aka Kiss In the Attack of the Phantom
Director – Gordon Hessler, Screenplay – Don Buday & Jan-Michael Sherman, Producer – Terry Morse Jr, Photography – Robert Caramico, Music – Hoyt Curtain, Fight Sequences Music – Fred Karlin, Songs – Kiss, Photographic Effects – Westheimer Co, Special Effects – Don Courtney, Production Design – James G. Hulsey. Production Company – Hanna-Barbera Productions/Kiss-Aucion Productions
Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons & Paul Stanley (Kiss), Anthony Zerbe (Abner Devereaux), Deborah Ryan (Melissa), Terry Lester (Sam Farrell), Carmine Caridi (Kelvin Richards), John Dennis Johnston (Chopper), Lisa Jane Persky (Dirty Dee), John Lisbon Wood (Slime)
Just as an amusement park is about to open with a concert featuring the rock group Kiss, the director fires the park’s designer Abner Devereaux for being too mentally unstable. Devereaux plots revenge using the androids he has constructed. Melissa is upset when her boyfriend Sam Farrell goes missing, having been turned into an android by Devereaux. She appeals to Kiss for help and they use the superpowers granted them by magic talismans to take on Devereaux and his army of androids.
For a time during the late 1970s, Kiss were about the hottest act in rock music. Their music was some of the most teen-oriented of glam rock but their success came through the sheer gimmickry – only ever appearing in public in makeup; their effects-heavy live performances that included fire-breathing and wire-flying antics; not to mention various parental/conservative outrages at the freakishness of their appearances, including the frequently perpetuated rumour that Kiss stood for Knights in Satan’s Service. There was considerable science-fiction influence in their work – the space age costumery, frequent song lyrics, even Marvel putting out a Kiss comic-book in which they played superheroes. And then there was, ahem, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.
One cannot look down on Kiss for being comic-book and science-fiction fans. Unfortunately, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park reveals them all too clearly to be down about the level of twelve-year-old boys who regard everything vaguely science-fictional to be totally cool irrespective of what. Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park is in a word terrible. It is pitched at an intellectual level around that of the audience for the average cartoon show (not inappropriate in that the film was co-produced by Hanna-Barbera). Kiss cast themselves as superheroes. The film was clearly conceived in the shadow of the then massive success of Star Wars (1977) – thus Kiss fly around and shoot laser beams out of their eyes (both of which contain completely unconvincing wire and optical effects displays). It was shot in and around the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park in California. The fight scenes are not in the slightest bit convincing – these are G-rated fight sequences that look more like costumed circus performers tumbling about and fire-breathing and where nobody ever gets seriously hurt. (Kiss Meets the Phantom was originally made as a tv movie before being released cinematically outside the USA). Kiss are clearly non-actors [although Gene Simmons did go onto a minor acting career in the likes of Runaway (1984) and with spectacular memorability as the drag queen villain in Never Too Young to Die (1986)]. From the look of it, they also ad-libbed their own dialogue and most of the time just stand around without much idea of what to do or say or utter impenetrable comments like “What do you make of it Starchild?” “Doesn’t compute, Space Ace.”
The film was directed by Gordon Hessler who had risen up in the late 60s and made some competent efforts in the Anglo-horror cycle – The Oblong Box (1969), Cry of the Banshee (1970), Scream and Scream Again (1970), and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971). The Hessler film that Kiss of course were inspired by and hired Hessler as a result of was The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), which is Hessler’s finest moment. Needless to say, Kiss Meets the Phantom represents Hessler’s lowest point. The film is drab and drearily directed as though Hessler lacked even the slightest interest in the enterprise. There are a couple of sequences in a fairground haunted house, which are plodding and utterly lacking in the remotest frisson, as though Hessler had forgotten anything he ever learned about horror.
Despite the various titles – Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park and Kiss in the Attack of the Phantom – one might note that there is no actual phantom of the park. There is a disgruntled mad scientist and his army of androids who leads a vaguely Phantom of the Opera-like existence in his lair, but that seems to be stretching a description.