NBC aired the film at the height of Kiss' popularity in the United States. Due to the film's poor acting and semi-comedic script, most Kiss fans disliked the film. Despite the film's poor quality, it has attained cult film status. The members of Kiss themselves despised the film for making them appear buffoonish. For years after its airing, no one who worked for the group was permitted to mention the film in their presence.
At Six Flags Magic Mountain, Abner Deveraux, the park's engineer and the creator of a series of animatronic attractions, is not pleased that his works are being overshadowed by an upcoming concert by Kiss. Calvin Richards, the park's owner, explains that the concert will generate much-needed revenue to make up for the quality control problems that have plagued Deveraux's creations. Melissa, a park guest, becomes concerned when her boyfriend Sam Farrell, a park employee, has gone missing. Meanwhile, three punks sabotage one of the rides, and Deveraux is blamed for the incident.
Melissa goes to Devereaux's laboratory, which was the last place Sam was seen. Devereaux dismisses her after explaining that he has not seen Sam, but after she leaves the lab, he reveals that Sam has been placed under mind-control through the use of an electronic device on his neck. The three punks enter the Chamber of Thrills, where they fall into traps set by Devereaux. Richards fires Devereaux for his erratic behavior and disregard for the guests' safety; because of this, Devereaux swears revenge upon Richards, the park, and Kiss, all of whom he blames for his misfortune.
Shortly after Kiss' first concert at the park, Devereaux attempts to discredit them by unleashing a robotic copy of Gene Simmons to wreak havoc on the park and the security guards. The band is questioned the next day, but no action is taken. Melissa seeks help from the band to find Sam, unaware that the security pass she received from Devereaux is a tracking device. Devereaux has Sam break into the band's lair and steal their talismans, but the plan is foiled due to the force field on the talismans' case. Kiss sneak into the park to confront Devereaux, but they lose their powers and are imprisoned after Sam manages to steal the talismans and Devereaux neutralizes them with a ray gun. Devereaux sends his robotic Kiss copies to ruin their concert and incite a riot, but the real Kiss manage to regain their powers and escape to defeat the imposters and save the concert.
After the show, Kiss, Melissa, and Richards confront Devereaux, but discover that he has frozen in a catatonic state. Paul Stanley removes the mind-control device from Sam, returning him back to normal. Richards laments Devereaux's demise by saying, "He created Kiss to destroy Kiss...and he lost."Kiss
Ace Frehley as himself. Also known as the Space Ace, Frehley has the ability to shoot lasers and to teleport by making a 'hitchhiking' gesture with his thumb.
Gene Simmons as himself. Also known as the Demon, Simmons has immense strength and can breathe fire. His voice has a large amount of reverberation, unlike the other three members.
Paul Stanley as himself. Also known as the Starchild, Stanley can shoot a laser from the star on his right eye. A similar beam emitted from his eye can control minds and allow him to hear distant conversations.
Peter Criss as himself. Also known as the Catman, Criss has superhuman agility and leaping powers.
Anthony Zerbe as Abner Devereaux. Devereaux is a genius inventor, and has created all of Magic Mountain's lifelike cybernetic creatures. He is prone to fits of anger, and reacts poorly to criticism.
Carmine Caridi as Calvin Richards. Richards is the owner of Magic Mountain.
Deborah Ryan as Melissa. Melissa (her last name is never revealed) frantically searches for her missing boyfriend Sam.
John Dennis Johnston as Chopper. Chopper is one-third of an unnamed gang who sabotages a ride at the amusement park.
John Lisbon Wood as Slime. Slime is a member of the same gang, and confronts Devereaux after tampering with one of the park's cyborgs.
Lisa Jane Persky as Dirty Dee. Dee is in the same gang as Chopper and Slime.
John Chappell as Sneed. Sneed is the head of security at Magic Mountain. He voices a disdain for Kiss (and rock and roll groups in general).
Terry Lester as Sam Farell. Sam is an employee at Magic Mountain, and Melissa's boyfriend. Sam vanishes when he starts to investigate some strange occurrences at the park.
Don Steele as himself. Steele emcees a Kiss lookalike contest at Magic Mountain.
KISS's commercial popularity was at its peak by 1978. The group's gross income in 1977 totaled $10.2 million. Creative manager Bill Aucoin felt, however, that the cycle of album releases and touring had taken KISS as far as they could go, and that it was time to elevate the group's image to the next level. He formulated a plan to cast KISS as superheroes, a process that began with the 1977 release of a KISS comic book. The band agreed, and plans were developed for a KISS film.
Filming for Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park began in May 1978, and it was produced by Hanna-Barbera, known primarily for cartoons (in the late 1960s, they filmed and produced the live-action series The Banana Splits). Most of the movie was filmed at Magic Mountain in California, with additional filming taking place in the Hollywood Hills. Much of the production was rushed, and the script underwent numerous rewrites. All four members of Kiss were given crash courses on acting.
Prior to completing the script, screenwriters Jan Michael Sherman and Don Buday spent time with each Kiss member, in an effort to get a feel for how they each acted and spoke. Frehley, known for his eccentric behavior, said little to the pair but "Ack!" As a result, Frehley was not originally given any lines, except to interject "Ack!" at various points. In the first draft of the script, Frehley was described as "monosyllabic and super-friendly. Communicating largely through gestures and sounds, Ace might be best described as an other-galactic Harpo Marx." Upon learning of his lack of dialogue, Frehley threatened to leave the project. Soon after, lines were written for him.
The band, none of whom had any prior acting experience, had difficulty adjusting to the demands of filming. Frehley and Criss, in particular, became increasingly frustrated with the long periods of downtime normally associated with movie-making. They were both also dealing with increasing levels of substance abuse.
Criss' dialogue in the film had to be over-dubbed by well-known voice actor Michael Bell (who had worked with producer Joseph Barbera on a number of past projects), as he refused to participate in post-production. The only time Criss' actual voice is heard in the movie is during an acoustic performance of "Beth." (Criss denies this story, stating that he "went to all the looping.")
On May 27, the last day of filming, Criss and tour manager Fritz Postlethwaite were involved in a serious car accident. Postlethwaite suffered burns but soon returned to work for Kiss. Criss' injuries were minor. On a few occasions, Frehley left the set during filming due to arguments with the film's director. In one scene that Frehley abandoned, his African American stunt double can be clearly seen instead.
The concert depicted in the film was recorded in the parking lot of Magic Mountain on May 19, 1978, in front of a crowd of 8,000 people. Tickets for the concert were given out by local AM radio station KTNQ which was where "The Real" Don Steele was a disc jockey. This is also the same radio station where Kiss made an appearance as DJs on Steele's radio program the previous year while in town to record Alive II at the LA Forum. The group performed a full concert, which was followed by lip-synched performances of some songs. "Rip and Destroy", an altered version of "Hotter than Hell" that was featured in the movie, was not performed during the concert.
The film's music in the European release was purely performed by Kiss.
Release and reception
Prior to the films' airing, a private screening was held for Kiss, as well as their management and friends. Despite the positive reactions from all in attendance, Kiss hated the film for the buffoonish way it made them appear. For years after its airing, no one who worked for the group was permitted to mention the film in their presence.
In 1979, Avco-Embassy released Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park in cinemas outside the United States, with translations of the title Attack of the Phantoms. In some countries—Italy, in particular—the film was simply titled Kiss Phantoms. The theatrical release featured a vastly different version of the film, with several scenes that did not appear in the original television airing added to the cut.
The overseas film's overall soundtrack also differed from the original—much of the Hanna-Barbera fight music was replaced by music from the band's own catalog, primarily from their four solo albums. In some edits, the promotional videos for "I Was Made For Lovin' You" and "Sure Know Something" were also edited into the film.
In recent years, Kiss' public statements concerning the film have been a mixture of bemusement and disgust. On VH1's When Kiss Ruled the World program, Gene Simmons stated that, "It's a classic movie... classic movie if you're on drugs," while Ace Frehley said that "I couldn't stop laughing from the beginning of the moment to the end" In an early-1990s Sterling-McFadden magazine interview, Simmons compared the film to the infamous B-movie classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, joking that the two films would make a perfect drive-in double feature.
In the years since its initial airing, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park has achieved cult status, mainly among Kiss fans. The European edit of the film (which removes most of Ace Frehley's dialogue) is available on DVD as part of Kissology Volume Two: 1978–1991, a collection of concerts and television appearances. Previously, availability was limited to two brief VHS releases in the 1980s and a laserdisc release in 1991. In 2005, distributor Cheezy Flicks attempted to release the original TV film version of the film on DVD, but due to legal issues, the disc was quickly pulled.
In Australia, the film, titled Kiss and the Attack of the Phantoms, was initially popular. Free tickets to the movie could be obtained by cutting 20 diamond shaped coupons from an Ice confectionary cup called an "Icee" and pasting them onto a printed sheet. Today the film remains at cult status. The most noticeable difference in the Australian release was the inclusion of "New York Groove" as background music during the Gene Simmons night rampage through the park.