Sunday, 17 July 2011

Short Reviews # 2: Sci-Fi

(Danny Boyle, 2007)

Well I’m only, what, four years late finding time to watching this one? Relatively quick off the mark by the standards of this blog, even if its director has subsequently managed to win all the Oscars with some multi-cultural musical and make a movie about a guy who cuts his own arm off or something. Who knows, maybe I’ll get ‘round to watching those one day, although to be honest the idea of a good old no-nonsense science fiction movie appeals to me a lot more. I’ll admit I’ve got a bit of a soft-spot for the kind of earnest SF blockbusters that I used to dutifully troop off to watch as a kid, in the days before irony and ‘crossover appeal’ and CGI and Will Smith and ham-fisted ruinations of Phil Dick stories conspired to piss on my multiplex chips. And I’m happy to report that, on that level at least, I thought ‘Sunshine’ was pretty damn impressive.

Like most sci fi that sets out to be taken seriously, there were a few chasms of disbelief to be overcome from the outset. (Ok, deep breath: why would the sun suddenly be ‘dying’ as early as 2053? And if it were doing so quickly enough to jeopardise life on earth by that point, wouldn’t we have, like, started to notice that back in the 20th C.? Furthermore, assuming a +50 years evolution of our current technology that incorporates comfortable interplanetary space-flight, would we *really* need to equip a space-ship with a gigantic HAL 9000-esque computer mainframe that needs to be stored in a sub-zero cooling tank? Why would this minimally crewed mission, which doesn’t even include a medical doctor as far as we can tell, be assigned an additional ‘psyche officer’? And so on…) Once we accept though that Boyle and Alex Garland aren’t so much interested in trying to create a feasible future scenario here as they are in paying tribute to the older SF movies that inspired them, we can hopefully put such concerns aside and just enjoy the direct and indirect references to ‘2001’, ‘Dark Star’ and ‘Alien’ that litter just about every scene.

Although it’s far from perfect (some attempts at cosmic profundity fall laughably flat, and the final act’s shift into a kind of ‘space-slasher’ storyline seems clumsy and unnecessary – more or less the same faults that I recall sunk ‘90s Boyle/Garland joint ‘The Beach’, oddly enough), I found ‘Sunshine’ extremely enjoyable. Modern audiences may have baulked at the idea of a hundred minute movie without a single moment of levity, but I found the film’s straight-faced earnestness strangely comforting – there’s a rare sense of naivety in the Howard Hawks/John Carpenter solidity of the whole affair that helped draw me into the drama, helped me gasp in polite awe at the effects shots, just as much as I would have done as a ten year old. Shame that this one got a bit overlooked on release because, even allowing for its faults, I think it’s probably the noblest bit of popcorn-fodder I’ve seen in a long while.

(Ken Hughes, 1955)

Offering further dispiriting proof that the majority of lost ‘50s-‘60s British b-movies were probably lost for good reason, this borderline SF caper – released in the states as ‘The Atomic Man’ - concerns a nuclear scientist whose body has been exposed to so much radiation that when his heart stops for seven seconds on the operating table after some crooks attempt to murder him, his consciousness ‘slips’ seven seconds into the future, meaning that after he’s revived he finds himself answering questions before they’re asked, saying hello to people who haven’t entered the room yet and so on, thus confusing the hell out of everyone, audience included.

Have pity for the poor actor playing another scientist who has to deliver a straight to camera monologue attempting to explain the ‘scientific rationale’ behind thus unlikely occurrence.

But actually, even if you find this peculiar notion absolutely fascinating, its wider implications are barely touched upon by the film’s script. Instead most of the running time is devoted to the unravelling of a Scooby Doo-level mystery concerning a criminal conspiracy presided over by a stereotypically greasy and rotund South American mining kingpin seeking to maintain his dominance over the international zinc trade. Yes, you heard: he wants to stifle scientific progress in order to artificially inflate the price of zinc, the dirty foreign fiend!

Swiftly heading downhill from a promisingly moody opening, ‘Timeslip’ is one of those chintzy faux-thrillers where the cast all seem to be playing dress-up, pretending they’re in some hard-boiled American movie, with a screenplay full of cheesy pronouncements and third rate zingers to match. I’m sure there are still plenty of minor masterpieces to be found lurking in the waters of low budget British cinema from this period, but ‘Timeslip’ certainly isn’t one of them. Thoroughly tedious business all round really – an archetypal ‘quota quickie’ with little to recommend it beyond some nice nocturnal London location shots in the opening sequence. Nonetheless, director Ken Hughes certainly went on enjoy a rich and varied career, taking in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, segments of ‘Casino Royale’, ‘Cromwell’ and the much maligned Mae West car crash ‘Sextette’.

The Terrornauts
(Montgomery Tully, 1967)

A far more enjoyable prospect, this modest Amicus programmer from b-movie warhorse Montgomery Tully is a partial rewrite of ‘This Island Earth’ on a Dr-Who-level special effects budget, introducing us to the plight of an intrepid astrophysicist whose funding for his search for extraterrestrial radio signals is under threat from stuffy superiors at a radio telescope facility. But the joke’s on them when our hero’s project accidentally attractss the attention of an alien spaceship, which proceeds to tractor-beam the control hut and its occupants (including Charles Hawtrey as a snooping accountant and Mrs. Jones the cockney tea lady), and whisks them off for an outer space adventure!

Not even remotely as salacious as the poster would tend to suggest, ‘Terrornauts’ is a delightfully cheery, old fashioned bit of interplanetary fun that could (and probably should) have been made ten years earlier, but executed with so much charm and visual invention that it’s difficult not to love it. A solid SF script from John Brunner (adapting Murray Leinster) ensures that the film never quite approaches ‘Fire Maidens from Outer Space’ level goofiness, but it’s still full of chuckles (intentional and otherwise), and also manages to tap into a rich vein of utter surrealism that’s only enhanced by the eye-watering faux-technicolor photography and spit n’ polish production design.

I really liked the stuff about how the heroic astrophysicist was inspired to take up his chosen profession by a vivid dream he had as a child, in which he saw a weird alien landscape with twin suns and standing stones. He has the creepy painting he did of this landscape framed on the wall of his lab, and stares at it questioningly in moments of doubt. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to call you at 1am with proof of my starry-eyed dream”, he declares when his grumpy superior demands results.

Too many other highlights to go through them all, but the segment in which the heroine accidentally stumbles onto a Star Trek style transporter pad and find herself transported to an alien world where she is chased and captured by green-skinned savages who want to sacrifice her to their gods is pretty classic. The hero jumps in after her, grabs a handy raygun, zaps the savages, rescues her and pops back home again with slightly tousled hair and a spear he nabbed from the savages. All this happens in about five minutes, and the other characters turn to them like; “what on earth happened to you, and where did you get that bloody thing?” – then they shrug it off and just get back on with pursuing the main plot without a word. Brilliant. Anyone with a passing interest in authentically weird British science fiction should find some time in their schedule for ‘The Terrornauts’, I feel.

Forbidden World
(Allan Holzman, 1982)

So apparently the story behind this one goes kinda like this: Roger Corman’s New World Pictures finished off their first Alien rip-off of 1981 (‘Galaxy of Terror’) ahead of schedule, and still had a couple of weeks booked on the sound stage where they’d built the sets. So Corman got Allan Holzman on the blower and said, hey buddy, how’d you fancy making your first movie – it’s gonna be another Alien rip-off, and it’s gonna have gore and naked chicks, and it’s gotta be done by the end of the month, whattaya reckon?

Holzman took the bait, and if ‘Forbidden World’ (I have no idea why it’s called ‘Forbidden World’) isn’t exactly a classic, there’s still no way I can imagine a film made under similarly compromised circumstances today being remotely as worthwhile. Sure, it’s cheap, stupid, derivative and sleazy (not to mention SHORT, just about scraping minimum feature length by way of obligatory recycled space battle and several ‘clips show’ montage bits). But it’s also fun, fast-moving, visually stylish and effortlessly watchable, aided by sharp direction, brilliantly resourceful production design and a cool Carpenter-esque synth score from Susan Justin.

You won’t *quite* be able to take it seriously once the hilariously gratuitous nudity kicks in (despite finding themselves in a grimly utilitarian interplanetary research lab crawling with malevolent genetic mutations, the movie’s female characters demonstrate a disdain for clothing that rivals a ‘70s Jess Franco cast), and a few prize “that’s the stupidest piece of movie character behaviour I’ve EVER SEEN” moments don’t help either, but, y’know… it’s getting there. I’ve certainly seen far thinner screenplays than this attached to productions that presumably had longer than, like, a day to get their shit together.

As mentioned in the ‘Sunshine’ review, I grew up watching a lot a cheap (and not so cheap) sci-fi, and am thus starting to recognise the weirdly comforting kick I inevitably get out of post-Alien, pre-Starship Troopers space adventures like this one. Even though ‘Forbidden World’ considerably predates the period in which I was heading down to the video shop for a night’s PG-rated entertainment, the film’s dark tone and mixture of action movie tropes with genetic mutation and gory body-horror actually makes it seem strangely ahead of its time – more aesthetically reminiscent of an early ‘90s straight to video sci-fi than an entry in the Star Wars/Alien rip-off sweepstakes, perhaps?

Anyway, watching it today, I can’t help but draw unfavourable comparison between contemporary low budget filmmaking, and the way things were done back when they knocked out ‘Forbidden World’. Anyone who has ever taken part in any creative endeavour will know that when you’re aiming for ‘good’ you’ll hopefully get ‘reasonable’, but if you’re aiming for ‘average’, you’ll inevitably get ‘shit’. Throughout his career, Corman tended to make sure his people were aiming for ‘good’, even on a stupid and sleazy movie like this one, with the end result that ‘Forbidden World’ is still worth the entry price thirty years later, whereas the majority of post-2000 straight-to-cable/DVD efforts are so painful they’re difficult to even sit through for free on the week of release.

So long as you don’t think about it too hard, ‘Forbidden World’ is a great bit of pulpy fun that stands as a testament to Corman’s unrivalled ability to get the best out of people on short notice with minimal resources. You’d tempted to say Holzman seemed a director worth keeping an eye on after this reasonably promising debut, but sadly his CV on IMDB begs to differ, comprising documentaries, TV work and something called ‘Grunt! The Wrestling Movie’. Oh well.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Short Reviews # 1: Horror

I’ve been watching a lot of films thus far this year, so I thought that for a bit of a change of pace from the full-length reviews, I’d do a few posts catching up on some of the more interesting flicks I’ve seen recently that I’ve lacked either the time or inclination to give the ‘full treatment’ to. Hope that’s ok with everybody…?

A Candle For The Devil
(Eugenio Martin, 1973)

No candles and no devil to be seen in this rather grim Spanish horror, which essentially plays out as a variation on the ol’ ‘Beast in the Cellar’ / stuck-up murderous spinsters yarn.

Exemplifying that peculiarly wonderful ‘rusty’ look that Spanish horror movies specialised in through the ‘70s, ‘Candle..’ is also perhaps the most direct of the various genre movies that saw fit to comment on the explosion of tourist trade in Spain and the negative effect it had on the local culture during that decade, via the sordid tale of a pair of hysterically repressed guesthouse proprietors so appalled by the loose morals of the foreign hussies flooding their establishment that they’re forced to take divine justice into their own hands.

There are some extremely visceral and uncomfortable moments to enjoy(?) here, and a cool (unintentionally?) ambiguous ending, but whilst ‘Candle..’ may be a god-send for anyone planning a thesis on the underlying themes of Spanish horror, that sadly doesn’t save it from also being a profoundly unenjoyable experience for the casual viewer, thanks to its excruciatingly drawn out plotting, inconsistent tone, grimy locations, underlying misogyny and sub-H.G. Lewis characterisation. (I particularly liked the ‘slut’ character, who seems to dedicate her every waking moment to furthering the pursuit of sluttishness, at the expense of all other personality traits.)

Like a number of Jess Franco films from the same period, director Martin (who also helmed the fantastic ‘Horror Express’) seems to have a bee in his bonnet about religious hypocrisy, specifically in regard to Franco-era Spain (uh, the OTHER Franco I mean, obviously). But, lacking the intellect or subtlety of a Bunuel or Pasolini, it all emerges here as fairly tiresome stuff. Yes, religious people can be evil and abusive and fucked up behind closed doors – WE GET IT, let’s move on now. Word to the filmmakers for at least trying to do something a bit different and tie their on-screen nasties up with real world issues, but basically one to file under NO FUN.

Le Orme / Footprints
(Luigi Bazzoni, 1975)

Making its home video debut last year courtesy of the Shameless label, Luigi Bazzoni’s ‘Le Orme’ is a deeply obscure Italian oddity, notable for adopting an an aesthetic so nebulous that, despite nominally existing as a genre film, it effectively defies categorisation simply through being too uneventful to really commit to any of the available options. Is it horror? Giallo? Sci-fi? Arthouse? Well… none of the above really, despite hinting at all four from time to time.

Seemingly an attempt at a kind of vague psychological thriller dealing with the ambiguity of unreliable memory, ‘Footprints’ follows a woman (Florinda Bolkan from ‘Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’) whose attempt to account for several days of total memory loss leads her to an entropic island resort, where residents seem to know her by a different name and recall her getting up to kinds of inexplicable behaviour that seems to be pointing toward some unguessable secret life. Probably the strangest aspect of the film is the inclusion of a series of eerie, slow-motion dream sequences portraying an astronaut dying of asphyxiation on the lunar surface, whilst a uniformed Klaus Kinski sits in a cramped looking mission control, yelling inexplicable commands into a microphone.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately though, the reality of the film is for the most part a tedious exercise in second-hand style and deliberate mystification that literally goes nowhere. There are a few nice shots and creepy moments, and the washed out ‘stored-in-the-attic-for-30-years’ look of Shameless’s print actually meshes very well with the hazy cinematography of Vittorio Storaro to create a real dreamy, nostalgic feel, but sadly none of it really amounts to much, as proceedings drag on interminably, any sense of momentum or purpose long since departed.

Viewers patiently waiting for some connection to be revealed between the memory loss plotline and the outer-space footage will be sorely disappointed as the film veers more toward a predictable exercise in pop-psychological borderline-giallo hoo-hah in the second half, failing to really expand on any of its stylistic eccentricities or suggestions of hidden depth. I’m unfamiliar with the ‘La Orme’s production circumstances, but basically I wouldn’t be surprised if Bazzoni simply took some footage from an aborted sci-fi movie and used it to liven up the rather boring psychological mystery flick he was working on.

I guess Euro-cult completists might get a kick out of this one out simply for its obscurity, general strangeness and applaudable disregard for genre convention, but the public at large would be well-advised to keep their distance.

Satan’s Baby Doll (Mario Bianchi, 1982)

Supposedly telling the tale of an innocent girl transformed into a murderous seductress by Satanic powers, the makers of this barrel-scraping Euro-sleaze item actually seem rather more concerned with following the story of some shlubby guy with a moustache as he wonders around his castle giving everybody a hard time. Sleazy without being fun, inept without being charming, incoherent without being weird, gross without being shocking, this kind of gothic softcore romp must have seemed impossibly hackneyed by the time it limped onto the market in ’82, and making it through the full 74 minutes proved a pretty thankless task, I’m sorry to say.

In a world where so many potentially gifted directors have trouble getting their projects off the ground, it’s always dispiriting to see a commercially backed picture helmed by a guy whose vision seems to extend to filming just about enough footage of sweaty faces, boobs and people standing still to scrape minimum feature length in the editing room, and some of the sheer laziness on display here is shocking, even by euro-trash standards.

Casting around for positive things to say, they did at least pick a really nifty castle to shoot in – even though I’m not sure the interiors match the exterior shots, I’m sure I’ve seen both before in other Italian horror flicks that I can’t quite place. By far the best thing about ‘Satan’s Baby Doll’ though is an absolutely kick-ass soundtrack by one Nico Catanese - 64 slices of Italian cheese in the noble tradition, reminding us of all the cool stuff in the country’s b-cinema legacy that the film itself so sadly fails to live up to.

Watching it sober was definitely a mistake I think. Under the right circumstances – chemically altered ones preferably - I can maybe see this flick taking on its own kind of lurid, hypnotic grandeur… but I wouldn’t count on it. A pretty rum do all round really – I’d be tempted to say ‘this really is the pits’, but one of the questionable joys of watching weird horror movies is that there are *always* further depths to be plumbed. (Deep sigh.) Bring ‘em on!

(Richard Wenk, 1986)

Well I don’t want this to be an ENTIRELY negative post, so having given a few of Shameless’s budget titles a kicking above [solely on the basis of the films themselves I hasten to add, I’ve got no problem with their presentation or general objectives], I thought I’d at least weigh in with some positive words for their sister label Arrow’s recent horror releases, beginning with this delightful neon timebomb from little-known writer/director Richard Wenk.

My first impression of ‘Vamp’ – with it’s tale of two wise-cracking college oddballs getting mixed up in supernatural carnage as a result of a fraternity initiation dare – was that it seems remarkably similar to Fred Dekker’s superb ‘Night of the Creeps’, released the same year. But frankly I could watch movies about wise-cracking college oddballs getting mixed up in supernatural carnage all day when they’re this well executed, and if Wenk’s film perhaps isn’t *quite* up to the level of ‘..Creeps’, it’s still definitely in the same league as a perfect bit of imaginative horror-comedy entertainment.

If you know anything at all about this film, it’s probably that it’s the one in which Grace Jones plays a vampire stripper, and indeed her hyper-stylised, neon-enhanced dance routine is an I-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-seeing-this highlight - a Liquid Sky level testament to high 80s splendour. Subsequently, Jones’ role is the film is rather limited, portraying the ravenous, animalistic queen of a brood of strip club vampires, but needless to say, her physical presence and astonishing appearance makes her a truly threatening figure throughout.

That aside though, there’s no shortage of other stuff to enjoy in ‘Vamp’, from a sharp script full of genuine laughs to some great action scenes and plenty of endearing inter-character shenanigans and such. But what really sets it up for horror-fan immortality (aside from Grace) is the truly spectacular production design. Eschewing any hint of realism in it’s creation of a ‘gritty’ urban environment, the film instead opts for a feast of extreme, Bava-esque lighting effects, filling the screen with over-saturated red and green, mixing it all up with ample neon, dry ice etc for a unique neo-gothic comic book look that’s just to die for.

(Oh, and for those keeping track of such things, the benign influence of ‘Vamp’ on the plotline of Rodriquez and Tarantino’s ‘From Dusk Til Dawn’ a decade or so later should be self-evident.)

Writing these capsule reviews, it’s a challenge not to just end each positive one with a variation on a cheesy, IMDB-esque ‘GREAT MOVIE, THUMBS UP’, but, uh: great movie, thumbs up.

Monday, 4 July 2011

VHS Purgatory:
Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park
(Gordon Hessler, 1978)


£1, from that odd furniture/junk shop just up from Brockley station. Man, that shop is so weird… I can never tell who’s a member of staff and who’s just a weirdo looking around… everytime I go there, everything seems to be a completely different price… I don’t know if it’s a charity shop or just some strange, marginal business venture… it doesn’t seem to have a name… when I walked past the other day, their whole back room seemed to be filled with smashed up bits of wood… but, er, anyway…


“Mystery and mayhem with Kiss perofmring their greatest hits --- with spectacular visual effects!”


So long, ‘Slade in Flame’! Get behind thee, Aerosmith tour video I watched when I was twelve! Don’t even think about it, ‘Abba: The Movie’! The ultimate ‘70s corporate rock cash-in movie is here, and I will accept no substitutes.

Produced by those loveable goofs at Hanna Barbera on behalf of the Gene Simmons Evil Mega-Corporation (or whatever), I expected ‘Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park’ to provide a few chuckles and a lot of comforting boredom, and so was ill-prepared for the veritable fungasm that awaited my tired eyes when I hit play on this humble tape.

(By sheer coincidence, I think this is actually a very appropriate post for the 4th of July, even though as a stinking foreigner I myself care little for such festivities.)

A crude opening montage sees the members of Kiss super-imposed on top of night-time fairground footage. Inexplicably, Peter Criss is seen miming the drums on a roulette wheel. Drink it in, Kiss Army recruits, as this is the last glimpse of your commanding officers you’ll be getting for quite a while. Director Gordon Hessler (whose horror credits include ‘Scream and Scream Again’ and ‘Cry of the Banshee’ for AIP, as well as taking over ‘The Oblong Box’ after the death of Michael Reeves), clearly has other things on his mind.

Like FUN, primarily. Beautiful, sun-dappled, 1978 suburban American amusement park fun, to be precise. Thankfully I’m a bit too young and located on the wrong side of the world to be fully smitten by this full-scale nostalgia landslide, but anyone currently in about the 35-45 age bracket and raised somewhere in the Southern half of the USA should probably prepare themselves for paralysing wistfulness and bouts of uncontrollable sobbing, as gentle, smiling ‘Dazed & Confused’ teens fade in and out of focus, enjoying a summer’s day out in their local parentally-approved leisure complex. Costumed mascots caper and light aircraft spell out messages in the sky as bell-bottomed girls giggle over cans of soda. “Don’t forget to be here at 7pm for the first night of the KISS CONCERT”, declares the blaring public address system. Truly, it is paradise.

Not everyone is happy though, and in particular a rift seems to be developing between the park’s manager (a simple, business-minded fellow who wants to give the kids what they want, like rollercoasters and Kiss concerts) and the ‘creator’ (a brooding weirdo who lives in a hi-tech underground research complex and is primarily concerned with making crappy animatronic waxworks depicting macabre historical scenes). You can probably see where this is going.

Also seemingly less than satisfied with the status-quo is a small faction of scruffy, biker-esque miscreants with names like ‘Chopper’ and ‘Slime’ , who seem intent on polluting the wholesome atmosphere of the park with assorted examples of cruel, low-key thuggery.

Now before we proceed, I should state that I’ve never really felt comfortable with Kiss. Sure, a few of their records are cool, and their whole costumed character shtick is pretty amusing, but as a rock n’ roll group – even in the relatively debased mode of ‘70s arena rock – they have always struck me as a distinctly candy-ass proposition. I take the implicit ideology behind my rock n’ roll pretty seriously, and as such, the shallowness of the Kiss brand has always rung hollow as the cracked liberty bell for me, even as many of my grunge-era peers have sought to rehabilitate their cultural legacy.

This ideological disjuncture can immediately be seen in ‘Phantom of the Park’, via the portrayal of the aforementioned ‘delinquent’ characters as stupid and threatening figures. I mean, I ask you: what kind of self-respecting heavy rock band would seek to set themselves up in OPPOSITION to the plight of angry, disenfranchised loser kids? I’m afraid the only possible answer is: a really shitty heavy rock band. If by some quirk of fate you happen to be a grumpy older brother or sister reading this in the mid 1970s, then please, do the decent thing and provide your younger siblings with a Black Sabbath record, that they may see the path before them more clearly lit.

But anyway. As you might expect, this ‘gang’ (they dress like bikers, talk like sit-com beatniks and behave like prototype pseudo-punks) swiftly come into conflict with the eccentric park creator, during a highly amusing scene in which they flagrantly mock one of his dioramas, depicting a chained ape. (“Perfection? C’mon man, you call some baboon doin’ the herky-jerky perfection?” says Chopper). As punishment for their lack of respect, the ne’erdowells are lured into the park’s Chamber of Horrors, where they find themselves gassed or concussed by a series of cunning traps, their bodies deposited in the creator’s subterranean lair, where he has his wicked House-of-Wax style way with them. (Later we see him refashioning the female member of the gang as an automaton of a pioneer-era bride, exclaiming “I’ll make a real American of you yet” – the implied criticism of this transformation marking an odd deviation from this movie’s dominant anti-misfit/pro-conformity agenda.)

Mad though he may be, the park creator is nothing if not efficient, and by the time Kiss have concluded the first night of their residency at the park (we see them playing a forgettable number extolling the virtues of ‘partying’ and ‘turning it up loud’, presumably the opening cut from whichever album they were giving the big push to crica ‘78), he has already fashioned robot doppelgangers of the band to further his evil schemes!

Unfortunately though, the robot Gene Simmons goes haywire and is unleashed upon the world earlier than planned, as he (it?) breaks through a wall cartoon-style, duffs up some security guards and demolishes a lemonade stand! The stunned onlookers don’t know what’s going on. They thought Kiss were the good guys! It’s shocking!

Now, I was kind of assuming we’d be introduced to Kiss-as-characters here via, say, a backstage scene where they towel off and swap banter of the “boy, tough crowd in these theme-parks” variety. But no. Because GET THIS: Kiss in the movie are not merely costumed rock stars raking in the nation’s pocket money, they are bone fide supernatural beings – mystical cosmic warriors with the ability to read minds, fly, fire laser-beams from their eyes and partake in gravity-defying kung-fu battles. Throughout the film, band members are never referred to by their real names: they are 100% in-character as Space Ace, Star Child, Catman and The Demon.

As higher echelon Kiss Army members will no doubt be aware, Kiss’s powers derive from a set of four golden ‘talismans’, each taking the form of an elemental symbol reflecting the role of each Kiss member within the group. Kiss keep these talismans in a lead-lined suitcase, which is protected by a forcefield installed in their personal accommodation. As they explain at one point to the film’s lovelorn heroine, each of us has the power within us to ‘materialise’ our own talisman and take on our own superpowers, joining Kiss in the ranks of the Ubermensch. We just don’t, that’s all. Because we’re lame.

Perhaps due to its complete reversal of expectation, the scene that does eventually introduce us to Kiss is perhaps my favourite moment in ‘Phantom of the Park’, from a choice of many potential favourites. Following the faux-Demon’s polite rampage, a deputation from the park management seek out Kiss to demand an explanation. They find the band seated at the far end of a hotel swimming pool, chilling atop high, tennis umpire style chairs, silver towels draped over their heads, in silent communion with cosmic forces. Kiss speak to each other in a kind of character-specific private language, casually chatting over the heads of their visitors, as if they were corrupt feudal princes receiving a deputation of peasants. The poor shlubby security dudes, who were presumably expecting to merely lay down the law to a bunch of run-of-the-mill hell-raising rockers, get all hot and bothered and generally just don’t know what to make of it.

Now that our lofty heroes have been alerted to the threat facing them, much of the rest of the film is comprised of lengthy nocturnal fight scenes, in which Kiss meet the minions of the park-creator in deadly combat. First they head to the interior of the splendid wooden rollercoaster, to fight some kinda monkey-headed creatures in rubber suits. Next, they move on to an amphitheatre, and fight a series of robotic samurais and kung-fu bad-asses who emerge one by one from an elevator shaft.

I realise I’ve conveyed those notions to you in but two short sentences, but please, take some time to reflect on the fact that these sequences go on for a long time, and feature laser-beams, anti-gravity slo-mo flying kicks and short-circuiting robots, set to a relentless soundtrack of chicken-scratch heavy ‘fight scene funk’, all of which made served to make me very happy indeed as I began to drift into early morning unconsciousness.

Meanwhile of course, the Phantom has sent a mind-controlled dupe to steal Kiss’s talismans from their hotel suite, so by the time the band enter the Chamber of Horror and start mixing it up with the Frankensteins and mummies and so, their powers have deserted them and they soon find themselves captive in the Phantom’s liar! (He keeps them in a big iron cage conveniently overlooking his, uh, computer consoles and stuff, that they may watch him bring his schemes to fruition.)

Naturally the Phantom’s first order of business is to dispatch his evil duplicates to replace Kiss at the next evening’s Kiss Concert. His plan, you see, is to have his Kiss clones perform violent and provocative material which will rouse their audience to a nihilistic fervour which will see them riot, destroying the park and discrediting both band and management!

This is a canny plan on the Phantom’s part, because as everyone knows, Kiss audiences in the 1970s were apt to literally act out the lyrics of their idols’ songs, as soon as they heard them, with no consideration for the consequences of their actions. This is why the band had to be extremely careful about their lyrical content, sticking strictly to discourse on such nebulous concerns as ‘partying’ and ‘crazy nights’, even as their heavy metal peers were free to tackle more challenging subject matter, be it drinking the blood of slaughtered innocents, shagging mermaids, discovering the ruins of lost Lemuria or Livin’ in a Ram’s Head. Kiss must have felt frustrated, being unable to tap into such potent and topical imagery for their own music, but with great power comes great responsibility.

And so, let us shudder as Evil Kiss take the stage and launch into a malodorous ode specially designed to propel listeners into a mindless, destructive rage! I mean, can you imagine it? A popular rock band playing grinding, monotonous music that urges people to “rip and destroy” and “tear down the walls”? It simply doesn’t bear thinking about. And, as sturdy examples of wholesome American youth, the kids in the crowd instantly smell a rat and are having none of it. Yes, the Phantom’s mistake was to underestimate the purity and singlemindedness of the Kiss Army, who now boo the Evil Kiss, turning away from their negative sentiments and demanding the return of their true heroes.

The Phantom’s other mistake of course was to leave the Real Kiss in a big cage within easy telekinetic reach of their talismans, allowing them to quickly regain their powers. Flying to the concert auditorium upon beams of stardust, they proceed to righteously kick the crap out of their doppelgangers as the audience cheers them on, reclaiming their instruments from the fallen clones and triumphantly launching into….. the exact same song they played in the earlier concert sequence! So Party On, Turn It Up Loud (but not too loud), God Bless America, and if you feel at all disgruntled with the corporate wonderland you’ve been born into, well… better keep it to yourself buddy, or some jerky House-of-Wax guy will probably pick you out to be turned into a mindless robo-zombie. Either that or Kiss will just turn up and beat your ass. I think that was basically the message. Something like that anyway – I dunno, I forget easy.

I’m sorry for lapsing so hard into interminable plot summation in this over-long review, but really it seemed the only way to express the wonderful totality of ‘Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park’. I mean, I just don’t really have much to say about the cinematography, y’know. It was good. I could see the colours. Most of the time I could understand what was going on. Hey, how ‘bout a Pepsi?


One of the best things about ‘Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park’ is that most of the dialogue sounds as if it’s been post-synced by Hanna Barbera voice actors, adding immensely to the overall charm of the endeavour, and providing a wealth of highly quotable, oddly enunciated nonsense for us all to enjoy. The aforementioned baboon exchange was probably my favourite, but I liked these ones a lot too;

#1: Star Child voiceover over shot of the park manager looking uncomfortable:

“He’s sweating the possibility we might pull out… he’s just plain sweating”

#2: Lovelorn heroine in search of her captured boyfriend asks two moustachioed security guards about the whereabouts of the park creator guy’s lab:

GUARD # 1: Oh, that’s underground.

GUARD #2: Yeah… waaaay underground.

I could carry on all day really, but the realisation that it’s a summer’s day outside and I’m sitting here transcribing chunks of the script from ‘Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park’ leads me to do the decent thing and leave it at that.


The corporate ident for Hendring, the Putney based company who put out this tape, is by far the most elaborate and confusing I can remember seeing. Basically it’s a sorta self-contained short film that features POV shots of a black-gloved burglar breaking into a darkened living room. There are Oscar silhouettes and pages from scripts on a glass table and a big VCR with a flashing ‘play’ button. There are a lot of different shots of these various elements. Eventually, the Oscars fall off the table. It’s sorta hard to describe, but probably worth the entry price alone if you happen to see any tapes originating from this presumably quite marginal operation.

(PLEASE NOTE: screengrabs in the above post are not mine. I pulled ‘em off other people’s sites, primarily this one:

and this one:

Hope nobody minds.)