Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.
Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park
Genre: Heavy Metal Horror
Tagline: This dynamic rock group makes their film debut battling a demented genius inventor!
Released by: World Vision Home Video Inc.
Director: Gordon Hessler
Plot: The rock group KISS is the only thing that can stop a mad scientist who turns humans into robots in his underground laboratory inside an amusement park. It’s up to Star Child, The Demon, Space Ace and Cat Man to thwart the diabolical genius and his plan for world domination by using their incredible superpowers.
Thoughts: If you grew up in the nineteen seventies you were fully aware of the self-proclaimed “loudest band in the land” KISS and their effect on the world of music. Copying the on-stage theatrics of Alice Cooper and The New York Dolls, the band managed to create quite a name for itself with their outrageous costumes, make up and concert pyrotechnics. As the decade started to draw to a close, the boys found themselves trying to turn their rock star characters into a superhero image, probably to reach younger fans like myself who were simply enamored by the flashy, fantastical look they had. The band put out a Marvel comic book featuring them as a supernatural crime-fighting force that was supposedly written with blood drawn from each band member and diluted with red ink. I had that comic. I also remember being a very excited little boy when I sat down in front of the old 25 inch Zenith to watch KISS in their first made-for-TV movie on NBC. It was all the talk around the playground for the week leading up. I had just purchased one of my first rock albums ever – Rock And Roll Over by the band and I was about as pumped as a little KISS fan could get.
Maybe that’s why I remember having such a great time watching this film back then. It wasn’t really made for the older teenage and up fans, but more for the young punks like me that would later go on to give their post-make up album Lick It Up a listen in the eighties based on the good will this movie created. But, we were all pretty easy to please back in those pre-cable, pre-VCR days when all we had was three channels and a little UHF. I have not seen one frame of this movie since then, so when I found a used ex-rental from a closing video shop not too long ago, I sat down in front of my 42-inch Panasonic to revisit the magic.
Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park tells the preposterous tale of an amusement park that has hired the rock group KISS to perform a series of concerts for them in order to make lots of cash. A greedy numbers cruncher runs the place, however the park’s amazing attractions were created by a diabolical genius named Abner Devereaux (Anthony Zerbe). He’s very upset that his grant money is being used to pay KISS for their appearances. Before long he’s fired for being too difficult, but Devereaux has figured out a way to turn people into robots that are programmed to do his bidding, all from the depths of his underground laboratory located on the park grounds. His plan: to create androids of KISS that will replace them on stage and incite a riot amongst their fans to destroy the park.
When KISS finally arrives to perform for the crowd, their superpowers immediately alert them that something evil is around. They telepathically pick up on a pretty young girl who can’t seem to find her fiancée – a park worker who’s been turned into a robot by Devereaux. They offer to help her and before long Paul Stanley (Star Child), Gene Simmons (The Demon), Ace Frehley (Space Ace) and Peter Criss (Cat Man) are on the case. They fight a pack of albino werewolf robots and kick their ass. Then they fight and destroy some classic horror robots of Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy and Frankenstein’s monster. Finally, they defeat a group of Samurai and Karate robots.
The boys use a variety of Kung Fu fighting skills, as well as Star Child’s laser-shooting eyeball and powers of telepathy, The Demon’s brute strength and fire-breathing, Space Ace’s power of teleportation and Cat Man’s ability to… well actually Peter Criss doesn’t do anything that spectacular except a really nice acoustic version of Beth sung poolside.
KISS maintains their incredible powers through the possession of four magical talismans they keep in a case in the incredibly 70’s shagadelic dressing room they share. Devereaux sends the robot of the hot girl’s fiancée to steal it, which he eventually does. Devereaux then captures a powerless KISS, as their robot doubles take the stage and perform a song called Rip and Destroy that whips the legions of the KISS army into a violent pre-riot frenzy.
But KISS escapes and battles themselves in front of the stunned crowd, eventually defeating their android copies and performing the jam Rock & Roll All Night to close the concert! Devereaux is defeated and inexplicably turns really old without any explanation, while the hot girl’s fiancée is turned back into a human simply by having a tiny microchip removed like a piece of lint from his neck. Yay!
It was one helluva flashback seeing this again for me. The only thing missing were the commercials from that era. KISS made this movie while the original lineup was at their peak of success, but drug abuse and infighting were rampant. According to rumor the boys were so spaced out on chemicals they had to be fed their lines while waiting for action to be called. They didn’t even know how the movie was supposed to end. This would make the horrendous acting completely understandable. There are moments where it appears as if other actors dub some of the guy’s lines. At one point Ace Frehley either left the set or couldn’t make it, so he’s obviously replaced by an African American stunt double who’s been thrown into Space Ace’s costume and make up.
The plot is absolutely ridiculous, but it’s so cheesy in that funky 70’s way I couldn’t help but still be amazed by it. It’s a wonderful example of the kind of crazy made-for-TV movies from that golden era. This one belongs next to the Star Wars Holiday Special as wonderful tragedies that completely embarrassed all of the artists involved. That must be the reason why KISS has not yet given this camp classic a release on DVD, because I’ve never known Gene or Paul to turn down a moneymaking opportunity involving merchandise.
The film is part lo-fi sci-fi with a splash of horror. It’s kind of like a live-action Scooby Doo episode with KISS instead of the Mystery Machine gang. The fact that Hanna Barbera produced it could be the reason why. There’s a lot of comic book style action and some terribly choreographed fight scenes, combined with really cheap ass special effects and an inappropriately jazzy 70’s TV musical score. However, KISS does perform several of their classic hits live and I would give anything to be teleported back in time to see them at that show while they were in their prime as it was filmed at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California. That would seriously ROCK!
Note: a “company” calling itself Cheezy Flicks Entertainment has released this movie as a bootleg DVD. It is nothing more than a bad VHS transfer onto disc. The film has not yet received the digital remaster it would need to officially consider it a DVD release. The analog source is superior in sound and quality to the dub, thereby making it still only available on VHS and therefore eligible for review under my one rule. It’s a total bummer so don’t get burned!