From a commercial viewpoint, is there anything more degrading for an aging 70’s rock band than trying to effortlessly cash in on their glory days? If you were to throw a dart at the bedroom wall of any teenager from the 1970’s, there’s a 100% chance you’d hit the poster of a band that is now doing sleepy reunion tours with less than half the original members, re-issuing albums for the twentieth time, releasing another greatest hits record—or above all, putting out one more unnecessary (and overpriced) box set. All that being said, praise be to the God of Needless Shit for the 1997 DVD box set, Kissology Volume Two: 1978-1991, a mega compilation of documentaries, interviews, and live shows from that latter period of Kiss.
Yeah, yeah, all that is very well and fine for the hardcore Kiss reveler, but through some kink in the immaculate design of the universe, there sits rather unceremoniously on disc one, the made-for TV movie, Kiss in Attack of the Phantoms. Aired on NBC in 1978 as Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, the film is a true time capsule of Kiss at the peak of their popularity—and unchecked chutzpah. The project, intended as a vehicle to catapult the band to the next level of their stardom a la Help, was such a failure and embarrassment, Kiss forbade anyone who worked for them from ever mentioning the movie again.
Suffice to say, this movie ain’t no Help. But that’s okay. Help is overrated Baby Boomer glut, proof that an entire generation could (and still can) be wooed by the flashiest of commercialization. Attack of the Phantoms doesn’t hold any of those pretensions. Mainly, because it can’t. After all, it’s a movie about the members of Kiss having super powers and battling a maniacal theme park engineer who unleashes his animatronic minions on the unsuspecting public.
Still with me? Good, because that means we lost the Boomers and anyone who demands basic competence from their movies. I’ll now reward you with the plot setup:
Calvin Richards (Carmine Caridi), trying to raise visibility for his theme park (which may or may not be Magic Mountain), hires Kiss to do a three night series of concerts. Embracing the new and cool, Richards now has no need for Abner Deveraux (Anthony Zerbe), the engineer who has designed all the park’s lame-ass animatronics since its opening. Unbeknownst to everyone, Deveraux has been kidnapping patrons for years and turning them into animatronic characters like werewolves, 18th century soldiers, vampires, old time settlers, and the like. He blames Kiss for getting fired and uses his army of human retrofitted robots to seek his revenge.
It’s quite astounding that an actor as respected as Zerbe is in this movie, but it’s a high selling point, if you’re still on the fence after that irresistible summary. This is the type of role that would probably go to David Warner in a more respectable shitshow. However, Zerbe relishes in the cheese, and when he musters lines like “I may be outnumbered, but I’m not outmanned,” you realize you’re only somewhat wasting your life.
But of course, we’re all here for Kiss. As previously mentioned, they are each endowed with super powers given to them by talismans they bring with them everywhere. Without their talismans, they would just be “ordinary human beings” as Peter Criss puts it. Paul Stanley can shoot lasers out of his eyes that control people and read their minds. Gene Simmons can breathe fire. Ace Frehley also shoots lasers, and Peter Criss jumps really high.
And none of them can act worth a damn. Frehley and Criss were both dealing with massive drug habits at the time, and most of their lines were dubbed in post-production. (It is rumored that Criss didn’t even come back for the dubbing, so his lines were recorded by someone else.) To compound things, Criss clashed with director, Gordon Hessler, and stormed off set numerous times, forcing them to film with stunt doubles—in one scene, Criss’s double is obviously African American.
There have been few films as of late that have filled me with as much total joy as this one. I could watch this movie a hundred times. It’s campy in the way the old Batman series was, even though Phantoms was filmed a decade later. I had a big, goofy smile on my face when the band battles fifty werewolf-like apemen as the song “New York Groove” blares. How about Paul Stanley shouting “Starchild!” every time he shoots lasers out of his eyes? C’mon! This is stupid Westworld with Kiss, and you need to be watching it immediately.
First item of note: If you seek this movie out, please make sure to get the Kissology version. It’s a fantastic widescreen transfer with the disco/70’s soundtrack of the original version replaced with actual Kiss songs.
Second final item of note: Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park was a Hanna-Barbera production. Yes, the same people who did Scooby-Doo.