KISS revisits 'Phantom of the Park,' 40 years later — 'Wow, that was weird'

My hats off to Yahoo! (which normally publish left-wing junk) for a great piece on the 40th anniversary of "Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park":

Forty Halloweens ago, members of the KISS Army across the nation gathered around their rabbit-eared TV sets for what was supposed to be the television event of the year. It was Hanna-Barbera’s KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, starring everyone’s favorite rock ’n’ roll ’70s superheroes — the Starchild, the Demon, the Space Ace, and the Catman — at the absolute height of their fame. But while the $3 million NBC production, lensed by Hitchcock protégé Gordon Hessler, was the second-biggest TV movie of the year (behind Shogun), it was initially despised by critics, fans, and even the band members themselves. And it nearly derailed KISS’s career.

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The utterly bizarre fantasy caper depicted the members of KISS miming to prerecorded hits at a Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park concert; kung fu fighting with evil animatronic look-alikes, various robotic furries, and a mad scientist; and displaying such comic-book superpowers as teleportation, mind control, and shooting laser beams from their eyes. So of course it has now reached cult-classic status, just like another how-did-this-get-made holiday phenomenon released that year, The Star Wars Holiday Special. And while KISS reportedly refused to even discuss Phantom for years, the band members — especially the original Spaceman himself, Ace Frehley — now seem to have no problem talking about the infamous flick.

“If you talk to Paul [Stanley] and Gene [Simmons] about the movie, they both hate it. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s campy, funny — and if you’re a KISS fan, you’re going to enjoy the film,” Frehley chuckles. “I never really had any negative feelings about the film. I thought it was funny. I laughed at some of the scenes, I cringed at some of the scenes, but I was intelligent and smart enough to realize that it was what it was. It was just a silly rock ’n’ roll movie that was designed for KISS fans. I mean, it wasn’t Love Story!”

“I have very mixed memories about it, because we were kind of talked into doing a film that we were told [by KISS’s manager at the time, Bill Aucoin] was going to be a cross between A Hard Day’s Night and Star Wars, and wound up being neither,” says Stanley. “The best thing I can say about that film is that people think we were kidding, and that it was campy. But we were serious! It just goes to show you when somebody is in the room with you saying, ‘Don’t worry, it’s gonna be great,’ and your heart is telling you there’s something not great, that you should listen to it.”

Frehley admits that maybe the more clearheaded Stanley and Simmons were more critical of Phantom “because they weren’t loaded. Neither of those guys drank or did drugs.” The same could not be said for Frehley or KISS’s equally hard-partying drummer and original Catman, Peter Criss.

“I was loaded through half of the movie, so I didn’t even know what was going on half the time, but luckily I had cue cards and yeah, I was pretty good at hiding it,” Frehley recalls. “I didn’t drink too much when I knew I had an important scene. One of the guys on the set was a cocaine dealer. I’m not going to mention any names, but he used to keep cocaine in his hat and come to my trailer. So if I had drank too much, back in those days, I’d do a little cocaine. I’m not going to lie, because I’ve been sober 12 years; we’re only as sick as our secrets. So back in those days, yeah, I’d do a little coke if I drank too much, which would give me a little pick-me-up, and then I’d be ready for the scene.”

Frehley add that Criss was so inebriated at the time, Criss may not have even realized that his voice was retroactively dubbed in every scene with the voice of actor Michael Bell (known for playing Handy Smurf and Lazy Smurf on The Smurfs). “I gotta be honest with you: Peter at the time was as loaded as me, if not more, and he may not even have known for a while. But I mean, the guy that they got to dub his voice was pretty good.”

Frehley further explains how Criss struggled with his lines on set: “Peter was having a big problem saying the word ‘talisman.’ … and it got to the point where he couldn’t say it, and I would crack up. We did 25 takes. So finally, the producer said, ‘Ace, you take the line.’ … What happened was after the postproduction on that film, they realized that the problem he had with that one line, there was more imperfections. And it was a production call; we had nothing to do with it. But they actually replaced Peter’s voice in the whole film! I would have been really pissed off if it was me, but I know how to speak, luckily, even though I’m from the Bronx. But you can tell that from my accent.”