THE BEGINNING

In 1978 Kiss made a truly terrible movie. Andrew Anderson braves it through the ridiculous Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park

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KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM IN THE PARK (1978)
Kiss are one of those things – like guns, crack cocaine and incest – that are massive in America but have never quite caught on in the UK (outside of the royal family). This is because Kiss engage in that most American practice of taking themselves seriously, an especially stupid mistake given that they are, in essence, a comedy band: they wear makeup that makes them look like prats, do a ridiculous tongue-wiggling thing and have nicknames like ‘Starchild’ and ‘The Demon’ for Christ’s sake.

But for all that, Kiss actually have some good songs. Early material is of the heavy rock pump-your-fists-and-chant-a-bit variety, which they do extremely well (has there ever been a better call to arms than “I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day”?). Later on they brought in some pop-disco elements and, as with the Rolling Stones ‘Miss You,’ it actually worked – check out ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ if you don’t believe me. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t averse to getting all schmaltzy and earnest either, but yet again they pulled it off with numbers like ‘Beth’ and ‘Mr Make Believe.’

That said, Kiss’ music was really just a pathogen (which I am going to christen Kissitis), burrowing into listeners’ brains and infecting them with a sick urge to buy Kiss-related crap. Their cartoonish qualities made them perfect for merchandising, and at the epidemic’s zenith you could get Kiss coins, comics, condoms, collectable cards, computer games, credit cards and even a coffin – and that’s just the stuff beginning with C. This mix of music and merchandising made them the perfect band to make a movie, which they duly did, with 1978’s Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

So why haven’t you heard of it? You might assume it is because Kiss aren’t well known in the UK, or perhaps because of some sort of distribution-rights issue thing, but you’d be wrong: it is actually because the film is utterly crap. Like Clapton’s racist rant or Robbie Williams ‘Rudebox,’ it has simply been written out of history by the band and, so the legend goes, anyone working with Kiss is banned from even mentioning it in their presence.

The question is this: how did Kiss manage to take such delicious musical and marketing ingredients and, instead of making a tasty cake, make such a pile of terrible turd pie? We’ll get to that, but first let me explain why Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park is so awful.

The film opens with a rendition of ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’, and already it is apparent that something is seriously wrong. The film stock looks like it was taken from a super 8 camera, run through an airport security check scanner several times and then stored in the leaky basement of a magnet warehouse. This is partly to do with the fact the film has never been re-mastered, but largely it is because Kiss spent zero money on making it in the first place and, as a result, it looks like shit.

As far as plot goes, the idea is that Kiss are playing three sold-out gigs in a California amusement park called Magic Mountain. The park owner has booked them because ‘They’re the biggest band in the world!’ of which we’re repeatedly reminded. However, the guy that designs the rides – a chap called Abner Devereaux – thinks this is selling out.

Long story short, it turns out Devereaux is actually a total nutcase, and his real plan is to implant computer chips in people so they become his bionic army. The first guy he abducts is called ‘Chopper,’ a tough guy who wears a biker jacket and says things like ‘What’s your beef?’ to authority figures.

Devereaux also enslaves one of his own employees who looks a bit like Fred from Scooby Doo. His girlfriend comes looking for him, and accidentally discovers his evil intentions. She alerts Kiss, but it turns out that Devereaux has made bionic copies of Kiss and so in a final scene Kiss must do battle with themselves. After they have won the fight (using lasers that shoot from their eyes, of course), Paul Stanley grabs the microphone and screams ‘Does everybody feel GOOD?’ The band then play one final version of ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ as the credits roll.

Speaking of Scooby Doo, the film was actually written and produced by the Hanna-Barbera team, which explains the idiotic premise and terrible script. The dialogue is remarkably crap, with loads of “cool” 70s slang like ‘can you dig it’ and ‘far out’ crowbarred in at various inappropriate moments. Every event has to be punctuated by a crappy pun, like ‘so much for staying cool!’ when a child catches fire, or ‘that’s using your head!’ when a person’s skull is stoved in with a shovel (these things may not have actually happened in the film as I tuned out for large parts to save my brain from melting, but you get the idea).

What the film does show is a very different ’70s from that seen in Slade in Flame, which I reviewed a couple of issues ago. In Slade’s UK ’70s things were dark, sinister and felt real, whereas in Kiss’ American ’70s everyone looks obnoxiously healthy, the scenery is disturbingly verdant and double denim is de rigueur. It is a brash, sun bleached and mindlessly optimistic vision of the world, one that America would retreat further into once Ronald Reagan became president.

To answer my earlier question, this film is bad because Kiss simply didn’t care enough. When it comes to making heavy rock music and crappy merchandise you can get away with being cheap – sometimes that even improves the results – but unfortunately with filmmaking that isn’t the case; if you don’t put in the effort you’re not going to get a good film. As a result the film is terrible, and while you can laugh at it you can’t really enjoy it without the assistance of alcohol, marijuana or heavy tranquillisers.

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