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December 12, 2013

Movie Review: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)

Oh joy! Oh happiness! It is a Christmas miracle! Folks, fans and fiends it is finally Day 12 of the David Hayes Christmas Crap Review-a-Palooza! This means no more egg nog-scented night terrors, no more green and red bloodshot eyes and no more crazy holiday movies. I feel like running out and hugging everyone. Much like Ebeneezer Scrooge after the final ghost appeared, I want to run in the streets and give gifts to the bastard little children. Why? For this final film I've given myself a little gift. It isn't a holiday movie, per se, but it is a gift to myself and what better time can someone have than at an amusement park?

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Head Cheese gave to me... nothing, I gave this to myself!

It's 1978 and I am seven years old. It's All Hallow's Eve and I've begged, for nearly a week, to stay up a little later than usual. You see, in the 1970s there was this concept called the “TV Movie.” Essentially, it was an original movie made specifically for television. The Night Stalker, starring Darrin McGavin is, arguably, the most popular of these but the TV Movie has a long and rich history of crappy filmmaking. For those of you old enough you may remember The Ewok Adventure, The Star Wars Holiday Special (see Day 3 of the Palooza), Columbo and many, many more. This particular Halloween, though, had been on my mind for months. You see, my absolute favorite band at the time, KISS, were to be featured in this TV Movie. Better still, KISS were to play themselves (you know, hard rocking super heroes with magical powers) and had to go head to head with an evil arch nemesis. Friends, look into the craptacular awesomeness that is KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park and rock and roll all night!

A beautiful young woman loses her research assistant boyfriend at Magic Mountain in California. Apparently, Magic Mountain has an evil genius attraction designer (classic villain Anthony Zerbe) who's big scheme is to take malcontents from the park and turn them into some of the worst animatronic displays I've ever seen (and remember, I grew up in Michigan and have been to AutoTown). So, the assistant finds out about the scheme and Zerbe makes him pay. The girlfriend's only hope is to enlist the aid of KISS, playing at the park that night, to find her boyfriend. As our rockers delve into the case, they share the secret off their magical powers: Paul Stanley's tentacle-like chest hair, Peter Criss' ability to land on his feet no matter how drunk he is, Gene Simmons' hormone spray making women swoon before his extreme ugliness and Ace Frehley's awesome ability to never, ever OD, no matter how much heroin he shoots into his eye. These powers (well, maybe not THESE powers) come from magical talismans. Zerbe steals the talismans and makes animatronic clones of KISS that almost destroy the park with a song. The fake KISS play “Rip and Destroy” causing all of the fans to go into a frenzied rage. The real KISS manages to get their talismans back and fly into the concert to do battle. They save the day, of course.

I love this movie. It holds a special little place in my heart. It was only broadcast once and there was a VHS release in the mid 1990s. Other than that, you'll be looking for bootlegs. I know this picture is flawed, though. The acting is uniformly atrocious (especially from the band), the writing is horrible and it looks like they grabbed a bunch of freshman from USC to do the filming, but how can a flying KISS be bad? The animatronic wolf guys are horrible, as are all of the 'evil' constructions. But I don't care. My pre-adolescent heroes are real, live superheroes with powers and guitars. They rock by night and defend the weak by later night. It doesn't matter if the film isn't always in focus or you can see a production light here or there. KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park is what dreams look like when they're broadcast on TV. Well, at least the dreams of a seven year old.


  1. Fun article David! To say I have a soft spot for this film is a severe understatement. Not since "Manos, the Hands of Fate," has a film had a lovely narcotic effect on my psyche. Rip, rip, rip and destroy!