KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978) – By Jonathon Pernisek

Hoo boy…what do you say about a television special produced by the Hanna-Barbera company? Well, plenty actually, especially when it stars one of the silliest bands in recent memory (no offense to those still desperately hanging onto the KISS bandwagon by a hangnail) and makes other film vehicles for musicians look like works of passion and integrity. Trust me, On the Line has more merit than KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

I knew something was afoot in the Bad Judgment department when the titular band opened the film with their hit song “Rock and Roll All Night”…in front of a blue screen showing stock carnival footage. You know you’re watching something rare when the members of KISS are shown standing on fountain streams and Gene Simmons is made to look as if he’s about fifty feet taller than a roller coaster. This is just the opening credits sequence, mind you, and the proceedings only get stranger from here.

So the setting of this film is California’s Magic Mountain, where Calvin and Abner, the respective owner of and inventor for the theme park, await the arrival of KISS. The band is scheduled to play three concerts and bring in a lot of customers, but Abner is not pleased. He’s not a fan of this “rock and/or roll” and is itching to get more funding for the thriving animatronics in his lab. Abner, you should know, is played by Anthony Zerbe, who was recently seen as Councillor Hamann in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Oh, how the mighty have…well, I suppose his career only got better after today’s film.

Abner, aside from being a fuddy duddy, is also insane. Not only does the scientist kidnap a bunch of biker hooligans who are vandalizing the park, but he makes them a part of his computerized robots. Gasp! Even more shocking, he’s abducted a not-too bright fellow named Sam who was trying to investigate his lab. This is what we call a big mistake, Abner. Sam is currently dating Melissa, and she refuses to leave the park without her toe-headed beau. Sadly, no one will listen to her case, so she ultimately teams up with KISS to solve the mystery of the missing patrons.

Ah, but there’s even more in regards to Abner’s inner wickedness. See, he plans to incite a riot at the last KISS concert by replacing the flesh-and-bone rockers with evil robot clones. Another gasp, right? Thought so. But how does he intend to dispatch with KISS in the first place? Well, pay attention now: He steals the magic talismans that give each member of the band their special super ability. Nope, not kidding. Gene spits fire and is super strong, Paul uses his “Star Power” to read lips and shoot lasers from his eye, Peter…jumps really well (he’s Cat Man after all), and Ace…I forget what Ace can do. Don’t really care either upon consideration.

If this sounds like a live-action version of every crummy Hanna-Barbera series starring a real person/group from the past thirty years, then the kettle is black and the spade is indeed a spade. The band doesn’t show up for the first half hour of the special, and when they do they’re only purpose is to deliver bad puns, worry about the safety of their talismans, and fight a bunch of stock enemies. By the time I had watched KISS do battle with wolf men, mummies, Frankenstein, and finally themselves (a battle for the ages, as I’ll explain soon), my eyes had almost become donuts from the amount of glaze appearing on the irises.

Can I just mention these talismans again? They have talismans, people. And…they get super powers from these talismans. One’s shaped like a lightning bolt, another is a panther head, and my imagination can’t expand enough to know why anyone thought this would be cool. From the looks of the band’s fan base I’d say the writers were trying to dumb the group down considerably, as most of the KISS disciples are under the age of thirteen. Granted, KISS was to intellectual stimulation as chocolate sundaes are to good hygiene, but why the heck is Paul shooting lasers out of his eye?

Reportedly, or at least according to the Internet Movie Database, KISS hates this movie and bashes it whenever possible. Kudos to them I say, but putting aside all of the contractual obligations and the fact that even they didn’t know how the film would end (they were given their lines before the camera started rolling for each shot)…okay, it’s not really their fault. But…uh, shame on you Hanna-Barbera. Shame.