It was Oct. 1978, I was 11 years old, and I was as giddy as a school girl. I was mere moments away from viewing KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.
Having been into KISS since I was 5, I was already a veteran fan when the film came out. Released on the heels of the Love Gun album, the movie was a marketing ploy to build on the group’s enormous fortune. Cast as interstellar superheroes similar to those they played in an earlier comic book (made with each member’s blood mixed into the ink), the band — Paul Stanley (Star Child), Gene Simmons (The Dragon Demon), Ace Frehley (Spaceman) and Peter Criss (The Cat) — battle mechanical clones of themselves in California’s Magic Mountain theme park.
For a child and a fan of the band, it was a total win-win. Amusement rides, diabolical villains and costumed superheroes, and a freaking KISS concert all rolled into one.
Anyone who has seen the film knows what a miserable failure it was as a legitimate sci-fi flick. But anyone who saw it as a child has to remember how over-the-top cool it was on that October night. From the opening credits, I was in heaven. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, the film was destined to be campy, but what did we know from camp? This was KISS, the Hottest Band in the Land, the group my friends and I air guitared and drummed to for hours on end, the band that was largely responsible for me pursing a career in music, the marketing juggernaut on which my parents spent a pretty penny for all manner of albums, posters, books and toys.
What we, as kids and fans, didn’t know is that the band hated the movie. Released in America as KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, elsewhere around the world it was called either KISS: Attack of the Phantoms or simply KISS: Phantoms. Also shielded from our young eyes was the slow deterioration of the band. The drug and alcohol abuse, the infighting, the coming of disco single I Was Made for Loving You. It was all pointing in the direction of … down.
But had we known, we wouldn’t have cared.
Watching the film now, I see how bad it really was. The overdubbed dialog to make up for Peter Criss’ absence, the cheesy scenarios, the horrible fight scenes. But there is something magnificently cultish about it, too. Viewing it with my child, a precocious 6-year-old who knows exactly who Ace Frehley is, was a delight for me. She was unaware, just like I was, of the low production value and the band’s grade-school acting chops. She was caught up in the spectacle, and that brought back a rush of memories for me.
And that’s the best part of nostalgia, really — our shared ability to ignore how absolutely ridiculous we were and simply steep ourselves in the sheer joy of being young and happy. This is what I hope to share with my child, even if Gene Simmons, in real life, is a total asshole.