KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)
directed by Gordon Hessler
starring Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, Paul
Stanley, Terry Lester, Deborah Ryan and Anthony Zerbe
Are you ready? Are you ready, world? You're not ready. NOBODY IS READY FOR THIS.
Yes, I gave this film a failing grade; there was no avoiding it. But, folks, what you need to understand is what a delightful, wholesome F that is.
This movie caused so many things to happen in my brain that I am almost literally unable to sort it all out enough to think of coherent things to say. Not in the way that, say, physics theory causes things to happen in your brain, or moving art causes things to happen in your brain. More in the way that acid causes things to happen in your brain, up to and including bits of it not being there anymore when you check later.
KISS, for those in my age bracket and younger who might not know, is one of the most popular American hard rock bands of the seventies and eighties, infamous for their elaborate costumes and facepaint. They have a massive cult following of fans as well as a pretty vociferous opposing faction of people who hate them, which is understandable: a group of guys who look like this really can't help but be polarizing.
Personally, I find KISS delightful. True, I don't really throw in a KISS album for pure enjoyment all that often, but there's something about them that is just so cheerfully outre that I can't help it. Their songs ain't bad - and if you're watching this movie, you're going to hear plenty of them - and some are even pretty good (even non-KISS fans have heard of staples like "Rock and Roll All Nite" and "Beth"). Plus, grown men who refuse to apologize for their hilarious facepaint just can't help but endear themselves to me, especially when they also give themselves hilarious nom-de-plumes.
So I came into this with some "Oh, you"-style fondness for the ridiculousness that is KISS, and it's good that I did because I'm pretty sure that anyone watching this as someone who wasn't prepared to be faintly amused by their bizarre efforts at film might have sustained serious injury to their reality glands.
The basic premise of the film is that KISS has been engaged to perform a few concerts at the Magic Mountain amusement park in California, but that a dastardly Phantom, working from the shadows, is going to destroy the place unless they stop him. This synopsis does not even begin to encapsulate the life-altering acid trip that is the plot of this film, but it really can't be explained in a synopsis. You have to make the journey with me.
The opening scene of the movie focuses on introducing the amusement park itself, relying heavily on shots of a young couple riding a rollercoaster. Many shots happily follow the rollercoaster over hills to plunge down as if the viewer were falling into space, a feeling that I imagine many members of the audience are probably going to be feeling soon anyway. Oddly enough, my copy of the movie proclaims it as KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park on the cover, but flashes the title Attack of the Phantoms on the title screen instead. Why the change? Who knows? It makes no sense, but that's something we should probably get comfortable with now.
The credits sequence features KISS in all their glory, rocking out to "Rock and Roll All Nite" while riding various amusement part attractions in ways they were definitely not meant to be ridden. They also occasionally grow enormous and tower over the park while doing so. Watching them riff away while riding the teacups or stomping over the rollercoaster is pure self-indulgent madness, and it sets the tone for the rest of the film admirably.
A major motif in the film is the fact that the Phantom (a man we are going to be meeting momentarily, don't you worry) has the entire amusement park "wired", as the boys from KISS say; that is, he has control of all the machines and cameras from his secret command station in the basement. This is a nice idea, hearkening as it does back to the idea of the Phantom as able to affect and manipulate his environment secretly from within, but unfortunately, like most things in this film, it tries good-spiritedly but fails. Most of the time, as in this opening scene wherein one of the tilt-o-whirls starts going too fast and freaking the customers out, you wouldn't be able to tell anything was even happening except for the consternation of the operator, especially since Hessler's crew very obviously filmed real people enjoying a tilt-o-whirl and therefore everybody seems to be having a grand old time. There is a lot of screaming added to the film's soundtrack in order to illustrate all the scariness, but this is set in an amusement park, so mostly that just translates to interminable noise.
No one in the world should be surprised by the fact that the KISS-worship in this film is so amazingly hyped up that it begins to parody itself. Again, it's just so shameless and kooky that you almost can't be angry. A giant parade of eight-year-old children in KISS facepaint who call themselves the KISS Army and compete to see who can be the most KISS-like? Fuck, that's kind of adorable, in a hilarious way. Also hilarious are the park security guards, who are seriously concerned about this phenomenon (oh, god - what if the eight-year-olds get out of hand, you guys?).
In case you were wondering if the extroardinarily poor actors cuddling at the front of the rollercoaster were going to be our protagonists, I am here to tell you that you are correct (well, secondary protagonists; we all know who the important characters here are). Their names are Melissa and Sam, and they are totes in love, and Deborah Ryan and Terry Lester could win the couples' gold in the worldwide Terrible Acting Championship when they play them. Seldom have I seen such blank-faced, stiff-armed huggers. They resemble nothing so much as Barbie and Ken given life (which is an appropriate simile considering the direction this movie is going to go, I guess). Lester went on to make a career out of this quality by becoming a soap star, while Ryan went on to never do anything again, which is probably merciful for the rest of us.
We're off to meet our Phantom, a gentleman named Abner Devereaux (played by Anthony Zerbe, the only competent actor ever to have any kind of contact with this film). Devereaux is the mad genius behind the park, the creator of most of its rides and attractions and a general all-around Genius Who Wishes You Would All Stop Disturbing His Work type. He enters the film angry that some of his animatronic features have been taken down in order to make room for what he terms "those grotesque creatures", various large advertisements for the KISS concert series to come. This is understandable; when you're a genius inventor, people removing your creations in order to slap up advertising for four angry clowns with guitars is probably demoralizing.
He discusses the problem with the owner of the park, Calvin Richards, and it is revealed that his research and development budget for building new things has also been recently slashed, leaving him without the means to develop his newest creations. We're all familiar with what happens to owners of establishments when they refuse to give the Phantom the salary to which he has become accustomed, but there's more going on here than in most interpretations; Richards and Devereaux, it seems, founded and opened the park together, with Devereaux as the brains and Richards as the front-man, and have been partners ever since. Devereaux's focus on lifelike animatronics, however, has begun to seem old-fashioned to Richards, and their argument is colored by their long and affable history together and by mutual frustration. It's a very different dynamic from most Phantoms; it most closely resembles the cordial relationship between Carriere and Erik in the much later Yeston/Kopit musical, though of course in this case there are no familial ties between the two.
At any rate, Devereaux doesn't get his money and has to leave disgruntled, with Richards ordering him to go deal with the problem of malfunctioning rides since he is also in charge of Engineering & Maintenance. Wait, he's in charge of that and Research & Development and building all new attractions from scratch by hand? No wonder's he's become stressed and resentful. You guys do know that once your park is a success you can hire other people to work in it besides just the two of you and your corps of deeply ineffective security guards, right?
Apparently even the security guards are unnecessary, because Devereaux also has to break up the efforts of some hilarious 1970's street toughs, complete with tight jeans, horrible jackets, and hysterically bad acting, to damage one of the attractions. They spend a few minutes menacing him in a shockingly unconvincing fashion, after which he gives them free tickets to the park's haunted house and retreats to his underground lair.
Which, by the way, is basically the Batcave. Well, a 1970's conception of what the Batcave might look like, complete with whirring, flashing, vaguely futuristic things scattered around (think original Star Trek) and large banks of what are apparently Vending Machines of the Future but which probably have some other important purpose. It's also got various bits of mannequins and dummies scattered about the place, which are intended to creep us out but which, for various reasons involving terrible direction and laughable acting, do not succeed particularly well.
Devereaux, by the way, is not in any way deformed or scarred; the film is pursuing one of those "he's insane, the deformity is on the inside!" ideas, which never works out the way creators apparently want it to. It's really not comparable to the original Erik's problems, since he was most likely both physically disfigured and mentally ill, but when I think of what the prosthetics might have looked like for a deformity in this film, I realize that what I should really be doing is calling Hessler up and thanking him for his restraint.
At any rate, his general not-quite-rightness is established here ahead of time via intimations that security guards keep disappearing around his workshop (nobody is investigating that?) and via the vehicle of Sam (don't remember who he is? That's okay. He is basically irrelevant to everything). Sam apparently works for Devereaux, but today the genius decides that he should make the leap from assistant to raw materials and does vaguely science-y things to him offstage while Melissa dithers around in the park above-ground and tries to figure out why her fiance (we are told that's what he is halfway through the film and it's something of a surprise, which should tell you something about the finely-crafted narrative we have going on here) has apparently ditched her.
Spot the role reversal! Yes, this is the first ever version of the Phantom story (so far and to my knowledge) in which Christine is actually the male in the relationship and his girlfriend acts as Raoul, attempting to rescue him from the Phantom's clutches. I'd love to say something about how well it works in this version of the story, but you can't analyze these two; they're like cardboard cutouts provided for KISS to prance around. The rockers are so much the main event that even though they really aren't in the film yet, everybody else is pretty much just standing around waiting for them to do something.
In her quest to find Sam, Melissa turns up at Devereaux's lab to ask if he ever made it in to work, forcing Devereaux to pay at least a little attention to her. Since there's no romantic plot going on between Devereaux and the unfortunate Sam, he has no particular hostility toward her and lets her wander around a bit while he soliloquizes on the virtues of android technology and how soon all the world's menial tasks will be fully automated (a little over-ambitious, in retrospect). The comment on the encroachment of machines into our lives is well-intentioned, but since no one ever bothers with it again, it presumably lives out its lonely existence somewhere on its own in the Batcave. Devereaux is pleased enough to have a willing audience to show his extra-realistic androids, complete with totally human-feeling skin, but Melissa gets bored soon enough and goes back to her silly "wanting her fiance back" schtick. Personally, I love John but I might be tempted to trade him to hang out with Devereaux's fully-functioning barbershop quartet automatons - they are awesome.
Since Devereaux also has no romantic interest in Melissa, either, he just shoos her back out, suggests that Sam probably dumped her and took off for Tahiti with some hottie, and goes back to what he was doing. Of course, as soon as she leaves Sam comes lurching out of a hidden doorway, and the Totally Futuristic Metal Chip Thingy on the side of his neck lets us know that Devereaux is the Evil and has in some way gained control over him (via mind control? Nano-bots? Making a robot that looks just like him? Wait, what if Sam was always a robot the WHOLE TIME? Mind equals blown). It should be apparent that Devereaux is experimenting with using real humans to make his super-realistic automatons, though how he's doing so is frustratingly vague since this is the 70's and nobody's going to show really disturbing imagery or ideas in a television movie. Think of the kids!
Devereaux has something that I think is probably a space console. It doesn't go to space or anything, but it looks like a space console; it's covered in flashing lights and mysterious buttons, is attached to many space console monitors, and rotates at random while in use. It's meant to be another illustration of his frightening genius, but mostly it just induces giggling whenever he leaps into it and, disappointingly, fails to fly away to his shuttle.
At any rate, the street toughs from earlier decide that they will go to the haunted house, mostly to jack it up because they are rebels. The film's score makes it clear that they will NEVER RETURN, as does the fact that Devereaux hops into his space console and starts pushing buttons while smiling fiendishly. Of course, the toughs are totally unimpressed by all the animatronic monsters jumping out at them since they are way too cool to be scared by a kiddie attraction, but then they basically get picked off one by one by monsters that grab them and drag them into hidden passageways. It actually is a decently creepy scene by the time we're down to just the final girl, timorously calling for her companions; some of the animatronics, particularly the torturer whipping a victim over and over, are nasty enough that I wouldn't want to hang out next to them by myself in the dark, and the whole thing is very psychologically similar to Leroux's torture chamber, at least in terms of slowly driving the occupant to madness without using supernatural means. Got to say, though, that Devereaux has apparently put a LOT of thought into using this place as a kidnapping center, which really makes you wonder if he was ever a very stable personality.
Weirdly enough, every famous movie monster is represented in this haunted house - there's a mummy, a Dracula-esque vampire, a Frankenstein's monster - except for the Phantom himself. I suppose they didn't want to confuse the audience.
KISS fans are booing right now, because they still haven't made an appearance since the credits. Give it time, my friends; soon we will be totally unable to get rid of them.
In what is probably the best scene of the film, Richards returns and demonstrates extremely poor decision-making ability when he fires Devereaux, citing the inventor's behind-the-times focus and the huge amount of money he wants to keep inventing things. Their relationship is curiously poignant (and helped, no doubt, by the fact that Zerbe and Caridi can actually act); they've been together forever and just have very different aims, as illustrated when Richards continues to insist that he has to do what's in the park's best interest and Devereaux rants that he has never cared if it made any money at all. Richards is solicitous and sad throughout, obviously loath to let his old friend go and even attempting to suggest alternate avenues of invention or interest for him to explore. In fact, I'd like to see the whole movie just be about these two. KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park: a Bromance. I would so watch it.
The end of the scene gets a little thickly syruped as Devereaux walks away amongst the things he's built, accompanied by the poignant strains of KISS's "Mr. Make Believe", but it gets the point across, builds up a little sympathy for our near-future Phantom, and the song itself is very appropriate for a character who is both a creator of fantasies and out of touch with reality himself. Incidentally, I love the idea of the Phantom as a creator of automatons (which Leroux himself touches on in the Persian's drive-by summary of Erik's past) and wish more versions used it.
At any rate, predictably, Devereaux vows to destroy the park he built rather than let himself be driven from it (calling to mind Leroux's Erik's gunpowder plot, though the motivation is slightly different), and he fixates on KISS as a symbol of the gauche modern world discarding his genius (which is... well, basically accurate).
But now, ladies and gentlemen, all your bondage to this film is over, because KISS is about to arrive, and from now on it's going to be basically nothing but hoots of laughter for the last sixty minutes. The beginning of their first concert alone involves them flying onto the stage. FROM SPACE. WITH TERRIBLE LASER SPECIAL EFFECTS. It is awful to a degree seldom inflicted on the public, and also kind of lovable in that ridiculous KISS way.
(As a side note, I can't help but wonder whether or not any part of this film is in response to the lampooning of KISS in the 1974 de Palma/Finley film, which featured the Undeads with near-identical face-paint lopping limbs off of audience members with their guitars and screaming a lot. I don't know what the response would be saying - probably something garbled along the lines of NO YOU KISS ROCK TONGUES SUCK IT LASER BEAM - but I still wonder).
The boys roll around in their facepaint for a while, playing "Shout It Out Loud" and blowing things up in a generally spectacular manner. The soundtrack frankly needs better sound quality to keep the performances more interesting, but I'll have to take what I can get from a 1983 VHS (sadly, this cinematic wonderscape had not been released on DVD yet when I reviewed it). Anyone who is particularly enamored of Gene Simmons' patented demonic tongue waggle can enjoy it to your heart's content, since it makes its first appearance here and will be turning back up with regularity throughout the remainder of the film.
One expects some form of amusement park chandelier to fall upon the KISS concert, especially since Devereaux is watching it from his space console and is clearly unamused, but nothing happens. It probably would have helped it not drag on so long if something untoward had occurred; if you're a huge KISS fan and you can think of nothing better than watching their original lineup perform for long stretches, you will love that about this movie, but if you're just trying to figure out what's going on, you may want to schedule bathroom breaks and side projects to tide you over during the very long performance numbers.
Sam's fugue-state as he wanders around assisting Devereaux and obeying his every whim recalls Christine's behavior when under Erik's hypnosis, though, like most things in this film, it's really just saying a passing hello. Devereaux, it is revealed, has turned the three street toughs into American revolution automatons (gotta give him props, it's a much better look for them). But how?! That's what I want to know! Did he add circuitry? Did he mind control them like Sam? Did he gut them and they're now machinery-filled bodies just covered with skin? You can't be this vague, movie! I don't care what the decency standards of the time were!
If the magical performance didn't convince you to take leave of your senses and start hyena howling in the night, the following scene will: Melissa, for some reason, has decided she should look for Sam backstage, so security keeps corralling her away. When leaving the stage, the members of KISS see her being manhandled (i.e., gently led off by one of the bumbling security guards) and immediately put a stop to that shit by USING THE POWER OF THEIR MINDS. Simmons barks, "Starchild!" and Stanley responds by glowing from the face, which causes the security guard to stop doing what he's doing and allows Melissa to cheerfully approach. Simmons, who has the kind of reverb someone might use for the voice of God in all of his lines and is actually sometimes difficult to understand because of it, announces that she doesn't have to explain: they can HEAR HER THOUGHTS. People say lines like, "No gratitude need be voiced." Simmons growls like a lion at the security guards. Everyone is dead serious.
Things will only become more wonderment-inducing. We have only just begun.
The boys, incidentally, call each other by their given names (Paul, Gene, Ace, Peter) as well as using their stage persona names (Starchild, the Demon, Spaceman and Catman, respectively). And it's a good thing that they use their stage persona names, because, it turns out, those are also their superhero names - that's right! KISS are the superheroes of the rock band scene, using their powers only for good!
Lord on high, I can't do anything but laugh and I'm not even watching it anymore.
Stanley might beat the lovebirds for the Worst Acting Ever Perpetrated prize in this film, so hilarious and epically bored is his deadpan delivery of all his lines. Even when he's making declarations or reassuring the hapless damsel, I don't believe he means anything he's saying. I believe that he wants everyone to go away and leave him alone.
At any rate, KISS, using their SUPER MIND POWAHS, confirm that Sam is still in the park somewhere, so Melissa hides in the place until it closes so she can wander around looking for him alone in the dark. Nothing could go wrong with this plan, especially since it's totally impossible that Sam might have left the park AFTER KISS told her that he was there since they were giving her, you know, real-time information. Somehow, she doesn't get caught and once again ends up at Devereaux's lab, where he kindly gives her a security pass so they won't kick her out if they find her. Why he is giving her a pass I have no idea, since he apparently couldn't care less about her, nor do I know why he thinks she won't just get that confiscated immediately. Maybe it says "SECURITY: PLEASE REMOVE THIS WOMAN" on the opposite side and she just hasn't yet he's trying to get rid of her.
There follows a hilariously weird interlude in which Melissa wanders sadly around the park, sitting on various centrally-located pieces of decoration and sighing deeply. KISS sits around behind her singing "Beth", apparently like some kind of bizarre Greek chorus watching the scene. It's somewhat description-defying.
In the meantime, Sam, on Devereaux's orders, breaks into KISS's delightfully bizarre quarters and attempts to steal a lockbox out of a display case, all while Devereaux hisses, "Find the talismans!" in a menacing fashion from his space console. And what is IN the lockbox? (And you know we'll find out, because for some reason Sam doesn't just take it and run.) Why, a lot of dry ice and four Superhero symbols that zap Sam for his nogoodnik behavior so that he can't steal them! Across the park, still stalking Melissa, KISS SUDDENLY KNOWS. SOMETHING IS AMISS. THERE IS A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE. But then it stops so they shrug and go back to "Beth".
You may wonder what the hell that was about. It would be understandable. All will be explained in due time, but not until Melissa has some more time to wander around, now singing "Beth" herself and generally asking for trouble. Entertainingly, some recycled footage from three minutes ago was thrown in, in order to, I guess, make sure this scene didn't somehow end up being too short, because god forbid, man. At any rate, Melissa finally locates Sam as he leaves from his aborted theft attempt, and when she registers that he's apparently a mindless zombie, she starts screaming uncontrollably, as any smart lady would do in this situation.
Like the worst nightmares of every clown-frightened child, KISS, who are still lurking about in the night thinking morose thoughts about Beth, stalk their menacingly platformed way over to her in a hilariously Abbey Road-esque line so she can start clutching their hands and sobbing on them. Because they're superheroes, you see, they are here to help her! With some exposition, back at their place!
The first thing that happens is that Melissa exclaims, "Unreal! I've heard about your talismans, but I didn't think they really existed!" So... wait. So this is a universe in which everyone already knows that the boys of KISS are supernatural? Even better, when she asks what that vague humming noise is, they explain that it's a "cosmic forcefield" that protects the talismans! Yes! COSMIC! She responds, "Pretty mystical"; indeed, my good lady. Indeed. It turns out, of course, that the talismans (shaped like their iconic makeup) are the sources of all their powers, and, like the weirdest Green Lanterns you have ever heard of, they will be powerless if they lose them.
AND THEN, in the BEST MOMENT OF THE FILM, Melissa sighs over how awesome that is and asks, "Gee, why doesn't everybody have a talisman?" To which KISS replies totally straight-facedly, "They do. They just haven't realized it yet."
Fuck this reviewing shit, where the hell is my magic power-granting cosmic space talisman? Where do I sign up for that? Goddammit, is this going to require face paint?
Stanley, Criss, and Frehley are also medaling in the Worst Acting Olympics that Reynolds and Lester are doing so well in, but Simmons transcends them all and achieves a plateau of amazement whereupon he is now so doggedly committed to being bizarre that you can't call him bad anymore. There's a kind of campy wonderfulness to his scenery-chewing, nostril-flaring, breath-huffing, eyeball-rolling school of menacing acting that is impossible to ignore. It's as if someone found a living Chinese New Year parade dragon and asked it to act in a movie. It is wondrous.
Meanwhile, Devereaux is ranting about this weird agenda he has that involves "perfecting" everyone, the way he did with the street toughs, through the power of android remodeling. He sounds like a deranged Norman Rockwell in this scene, and the idea will never come up again when he's later churning out monsters instead of perfect people, so it's all very confusing.
Of course, we haven't spent enough time thoroughly ruining the security force in this movie yet, so we're off to spend some time with them. Why, yes, Security Guard A - it is "weird" when rides randomly start up in the middle of the night when you walk past them and then just as mysteriously stop again! No, no, you're right, we should probably ignore that and go get coffee. It's not like you're destined for disaster or anything.
And what form will that disaster take? Why, the form of an android copy of Gene Simmons, of course, complete with the ability to breathe flame (this is not something added to the android. It is the Demon's superhero power, yo). He crashes through a wall and proceeds to wreck a bunch of security guards, though why is a mystery for the ages since he apparently goes back to Devereaux as soon as he's done (maybe it was a test run?). The most amazing part of the scene is the bizarrely atmospheric-yet-seriously-trying-to-be-a-horror-score music going on in the background, all wailing female voices in lullaby over a funky-ass beat. It sounds a little bit like 1970's Björk, and I was glad when the backup arrived and "Radioactive" took over as badass fight music so I could stop guffawing and start trying to breathe again.
The badness is thorough. The special effects are lamentable; the guards are hilariously inept; the fight choreography is of a belief-defying terribleness that can only be experienced directly. For an extra shot of hilarity, once robot-Gene is done defeating all the security the park has to offer (which is a lot of guys for the graveyard shift, by the way), he roars like a lion again and then thoroughly destroys a concession stand for no apparent reason before striding through its rubble instead of just walking around it.
The next day, KISS is sitting around the pool... in highchairs... while wearing sparkly gray, flowing monks' habits. I'm serious. I could not lie this creatively. Security comes to confront them about last night's doppelganger rampage, which has the deeply unfortunate side effect of making us listen to Stanley and Frehly desperately trying to act some more (Criss is less bad, which, it turns out, is because he was dubbed by a professional voice actor). I want to love them in the same way I love Simmons' over-the-top nuttiness, but I can't. They're just bad. Holy shit, they're bad. I've seen better delivery from actual robots.
At any rate, KISS denies the accusation amidst a rain of painful jokery that needed to be handled by people with some kind of acting talent in order to actually be funny, and Richards doesn't believe them but lets it slide since they bring so much money in and he doesn't want them to pull out of their remaining shows. And speaking of remaining shows, I hope you're ready for another one: here they come, with "I Stole Your Love", which goes on for what feels like eternity while I contemplate the cutouts in the sides of Simmons' pants and consider that contemporary female artists aren't that daring about showing some thigh. Again, the concert, complete with many shots of adoring fans, will go on for a long time, but, then again, this movie probably isn't being purchased by people who don't want to see KISS in concert.
Undaunted, Devereaux has been busy inventing a spiral space laser gun. I'm serious, again. He gives it to Sam with instructions not to fail this time, and since KISS has thoughtfully left the SOURCE OF ALL THEIR POWERS in EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE it was the last time he tried to steal them, he is able to go all laser on the box and steal it while the "cosmic forcefield" and the "super laser ray" duke it out.
Then the Redcoats roll in and suddenly it's all 1776 up in here. Poor security guards! They're no match for robotic British determination! Devereaux rotates in his space console and laughs and laughs.
Upon realizing that something is amiss since all the security guards are gone and their swingin' pad has been broken into, KISS starts wandering the park in the darkness, because hey, that worked for Melissa, right? They, too, find it odd that rides randomly turn on without provocation, but apparently don't care enough to muster an apathetic, "Meh."
Why, oh why, Hessler, would KISS randomly get onto the shut-down carousel? And then, when Devereaux starts funking with them by turning it on and sending them on a ride, would they not just JUMP OFF OF IT? It's still going at a normal carousel rate! They're SUPERHEROES FROM SPACE. Yet they are just sitting on it, looking seriously miffed by the entire situation. Like, for real. They are very upset by these shenanigans.
I love that they start playing "Man of a Thousand Faces" here, which Simmons himself has said was inspired by the film of the same name about the life of Lon Chaney. It's a nice little call out to the source material (I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this movie was probably based on the previous film versions and not the French novel - a shocking assumption, I know). It's an appropriate song for both Devereaux as the Phantom and for KISS themselves, with their exaggerated makeup and larger-than-life personas.
John peered over my shoulder at one point and said, "Hey, Devereaux at his space console is totally Erik at his organ!" Which is basically true. His space organ.
Once Devereaux thoughtfully lets the apparently-helpless KISS off of the carousel, the Redcoats and various other automatons finally make it in for the ultimate showdown, which is going to last kind of forever. Hilariously, they look much less weird than the guys from KISS do. The slowest-motion fight choreography ever created ensues, at the end of which KISS wins through clever use of acrobatic stuntmen and fire. "New York Groove" plays in the background, which is somewhat confusing considering that the film is set in California.
There are a few moments, usually in between all the flailing and terrifyingly bad special effects, when the combined atmosphere of the empty park and the mindless automaton army are actually pretty creepy, but then... then, the samurai automaton have pulled out LIGHTSABERS, Y'ALL, and Ace is TELEPORTING KISS EN MASSE around the park, and NO! THE PORTCULLIS!
And now they're trapped in the same haunted house where the street toughs met their dooms, and Devereaux is hissing menacing things like, "Soon, KISS, you will meet your end!" and I'm losing my ability to function as a human being. I have become one with the movie.
Someone asked me the other day why I never do podcast or video reviews, and the answer is this movie. A live review of this movie would just be my helpless gales of laughter and gasps for breath, with occasional interjections like "Oh, god" or "Please send help".
In amongst the terrible sound editing that causes effects to occur almost a full second late in some places, the boys of KISS wander around trying to look unconcerned by all the horror trappings around them. I'd agree that it's hard to look properly afraid, since the automatons themselves look pretty ridiculous when they come to life, and of course KISS themselves look the most ridiculous of all.
And what can mere puppets and robots do against such superhuman foes as KISS? Apparently plenty, since Devereaux shooting the talismans with the laser gun seems to temporarily prevent their owners from using any powers. Yes. He is shooting little symbols inside a box with a laser. Don't try to understand it. It's science.
While "Love in Chains" wails away, the band find themselves unable to teleport effectively to escape, and Simmons' fire-breath and Stanley's laser beams are neutered (one assumes Criss' "superhuman leaping powers" area also out of commission, although how you'd ever be able to tell escapes me). They are understandably full of consternation and having trouble beating off the onslaught of automaton drones. We're supposed to feel bad for them, but honestly, I'm right there alongside Devereaux, who's now giggling unashamedly. You can't help it! He's like a kid given a hilarious toy, and his joy is infectious! We want him to triumph over the bumbling ridiculousness that is KISS!
Which he does, through the use of TRACTOR BEAM TUBES IN THE CEILING! YES!
Now that Devereaux has successfully captured KISS (and is keeping them in a LASER CAGE hee hee hee oh god), they can do nothing but watch helplessly as he sends his KISSmatrons off to perform in their place. The tragedy is palpable. What if the androids suck?!
Oh, oops. Apparently they're totally indistinguishable from the real thing, as evidenced by crowd reaction to a rousing rendition of "Hooked on Rock and Roll". That's got to be a bitter pill to swallow, guys. It's bitter for the audience, too, since it is rife with recycled footage from earlier in the movie.
Devereaux's master plan is revealed when the KISSmatrons start singing "Hotter than Hell" but change the words to "Rip and Destroy", making it a song exhorting the crowd to riot. Devereaux plans to whip the crowd into such a frenzy that they tear the park apart, thus gaining both his revenge and the poetic justice of having KISS, representatives of crass modernism that they are, be the force behind it. It is very difficult to be worried about this danger since the lyrics are no more suggestive than some of KISS' normal songs and the shots of the "rioting" crowd are obviously just shots of people enjoying the concert with "Let's riot!" and "Yeah, rip and destroy!" dubbed clumsily over them, but the band is, nevertheless, deeply concerned. Shots of the audience "turning ugly" mostly just look like inept attempts at crowd-surfing.
I realize that Star Wars had just come out when they were making this movie and was no doubt insanely popular, but the cribbing is so blatant that I really have to give Hessler credit for big brass balls, if nothing else. Not only did we have the lightsaber battle earlier, but now, after Devereaux retires to his space console to watch the show and leaves KISS time to plan their daring escape, we have Force manipulation; upon realizing that they have to stop this nefarious plot, the boys all start staring and pointing at the lockbox with their talismans (conveniently left IN THE SAME ROOM WITH THEM) and, WITH THE POWER OF THEIR MINDS, get it to fly across the room (with bonus wiggling from wires) to them so they can regain their powers (apparently the power of their minds is exempt from the normal lost-if-talisman-is-lost restriction).
And then, my friends, KISS FLIES IN FROM SPACE - AGAIN - TO LAND ONSTAGE AND SAVE THE DAY IN AN EPIC BATTLE AGAINST THEIR OWN DOPPELGANGERS! The crowd looks... well, kind of confused and tired, which is understandable. The fight continues until, after wacky vaporizations of all the doppelgangers, KISS turns around and starts giving an encore of "Rock and Roll All Night"... because, dude, they have a show right now, okay? They don't have time to worry about what else Devereaux might be up to! For bonus points, Frehley turns into a black stuntman halfway through this scene, which is somewhat jarring for the unprepared viewer.
After the concert, everybody turns up in Devereaux's lair, where Melissa is wailing at him about turning Sam back to normal and even a lungfish could figure out that something's wrong with him since everyone is talking at him but he isn't answering and they won't show his face. We can fill in the gaps, I guess, by assuming that KISS outed his secret misbehavior to Richards, who then ran down there with security (perhaps suddenly realizing that the guy he FIRED has been here ALL WEEK in the SECRET LAB HE PAYS FOR). Devereaux does not restore Sam to sense, but luckily Frehley can just laser that pesky little silver chip off, so he turns out to be fine in the end. Most painless Christine/Raoul reunion ever... through the power of KISS.
So what happened to Devereaux? Are you ready for the final mindfuck? Richards, shaking his head, says the immortally poetic line, "He created KISS to defeat KISS... and lost," before spinning the space console around to reveal that Devereaux is now an old man with long white hair and closed eyes who isn't moving.
That's right: KISS defeated him SO HARD that he AGED TWENTY YEARS AND THEN DIED. TAKE THAT!
We end with recycled footage of the earlier scene with Devereaux walking away in the park to the strains of "Mr. Make Believe", and then the credits roll and, I imagine, most people on them cry a little more inside every time their names come up.
That just happened, folks. THAT JUST HAPPENED. Your lives have been changed forever.