Oct 3, 2016
KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978) (part 1 of 6)
The Cast of Characters:
Sam (Terry Lester). Despite having top billing, he’s not really the hero of the film, and he doesn’t have much screen time. He’s more like the male version of the “Damsel in Distress”. Wow, this movie really breaks new ground. You’re welcome, Hillary.
Melissa (Deborah Ryan). She’s the heroine of the film and has the acting skills of someone on heroin. Goes on a quest to find Sam, even though I’m not so sure he’s ever actually lost.
Abner Devereaux (Anthony Zerbe). He’s a genius inventor, and therefore, also psychotic. It’s like milk and Ovaltine. To make room for the know-how to split atoms, you have to free up some space, and sanity seems to be the first thing to go.
Park Owner Guy aka POG (Carmine Caridi). He’s all about the bottom line. He has to keep the park in the black, or the red, whichever is better. And in my mind, he’s the “butch” to Devereaux’s “bitch” in their relationship.
Head Security Guard/Keystone Cop (John Chappell). He’s the Moe to the other two guards’ Larry and Curly. He may also be a little jealous of POG’s tryst with Devereaux, but again, this is just something I’ve decided within the confines of my own mind.
Cat Man, Space Ace, Star Child, and the Demon (Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, and Gene Simmons). Superhero rockstars, which is two of everyone’s favorite things rolled into one. If you think about it, the two jobs have a lot in common: Superman could fly, and Jimi Hendrix could “kiss the sky”. Also… well, that’s the only comparison I’ve got, actually.
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A year before this movie, KISS was on top of the world. A year after, gravity started to catch up with them. Perhaps this film was the peak, as well as a good reason to jump from one.
Although I was born in 1979, and incapable of experiencing the KISS phenomenon firsthand, I nevertheless grew up heavily influenced by their music, and also by their personas. At least, as I imagined them to be. After all, when I was a kid, there was no Behind the Music. Occasionally, you’d find a Where Are They Now-type article in a magazine about Ace or Peter, or you could watch the ’80s incarnation of KISS on MTV (back when they actually were Music TeleVision) but that definitely wasn’t the real KISS.
Of course, nowadays you can buy a volume of KISSology or just go to YouTube and watch an old live performance. But when I was growing up, all I could do was put on the album, stare at the cover, and imagine. (This was, of course, prior to my discovery of better things I could do with my imagination, such as masturbate.)
That was until one day in the early ’90s when I was perusing the VHS bargain bin at Wal-Mart. I came across a “black” diamond in the rough, so to speak: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Sure, there were some words on the cover about a rock band battling a “demented genius inventor”, but at that moment in time, it didn’t matter. I knew I had to have it.
I begged my mother for the $8.95, and after lying to her that it had no connection to that horrible “devil music” she’d heard me listening to in my room, the video was mine. As we pulled into the driveway, I rushed into the house, moved the VCR from the living room into my room (’cause in those days, most people only had one), pulled out my dad’s porn tape (again, pre-masturbation awareness), and popped in KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.
What I experienced after that, I intend to submit for your reading pleasure (or displeasure, as the case may be). But first, let me say that a few days after I got that video, I put it in one of those VHS rewinders and it broke the damn tape. It would be many years until I could see it again.
2005, to be exact, when I was able to snag the Cheezy Flicks release, before they were pulled due to legal issues. I have a feeling KISS didn’t want competition when they released their own version on KISSology Volume II. But here’s the thing: they were two distinctly different versions.
The Cheezy Flicks version is the original TV movie—much like my forlorn VHS copy—but the KISSology version is the European theatrical cut, with some additional footage and a severely alternate editing. Also, the two versions have a completely different scene ordering. I’m going to attempt to recap both versions simultaneously, because frankly, no matter how the scenes are arranged, the movie still sucks.
The opening credits to the TV version have the band lip-synching “Rock and Roll All Nite” and playing their instruments. This footage is superimposed over images of carnival park rides in motion.
Gene Simmons throws up his hands, striking a pose that’s a cross between Dracula and the Karate Kid, and breathes fire. But it’s not like his usual stage show fire-breathing. Rather, it’s actual-fire-from-his-body Godzilla-type fire breathing, which is our first clue to the “supernatural” nature of KISS in this movie. Gene, by the way, now gets the dubious honor of being the Agony Booth’s latest Repeat Offender, thanks to this movie and Never Too Young to Die.
And then Paul Stanley shoots a beam from his eye—you know, the one made up like a star—and it’s not so much a beam as it is a series of yellow hyphens. In the next shot, he’s running across his own eye beam. I’m thinking that if this movie’s laws of physics applied to the real world, there would be thousands of urine streams suspended in animation at rest stops all over the country.
Next we see Ace Frehley, who’s just playing his guitar. I guess he thought he was joining a rock band when he showed up for the audition five years ago.
We round out the introductions with Peter Criss, who only gets to play half his instrument. He air drums with his sticks while a tilt-a-whirl spins in front of him. Because, you know, it’s round and drums are… Oh, you get it? Great! Then I’ll just skip to the opening scene.
The movie begins with a shot of our soon-to-be hero and heroine riding a roller coaster. By the way, the European version, which from this point on I’ll just refer to as the EV version (yes, I know that’s redundant) actually begins with this scene, and then afterwards goes into the opening credits.
As the roller coaster… coasts, there are shots of people (actual people, not extras) walking around an amusement park, with some of them staring at the camera. I’m pretty sure none of these people were paid. They probably even had to buy their own tickets to get into the park. So when you think about it, they basically paid for the privilege of appearing in this crap.
Up next is the introduction of this movie’s Keystone Cops, the park security guards. You know, the guys who get to say all the stereotypical security guard lines, and fall down and stuff. They’re talking to the park’s owner (Park Owner Guy), discussing how KISS will be arriving soon for a concert.
Park Owner Guy is hyped up, but the head security guard is all Johnny Buzzkill, telling him that things could get out of hand, and he doesn’t want a riot on his hands, and some other stuff about hands. However, Park Owner Guy says he needs the publicity, and let’s be honest, it doesn’t look like people come here for the great food or the exhilarating rides. (But personally, when I go to a fair, it’s for the one-bit bar-band they hire to play Jimmy Buffet songs in the wrong key.)
After the longest roller coaster ride ever finally ends, the movie cuts to Sam and Melissa, our hero and heroine, standing at the park’s entrance. Without moving their lips, Melissa says, “Do you have to go to work now?” and Sam replies, “There’s something going on here I don’t understand. I’ll give it a quick look and I’ll meet you back here in an hour.” Either this is one of the worst overdub jobs ever, or they’re communicating telepathically.
The EV dialogue is slightly different. Sam says, “Uh oh, there’s Mr. Devereaux.” The camera pans over to a short guy in a suit. Sam continues, “There’s no lotta [sic] really strange things going on in the workshop.” This may be the first time I’ve ever heard someone misuse a “single” negative.
Melissa then belatedly replies, “Him?” Referring to her acknowledgment of seeing the guy in the suit. Because the editor was on crack, and tried to fit an entire conversation into five seconds.
Finally, Sam says he’ll have to “check in”, and promises to meet Melissa at the snack bar in an hour. This is different from the TV version, where Sam says he’ll meet her at the park entrance in an hour. I guess since this is the version that played in theaters, they had to make sure to include a snack bar reference.
Now you may be wondering, who’s Devereaux? If you see a character in the first five minutes of a film, you better believe he’s going to be featured prominently. The director learned that much at film school, at least. Unfortunately, the check bounced before the week they got to foreshadowing, but we’ll touch on that later.
Before we get to know Devereaux, we have the pleasure of acquainting ourselves with my favorite actors in this whole God-awful mess. They’re three ’50s biker stereotypes. You know, like the movie The Wild One? Except, they didn’t set that movie in 1978, because first of all, they would have needed a time machine. But also, it would have been pretty unbelievable and very lame, which is basically what we get here with these three characters.
So these three hip cats skip in line for a ride because, duh, they’re ’50s bikers. But then they get bored waiting because, duh, they’re ’50s bikers. So they decide to walk over to a group of kids making a human pyramid, and kick them over.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere swoops in the mysterious Mr. Devereaux. Actually, he just swaggers over. He tells the hip cats that they shouldn’t be doing things like that. Dee, the lone female of the group says, “It’s cool, Chopper and Slime don’t hurt nobody unless they want to!” That was a helluva statement. That and 25 cents could get you a sandwich, chips, and a Coke back then.
Soon, they’re all spewing three-word catchphrases at Devereaux, until Park Owner Guy shows up with his Keystone Cops in tow to save the day. Also, they finally let us know who the hell Devereaux is.
You see, Devereaux invents the rides. But then, amusement park rides have been around since like the 19th century. So it appears all those opportunities dried up for him a while ago. Nowadays, he actually invents exhibits for the rides, full of animatronic people. We’ll be seeing some of these exhibits later, and in reality, they’re just extras in themed costumes doing the “robot”.
Hey, who heard the ding? That’s right, Devereaux is our demented genius inventor from the VHS cover! And by default, I guess that makes him the Phantom. Except, he doesn’t sing about the “Music of the Night”, so that’s a plus. Sadly, the same can’t be said about Paul Stanley.
The actor playing Devereaux, Anthony Zerbe, is a character actor who’s had dozens of roles. But the one most relevant to this site is Admiral Dougherty in Star Trek: Insurrection, making him our latest Repeat Offender.
Park Owner Guy and Devereaux have a walk-and-talk where we learn there’s some tension between them. See, Park Owner Guy wants to make a profit, and Devereaux wants to advance his research, which cuts into the profit. It’s all very yin and yang. Though, I’m still confused why Devereaux, who’s like a friggin’ rocket scientist, is working at an amusement park. Most of the people I see repairing rides at amusement parks are guys with no teeth.
But there’s no time to dwell on that, because our “hero” Sam is snooping around Devereaux’s lab, looking for that “no lotta really strange thing” he was ebonically describing earlier. He’s feeling around a solid metal door, when it suddenly flies open, Star Trek-style. He walks inside and then immediately turns around, because hey, most people want to know what it’s like to look out from a strange room at the room they were just in two seconds ago.
The door slams shut, of course, and then we hear a bitch-scream from Sam. I’m guessing (and hoping) one of Devereaux’s robots just mashed his testicles.