Remember how Hanna-Barbera made a live-action KISS made-for-TV movie in the '70s?

It was supposed to be 'A Hard Day's Night' meets 'Star Wars.' It wasn't.

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Image: The Everett Collection

The doorbell rings on Halloween night in 1978. Trick-or-treaters huddle on the porch. You open the door and find eyes staring through the plastic masks of Darth Vader and the Demon, Luke Skywalker and the Starchild. Mostly likely. Because there were no bigger pop culture phenomenons that year bigger than KISS and Star Wars. Well, maybe disco. Even KISS and Star Wars had disco songs, you know.

October 31 happened to fall on a Tuesday in '78, which meant the real holiday partying went down on Saturday night, October 28. You didn't have to leave the house — or get up from the couch — to celebrate the holiday. The TV lineup was a Halloween shindig in itself. And we're not just talking about Vincent Price sailing aboard The Love Boat in "Ship of Ghouls."

That evening NBC premiered KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, a live-action movie complete with roller coasters, cyborg werewolves, vampires and mad scientists. And the members of KISS, of course. If the goofy plot — which centered around an evil genius creating an army of android clones in an amusement park — felt like a cartoon, specifically an episode of Scooby-Doo, it was with good reason. Hanna-Barbera, the animation studio best known for The Flintstones and Yogi Bear, produced the flick.

Hanna-Barbera pitched the movie to the band as "A Hard Day's Night meets Star Wars." The end result was more like Ed Wood directing The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The band despised it. According to the 1997 book Kiss And Sell: The Making Of A Supergroup, members of the KISS camp were barred from even mentioning the movie in the presence of the band. Over the years, the KISS guys have softened their stance, thankfully, as the movie has grown in cult status. What other spectacle offers so much 1970s cheese, from platform shoes to kung-fu fighting. 

The Everett CollectionKISS on location at Six Flag Magic Mountain

The Phantom of the Park had some legitimate talent behind the camera. Director Gordon Hessler honed his chops as a Hitchcock underling, beginning his career in the shadowy suspense stories of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The German native also helmed two of the more memorable horror-themed television episodes of the 1970s, the sewer-dwelling Kolchak creature-feature "The Spanish Moss Murders" and Wonder Woman's "Gault's Brain," the one with the human brain and eyeballs floating in a vat.

The script was another matter. Not to mention the fact that Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were all novices when it came to acting. (They certainly improved, as Simmons played a perfectly slimy villain in the 1984 Tom Selleck movie Runaway.) When the screenwriters first met with the band to get a sense of their personalities, Frehley said next to nothing. Instead, he repeatedly blurted, "Ack!" 

Thus, the original script described Ace as the "Harpo Marx" of the band. Frehley bristled at his lesser, inarticulate role and a few more lines were thrown to his character. Nevertheless, he mostly just went, "Ack!"

Of all the KISS members, Frehley holds the fondest memories of the film. "I had a lot of fun," he said in a 2018 interview with "When we started shooting at [Six Flags] Magic Mountain, they closed the park at six o'clock, so I had the run of the park. I bought a moped and used to drive around all those asphalt trails between the rides. I crashed a few times, but luckily, I had that costume on with all the padding, and I didn't get hurt."

That might explain his stunt-double — who was clearly of a different ethnicity. 

The Everett Collection / NBCAnthony Zerbe as the evil scientist; Ace's stunt double

There were more bizarre substitutions. Producers reportedly disliked the voice of Criss, and brought in veteran voice actor Michael Bell to dub in the drummer's lines. Supposedly, the moment in the movie in which you can hear Criss' own voice is during his acoustic performance of his hit ballad "Beth." Bell was the actor who voiced Zan, Gleek and the Riddler in Super Friends cartoons, not to mention Handy Smurf and G.I. Joe leader Duke. Then again, Criss denies any of this took place, so… yeah, the movie was just as strange behind the scenes.

KISS was at its peak in popularity. The group had just released their ambitious quartet of solo albums the prior month, and the hottest singles from those LPs, like Frehley's "New York Groove," turned up in The Phantom. AVCO Embassy Pictures released the film theatrically overseas, where it was known as Attack of the Phantoms or Kiss Phantoms.

But, really, it marked the beginning of the end of the band. Criss would leave the group not long afterward, and Frehley would follow. In the early 1980s, KISS would unmask, which in hindsight seems like a far sillier career move than a shlock rock 'n' roll horror movie.

In 2003, a quarter century after their Halloween breakthrough, KISS would reteam with Hanna-Barbera, appearing in "A Scooby Doo Halloween." This time, however, they were animated. 

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mnKISSgirl 2 months ago
Ha!! I just KNEW Michael Bell voiced Peter's lines!
pumkinheadfan 3 months ago
It's available on KISSology: Vol. 2 1978-1991...That's how I seen it for the first time.
BubbaPacha77511 3 months ago
i LOVED KISS!!!! i was a official kiss army member and i loved the movie. i knew nothing about it (was 2 when it was on tv) but my sister had a vhs copy and we watched it. even back then i could tell that was not ace in that one scene. i really loved those pendant things. aww damn fine memories.
WaltDatedWorld 4 months ago
I remember waiting for the day this film would air and I thought it was the greatest movie ever made!
“New York Groove” was not in the film and the animated film with Scooby Doo was actually called “Scooby Doo & Kiss Rock & Roll Mystery”.
WilliamLAllen 4 months ago
I had a VHS copy of this movie. As I recall, Anthony Zerbe played the "Mad Scientist" and Kiss did a version of Hooter than Hell that was rip, rip, rip and destroy! I was a little non plussed at this. I saw Kiss in Jersy City NJ in either 75 or 76- they where promoting the Destroyer album ( the second of their albums I bought) and it was much better!
Tresix 4 months ago
This movie is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. I remember my friends and I all watching it and then trying to reenact certain scenes the next day. This would be perfect for Svengoolie to show!
djw1120 Tresix 4 months ago
I'm not a big fan of Svengoolie, but this movie I would not only watch, but record on my DVR - and maybe even not delete after watching.
Jeff 4 months ago
I was 10 when that aired on network TV. At the height of my Kiss fandom, I was hyped all day waiting for that to come on. Just 3 years before the premier of MTV, you didn't get many opportunities to see your favorite music personalities on television.

I wasn't disappointed. Watching it today, though, it's simply ridiculous.
djw1120 4 months ago
I would love to see it just for the songs.
I am sure Hanna-Barbera didn't VO the songs too.
MrsPhilHarris 4 months ago
I would love to see it just for the cheese factor.
GalaxyJane 4 months ago
I have to say that the animated semi-sequel with Scooby Doo is by far the superior film (and a fabulous tribute to the great Jack Kirby as well). But darn it, I just love the silly old thing anyway. One of my favorite Bs.
cperrynaples 4 months ago
One thing I remember about this movie was the comic book tie-in. Allegedly KISS blood was mixed into the red ink, which was sorta a gimmick!
IMHO, I think Kiss' "Halloween breakthrough" came 3 years earlier when they made an appearance on PAUL LYNDE'S HALLOWEEN SPECIAL. One of the songs they sang, {can't recall the other one;} was BETH. In fact, I think they debuted it on the show. { I will now go and check, because I am not 100% certain this is correct.}
No, they didn't debut "Beth," they made their network debut. The two other songs they sang were: "King Of The Night time World," and "Detroit Rock City."
No "allegedly" about it, Kiss' actual blood was used.
dmarkwind 4 months ago
I was in junior high at the time in 1978, and I remember my mom wouldn't let me watch this show because I didn't get my homework done. I was so mad about missing it!
Well, you should have gotten your homework done, and then you would've been able to see it.
Wow, sounds like ol'e Stevie boy is an old curmudgeon! I have been spending the rest of my adult life trying to unlearn all the crap they tried to teach me in school. demarkwind, just go online and buy it! Its worth it just to have it in your collection.
Yeah, useless things like math, English, science, and the history of our species.
Barry22 4 months ago
I do remember it, pretty bad. I don't think it was ever shown again
djw1120 Barry22 4 months ago
Obviously you were never a member of the KISS army.
Barry22 djw1120 4 months ago
KISS stands for Kids In Satan's Service!! We must save the children!! Just kidding, some TV evangelist actually said that about KISS, and they thought it was pretty funny. No, I was not a member of the KISS army, but I did like some of their stuff. Had some of their vinyl in the day, and still have some CD's.
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