THE BOOTLEG FILES: “KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK”

But much can and should be said for “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.” This made-for-TV film (which actually played theatrically in Europe and Australia) was produced by the good folks at Hanna-Barbera, who are best known for their Saturday morning cartoons like “Yogi Bear” and “Dastardly and Mutley and Their Flying Machines.” The film actually has a Saturday morning feel to it, with a puerile plot, which actually makes the average Yogi Bear cartoon seem Chekovian in comparison.

If you never saw the film or tried to forget it, this is how it goes. Abner Devereaux (played by a glum Anthony Zerbe) is the brilliant but somewhat nutty creator of rides and robotic attractions at an amusement park. But the park’s management feels it needs a new angle to attract the always-fickle youth market, so they fire Devereaux and hire KISS to perform a series of rock concerts. Devereaux decides to plot his revenge by launching a series of sabotage raids using zombie henchmen he’s maintained in a secret laboratory beneath the amusement park. When his young and hunky assistant Sam discovers what is happening, Devereaux turns him into a robotic slave.

Sam’s pretty fiancé Melissa, disturbed by Sam’s disappearance and the strange happenings at the park, decides to call for help. Had she been hanging around with Mr. Brown from my eBay adventure, she would’ve known to call the local F.B.I. to halt these shady shenanigans. Instead, she turns to KISS to solve the mysteries of the park.

If this film is to be believed, the four members of KISS live together in a stately mansion and wear their elaborate make-up and costumes 24/7. They even sit by their swimming pool in full rocker regalia, although they are careful to protect themselves by wearing silver mesh hooded bathrobes. The KISS members also have special powers, which allow them to perform such tricks as breathe fire and shoot laser beams from their eyes. But this is not to say they don’t possess hearts. KISS attempts to soothe Melissa’s angst by performing their gooey ballad “Beth” for her, but this isn’t exactly what Melissa was hoping for.

To make a seemingly endless film summary short…Devereaux (remember him?) somehow winds up capturing KISS and sends out KISS clones for their amusement park concert. The phony KISS performs songs designed to stir a riot, but the real KISS escape and destroy the clones using their superhero powers and some deft fisticuff action. Zombie Sam is eventually brought back to life and Melissa while Devereaux inexplicably ages into a withered shell of himself.

In a way, it is a shame the people responsible for this film were not reported to the F.B.I., starting with KISS themselves. Whatever charisma they possessed in performance is nowhere to be found in the film, aside from Gene Simmons’ occasional attempts at hamming up his demon persona. The quickie/cheapie nature of production did not allow them to create any new songs for the film, and the twangy incidental music that took up most of the soundtrack was created by someone named Hoyt Curtin, who scored numerous 70s TV shows. The group themselves knew they were in a mess; Ace Frehley reportedly walked off the set and was replaced in several scenes by a heavily made-up double while Peter Criss didn’t bother to show up for post-production looping of his dialogue, resulting in having his entire performance redubbed by another actor.

Yet the sheer stupidity of the film, its Godzilla-worthy none-too-special effects and the unlikely presence of KISS in the middle of the madness makes this fiasco unintentionally hilarious and strangely endearing. Yeah, it’s bad–but it is bad in a fun, Ed Wood-style that inspires an MST3K running dialogue to accompany the on-screen silliness. The film almost seems like a perfect time capsule for the garish late 70s, and many older rock fans seek out this film for a double shot of KISS and kitsch.

So why is this film only available today in bootleg video channels? It actually had two separate video releases in the early 1980s, but then it abruptly vanished. If a problem exists, it is most likely due to clearing the music rights (for KISS, not Hoyt Curtin’s incidental score). Or perhaps the guys in KISS, who scored a surprising comeback and can still sell out arenas, have not grown fonder of the film since its initial presentation and are intentionally keeping it out of release. Yet plenty of copies of the original videos and endless bootleg duplicates can keep KISS fans satisfied for now.

Which brings us back to my bootleg woes. The good news is that Mr. Brown and I were able to settle our problem without the intervention of law enforcement agents. I refunded his money, he returned the video and called off the F.B.I. (who, thankfully, never made an appearance in this matter), and in the course of dealing with him I found Mr. Brown to be a very charming and sincere fellow with a genuine interest in copyright protection issues; it seems his overzealous reaction to my video was not out of silliness, but because he had recently purchased pirated Microsoft software on eBay and had successfully targeted that digital pirate to the feds. He later acquired a genuine second-hand retail video copy of the film for his friend’s birthday, and I’ve since discovered that he started his own IT consulting business called ANC Solutions (which you are welcome to visit online at www.ancsolutions.net). If you have a question about computer problems or film copyright issues, you know where to find him.

As for me…well, I’m stuck with a bootleg video copy of “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.” However, my encounter with Mr. Brown planted the seed that became our weekly Bootleg Files column here on Film Threat. Yes, inspiration comes from the strangest places and strangest people. So thank you KISS, thank you Phantom, thank you New York office of the F.B.I., and thank you Mr. Brown. Now please excuse me while I rock ‘n’ roll all night and party every day….

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

Discuss The Bootleg Files in Back Talk>>>




Posted on October 3, 2003 in Features by
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