Peter Criss’s super power is… to stand around and look stoned while a Hanna-Barbera voice actor dubs his lines?

By way of full disclosure, I was a child soldier in the KISS Army. I was too cheap to be a card-carrying member, and I wasn’t even born until a year after their breakthrough with “KISS Alive!”, but there was no more devoted fan of Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter than my five year old self.

The only contender to my throne would have been my older brother, but he suffered a tremendous trauma that dampened his KISS enthusiasm for decades. It was October 28, 1978, the night NBC presented Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park, and he was told that it was on well past his bedtime and that, therefore, he couldn’t watch. To put this into a context you can understand: imagine there was a key episode of “Joan of Arcadia” on, and you couldn’t watch it because you took too many Seconals. And then your VCR breaks, and your Tivo hasn’t arrived, and none of your friends will let you watch their copies because they’re doubting your devotion to Joan and so you’re exiled from the burgeoning fanfic community of “Arcadians” and you lose your job and can only find relief from the demons by setting fires. Ok, my brother wasn’t hurt that bad, but he was definitely bummed by the whole episode. (Of the KISS thing; I’m pretty sure he’s never watched “Joan of Arcadia.”)

Paul Stanley
The King of the Night Time World delivers powerful laser-beams from his eyes and wooden line-reads from his mouth.

The movie was a major offensive in KISS’s campaign to market themselves to kiddies, and a sign of Gene Simmons’ ongoing campaign to put every conceivable product save human chattel under the KISS brand. They teamed up with Hanna-Barbera, who took time off of producing Laff-a-Lympics to put together one of the silliest movies of the late 70s.

The deal here is that KISS aren’t just famous musicians, they’re superheroes, thanks to a magical talisman. Gene Simmons breathes fire, Paul Stanley can shoot laser beams from his eye and can read minds, Ace Frehley can teleport and Peter Criss can… stand around and look stoned while a Hanna-Barbera voice actor dubs his lines? And while they never meet a Phantom of the Park, since there isn’t one, they do pit their formidable powers against the evil genius of Abner Devereaux, a mad amusement park inventor. (Devereaux is played by Anthony Zerbe, who is probably still digesting the scenery he chews on throughout this movie.) He’s mad because the amusement park owners have decided to divert some of his R&D funding for animatronic robots to pay for a KISS concert. I can sympathize with Devereaux’s dreams being crushed – this happens to me every time I leave the house – but on the other hand, this is 1978. Lots of things were canceled in favor of KISS concerts: congressional elections, the World Series, two popes, so he really shouldn’t take it personally.

Ace Frehley
Upon flying and shooting lasers, Space Ace told reporters “Awk!”

Nonetheless, Devereaux starts to implement his complicated revenge fantasy by kidnapping Sam, a park employee, and controlling his mind. Sam’s first mission is to take surveillance photos of KISS so Devereaux can create evil KISS clones. The Gene Simmons clone is a go-getter like his papa, and he beats up some cops, breathes fire, roars, and destroys a concession stand before lumbering off to brag about sleeping with several thousand women.

This irritates the cops, who go with the park owner to question the band as they sit by the pool in full makeup. Paul and Peter vouch for Gene, while Ace Frehley says “Awk” like a parrot. Apparently Ace refused to say anything other than “Awk” when the screenwriters first met the band, so all of his lines were originally written as “Awk.” Why they left those in after giving him real dialogue I still don’t know. (Years later Paul Stanley said the producers would tell the band what lines to say just before yelling “action,” and if they managed not to flub any words the take was a keeper. It shows.) Anyway, KISS is suspicious and decides to investigate. Gene roars like a lion.

Sam’s fiance, Melissa, appeals to Devereaux about finding Sam. He gives her a security pass, which is actually a hidden microphone so he can find out what she and the band are up to, which is mostly making parrot noises, roaring or sitting by the pool dressed like druids. Melissa finds and confronts Sam, who’s busy trying to steal the band’s talisman for Devereaux, but he’s a Stepford Park Employee now so he stumbles off and she shrieks. Paul says “Sam… the talisman… they all add up to the park.” No they don’t! They don’t add up to anything! They go to the park anyway.

Evil robot monkeys
The evil robot monkeys prepare to attack the members of KISS. That’s the greatest sentence you’ll ever read.

The park may not have a phantom for KISS to fight, but they have things that are way better – like several dozen evil white-haired robotic monkeys! The monkeys climb around on a rollercoaster before leaping down to attack. KISS – or, rather, three of them and Ace’s very obviously African-American stunt double – wisecracks their way through a fairly easy fight. The real ace returns in time to make more parrot noises. Devereaux, unbowed by the rather easy defeat of his monkey creatures, says “Let the dance begin” and sends evil robotic ninjas to attack! By the way, these fight scenes are pretty painful, with the attackers having to pull their punches heavily because the KISS members are not actors and/or are stoned off their asses. KISS is eventually outnumbered, but Ace teleports them away before the ninjas could lose to them again and I’m reaching the conclusion that trying to defeat KISS with robots is just not a sound strategy.

Sam finally steals the band’s talisman using an Evil Laser Gun. Now stuck in the park’s Chamber of Horrors without their powers, KISS are cornered by several movie monsters and assorted S&M freaks, and Devereaux literally sucks them up through chutes to capture them.

Peter Criss, druid
“Just a few more hours, and we’ll sit by the pool dressed like druids…”

Finally, Devereaux’s fiendish plan is revealed: his evil robotic KISS will take the stage and incite a fan riot, causing “Armageddon at the park.” Peter, trapped with his bandmates behind laser jail bars, makes a wisecrack that “Armageddon is a lame band.” Paul is worried. Gene roars. Ace makes another parrot noise. Evil KISS takes the stage and play “Hotter Than Hell,” but with new lyrics courtesy of Devereaux, “Rip and Destroy.” It’s actually not terrible, but the crowd turns on them after about 40 seconds of this, and the cops are worried. The real KISS have one hope left: concentrating their mental energy to cause the talisman to levitate toward their cell. To me, any plan that requires Peter Criss to focus his mental energy is massively implausible, but it works, and the band flies directly to the concert and kicks some stunt double – I mean, clone – butt. “Rock and Roll All Nite” ensues.

Gene Simmons breathing fire
Gene Simmons’s evil clone was a prude, so Gene had to roast him or his image would’ve suffered.

Back in Devereaux’s evil lair, KISS and Melissa and one of the cops demand the real Sam be returned promptly, or they’ll have to report Deveraux to collections. But the cop says “Devereaux can’t hear you,” because he’s turned into a wax dummy of a bloated Andy Warhol. Fortunately someone notices a mind control brooch on Sam’s shoulder, and upon removal the real Sam turns back into a chunky 70’s manwich. The cop and Paul note that Devereaux could’ve been a genius if he weren’t so evil. “He created KISS to destroy KISS, and he lost.” What a beautiful epitaph. Ace makes a parrot noise, which I hope is my epitaph. KISS plays “God of Thunder” and the credits roll.

By the way, my brother and I were on hand for one of the early dates on the Kiss and Make-Up show, where the four original members of KISS played together for the first time in over a decade. It brought us closure as KISS fans. He could probably see this movie now if he wanted, but he probably doesn’t need to anymore. You, on the other hand, do need to see Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park. It’s hard to track down, but it’s worth the effort. Highly recommended.