This week marked Jeff Padberg’s second remote presentation – and if anybody thought his first offering (The Gumball Rally) was a bit of a stinker, well, they would be in for a bit of a surprise with his second one. See, back at the height of their fame in 1978, somebody decided it would be a good marketing idea to make a KISS movie – you know, in the same way that the Beatles made A Hard Day’s Night, etc. The resulting film was truly a piece of cinematic garbage, but despite its obvious flaws it was still aired on NBC, during prime-time no less. It has gone under several names, and frankly since I don’t feel like doing some sort of KISS exegesis on this thing I’m not going to be bothered to trace it. We can call it “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park“, and it was under the purview of schlock director Gordon Hessler, though we’re going to be discussing the (apparently improved!) European theatrical version of the film which could potentially have been touched up by somebody else.
Again, enough exegesis. Let’s just run down this film and see where it went wrong.
After an establishing shot on a rollercoaster (Six Flags Magic Mountain’s “Revolution” – a coaster I rode dozens of times in my youth and the first ride I ever took that went upside-down!) we get some opening credits which introduce those of us who really don’t know any members of KISS other than Gene Simmons to our superheroes, as it were.
There’s drummer Peter Criss, aka Cat Man
guitarist Ace Frehley, aka Space Ace
bassist Gene Simmons, aka Demon
and other guitarist Paul Stanley, aka Star Child. We’re also given our first listen to KISS’s only actually recognizable song (Rock and Roll All Night) – but don’t worry, we’ll get to hear it again to close the film.
But there’s a plot, such as it is. Facing revenue shortfalls, the park has decided to bring in KISS for a concert series – at the expense of their “brilliant” park engineer Abner Devereaux, whose idea of an amusement park is apparently a paradise filled with goofy animatronics.
Devereaux’s work is a bit bizarre, like making giant robot gorillas and luring a trio of park punks into a trap and ultimately turning them into human animatronics. That’s a side plot that was unnecessary and also made me feel like I needed a shower. (Also making me feel like I need a shower: the fact that I haven’t yet taken a shower today.)
Well, Devereaux gets fired due to his obsession with things that aren’t rollercoasters and rock bands, but instead of getting kicked off of the premises, he goes back to his literal lair, and taking robotic control of his assistant Sam by implanting a resistor on his neck he sets about to destroy the park – using animatronic versions of his new nemesis KISS. This is a completely rational thing to do, if you are a villain in a Scooby-Doo cartoon. (Did I mention this is a Hanna-Barbera production? Because it is.)
Meanwhile, Sam’s fiancee Melissa is searching for him – and sees him photographing KISS at their first night’s concert. But instead of responding to her, he walks away robotically, and KISS, armed with superpower mind reading eye beams and stuff become sympathetic to her search for Sam.
This is where things really fall off the rail. It’s the next day, because Melissa is wearing different clothes, but it’s also the same night. Melissa goes to Devereaux’s lair for a second time, and Devereaux presciently gives her a bugged “security pass” that she wears around like the badge that it is – including to KISS’s house. Because naturally she’s going to go to KISS’s house so they can sing “Beth” for her.
But it’s not at all clear why he needed to bug her, because he has already sent RoboSam to KISS’s house anyway, in order to steal their talismen. In order to steal their what? Well, in a beautiful piece of completely failed exposition, apparently KISS have talismen that give them their super powers. I guess that makes as much sense as anything else. Sam doesn’t succeed in stealing the talismen because they give him magic static electric shocks, and he also doesn’t succeed in not getting noticed by Melissa. Melissa is really upset by the cold lack of recognition from RoboSam until KISS show her their talismen, which kinda makes her forget the whole thing.
Devereaux then unleashes his Animatronic Gene Simmons to wreak havoc on the park at night, to sully KISS’s reputation! (One notices that the night guards at the park are the same guys as the day guards – apparently, they work 24/7. Maybe it’s not the animatronics, maybe it’s the overtime that is financially sapping the park!) The park owner meets with KISS when they are lounging around their pool in their high chairs (because this is what KISS does during their off time) and begs them to not get rowdy.
During the next night’s show, RoboSam succeeds in stealing KISS’s talismen with a special anti-talisman-static gun provided to him by Devereaux. One does wonder – given that HE HAD JUST TRIED STEALING THE TALISMEN JUST THE NIGHT BEFORE WHY DID KISS LEAVE THEM UNGUARDED AT THEIR HOUSE DURING THE SHOW?
And then after the second show Devereaux unleashes his worst on KISS – by attacking them with an army of freaky animatronic gymnast monkey cats in the middle of Colossus (another great roller coaster from my youth!) The complete nonsensical bucket of WTF that this scene comprises is 100% worth the price of admission.
KISS succeed in defeating them despite having had their talismen stolen, which makes one wonder what need they actually have of the talismen. Having failed with the army of freaky animatronic gymnast monkey cats, Devereaux follows that up with an army of animatronic ninjas. KISS escape the ninjas too, but then walk into a trap in Devereaux’s lair despite Gene Simmons explicitly pointing out that they are walking into a trap.
A trap full of animatronic mummies and vampires and a Frankenstein. It turns out that the talismen are only counteracted if they are actively being hit by the anti-talisman-static-gun, which makes you wonder why Devereaux didn’t just, oh, I don’t know, use the anti-talisman-static-gun on the talismen during the first two assaults? This scene also makes you wonder why nobody seems to have picked up on the iconic villain-speak “And now for you, my cosmic hopscotching friend!” Finally, KISS are defeated and vacuumed into the ceiling. Into the exactly four ceiling vacuum tubes. No lie.
This allows Devereaux to capture KISS behind a force field and send out their animatronic doppelgangers to do the last night’s show – where their altered lyrics will inspire the crowd to tear down the park. This, my cosmic hopscotching friends, is Devereaux’s dastardly plan. This is a stupid, stupid, plan.
Also, it doesn’t work, because KISS use their magical levitation powers to levitate their talismen to them (so…they didn’t need the talismen to levitate the talismen, but they did need the talismen to get out of the force field? Why didn’t Devereaux just have RoboSam, who isn’t really doing anything right now, just use the anti-talisman-static-gun on them until the crowd has destroyed the park?). Also, you can totally see the strings.
This leads to a huge KISS vs. RoboKISS fight on the stage, which real KISS wins, because we’re pretty much out of time at this point and KISS still has to perform Rock and Roll All Night again.
This apparently causes Devereaux to age like 30 years and go catatonic in his control chair for some random reason. Oh, and KISS finds the resistor on RoboSam’s neck, remove it with their zap-ray eyes and revive him. The End.
OK, now it’s the end.
I think I’ve pretty adequately pointed out already how little sense this movie makes. Animatronic engineer goes crazy, creates a bunch of magical stuff in no time, but gets beaten by other magic. And KISS.
There are no words.
But it’s still a better movie than Tetsuo, The Iron Man.