something else altogether.

    1. I didn't think too, too much of "Detroit Rock City" when I saw it, but I generally liked it. I don't quite remember too much about it, except Natasha Lyonne looked good as a disco-diva.

      (Reading the behind-the-scenes details of the production in Peter's and Ace's books made me mad at Gene. I'm going through one of those phases where everything makes me mad at Gene.)

      Do you ever look at Gene's twitter, by the way? Whew. Moments of insight/ fun surrounded by ALL CAPS INSANITY, CONSTANTLY.

      I'm curious to see what effect the RRHoF business will have. I know they'll never make a sequel to Attack of the Phantoms, but man! It'd be great if the ghost of Bill Aucoin appears to each of them and makes them do it. I think that'd be the only way it'd ever happen.

      That's a good point about the original music for the broadcast, as replaced by solo album stuff. But it makes me wonder how/ why the hell they chose the solo-abum tunes they did! Who was picking the soundtrack? I wish it came with a commentary track on the Kissology disc.

    2. I was going to mention the same thing that Kevin said about the original broadcast and the VHS version (which is called "KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park") using original disco-like music for the majority of the movie and no songs from the solo albums. The solo album songs were added when the movie was re-cut for a theatrical release outside of the USA (that version of the film is called "Attack of the Phantoms"). I don't think the solo albums were out yet when "Phantom of the Park" was released. I'm guessing that either Gene or Bill thought, Hey, the movie sucks. Just throw in some songs from the solo albums in this new edit and maybe we can boost the sales...Peter's needs all the help it can get!"

      I love KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. I'm not really as crazy about Attack of the Phantoms. This is partly because of the edit and mostly because (as you mentioned in your review) the solo album music just doesn't work. Unfortunately, thanks to reading all of the comments, for the rest of my damn life I'm going to want to see "Rob Zombie's KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park." You know he's a big KISS fan. He'd probably do it if Gene would let him, but it will never happen. DANM YOU FOR SUGGESTING IT! ;)

    3. I do what I can, haha - for what it's worth, I'm still aggravated at myself for making the suggestion, for the same reasons.