Tuesday, January 9, 2024

24 Hours of Movies: KISS

by Patrick Bromley
A day and night of movies inspired by my favorite band!

I love KISS more than I love most things. I haven't been able to say that for a little while because Paul Stanley broke my heart some months back, but seeing them live a few weeks back reminded me that there is no band I love more, no music I love more, no experience I love more than the KISS experience. The only thing better than KISS is movies, so if I can combine those two loves into a 24-hour marathon I'm a lucky man. And the only thing better than KISS and movies is my wife and kids, so if I can get them to watch 24 hours of KISS movies with me, my life will have peaked. Here goes!

10 am - Role Models (2008, dir. David Wain)
Let's kick things off with one of my favorite comedies of the last 20 years. David Wain's major studio debut and follow-up to Wet Hot American Summer (which will come up again later) and The Ten isn't just a very funny movie, it's also a celebration of LARPing, of KISS, and of living your life free of ironic distance. Seann William Scott, in a very funny performance, gives a great explanation of their appeal: "They're these Jewish guys who grew up in New York, and they put on guitars and makeup to get girls, and all their songs are about fucking." Everyone dresses like the band, KISS music is played on the soundtrack. Role Models rules and sets the tone perfectly for the rest of our marathon.

12 pm - Spinning Gold (2023, dir. Timothy Scott Bogart)
This movie, which I swear is a real movie that came out in 2023, chronicles the rise of Neil Bogart and Casablanca Records, on which KISS was the first band signed. It's pure myth-making and hagiography, written and directed by Bogart's son, which often plays like a Funny or Die sketch that's meant to be taken seriously (or, as my wife described it, a "student project"). It gets basic facts about KISS wrong and is an overall bad movie -- maybe one of the worst of its year -- but there is a short dialogue exchange about the band that I love, in which Bogart explains that what makes KISS special is that they write all their songs using the same four chords and any 14-year old with a half hour of practice can learn to play just like them. It's a good observation in a movie lacking much else good.

2:30 pm - KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978, dir. Gordon Hessler)
We can't every well program a KISS marathon without the only movie in which KISS starred, an almost impossibly bad made-for-TV film (released theatrically overseas as Attack of the Phantoms) produced by Hanna-Barbera in which KISS has at best a supporting role in a movie that's otherwise about a disgruntled Anthony Zerbe creating amusement park animatronics to wreak havoc. KISS plays some songs and appears as themselves somewhat unconvincingly, particularly when Ace Frehley's stunt double is clearly visible because Ace never showed to set. We'll try to program the international cut so that we can hear KISS music instead of the solo tracks that appear on the Kissology version of Phantom of the Park.

4:30 pm - Wanted: Dead or Alive (1986, dir. Gary Sherman)
No 24-hour KISS marathon would be complete without programming Gene Simmons' film performances. Here he's Malak Al-Rahim, a terrorist being hunted by Rutger Hauter's bounty hunter in this feature version of the '50s TV show directed by the great Gary Sherman. Simmons acquits himself just fine, but both the character and the performance lack the flash and color we might otherwise expect from the Prince of Darkness. He's more of a generic villain, which might be what Simmons was going for in terms of career longevity but isn't really the sort of role he should be playing.

6:30 pm - Wet Hot American Summer (2001, dir. David Wain)
David Wain's first movie, which reunites most of the cast and writers of the MTV comedy troupe The State, is still the funniest movie of the 2000s for my money. One of the movie's most memorable set pieces involves a game of Capture the Flag scored to Peter Criss' ballad "Beth" off Destroyer, my favorite of all the KISS albums. I love that Wain is a big enough KISS fan to put them in more than one of his movies. 

8:30 pm - Why Him? (2016, dir. John Hamburg)
An underrated comedy from a few years back (provided you can get past the James Franco of it all) starring Bryan Cranston as a father who disapproves of the man (Franco) his daughter (Zoey Deutch) is dating. KISS is positioned as Cranston and wife Megan Mullaley's favorite band early on and a couple of their songs play on the soundtrack, but I won't spoil the best KISS gag in the third act that makes it a must-see for fans. This movie was such a pleasant surprise in so many ways.

10:30 pm - Never Too Young to Die (1986, dir. Gil Battman)
We're heading into the overnight section of our marathon, which is usually the about the time we start getting weird. We're not going to get any weirder than Never Too Young to Die, an action movie the plot of which is almost impossible to describe. Let's just say that Gene Simmons plays transgender supervillain Velvet Von Ragner who kills his superspy arch nemesis (George Lazenby) but then must do battle with his high school gymnast son Lance Stargrove (John Stamos). Robert Englund and Vanity are also in this, because why the fuck not? 

12:30 am - Idle Hands (1999, dir. Rodman Flender)
One of the most memorable scenes in this 1999 horror comedy features soap opera star and future Dancing With the Stars winner Kelly Monaco in Paul Stanley Starchild makeup getting attack by a disembodied hand. That alone earns it a spot in our marathon.

2:30 am - Trick or Treat (1986, dir. Charles Martin Smith)
Horror in the overnight! Gene Simmons has a supporting role in this '80s heavy metal slasher directed by actor Charles Martin Smith and starring Marc Price (Family Ties) as a teenage outcast who resurrects his dead rocker idol Sammi Curr by playing his final record backwards. This is one of those mid-'80s horror gems, long unavailable on disc (it's finally getting a domestic HD release courtesy of Synapse later this year, and that transfer is currently streaming on Screambox), with good characters and a real feel for the decade's Satanic Panic scare. The Demon is great as a DJ who gives Skippy the record, even if he only has a few scenes.

4:30 am - Runaway (1984, dir. Michael Crichton)
Simmons' first starring role is as the villain in this Michael Crichton sci-fi actioner in which Tom Selleck plays a futuristic cop tracking down Gene Simmons' killer robots. He's just the right amount of over the top here and his casting helps distinguish a decent if somewhat forgettable '80s genre entry. This is the movie that first pulled The Demon away from KISS in the '80s, resulting in some mildly disappointing albums (that I still love) such as Animalize and Hot in the Shade. I'll take '80s Gene Simmons in KISS over '80s Gene Simmons in movies any day.

6:30 am - Scooby-Doo and KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery (2015, dir. Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone)
Assuming we start our marathon on a Friday, this could be our Saturday morning cartoon! This partnership between KISS and Hanna-Barbera is much better than Phantom of the Park, especially for fans of the band because it's loaded with in-jokes and easter eggs. The characterizations and vocal performances from KISS are great (it was produced with the current lineup, which includes Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer instead of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss) and the KISSworld amusement park setting is really fun because it delivers on the promise of something we never got in real life. 

8 am - Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991, dir. Pete Hewitt)
I had originally planned to end our 24 hours with this one because of its "God Gave Rock 'n Roll To You II" climax, but there's one other movie with which we unquestionably must end. Instead we'll watch this brilliant cult comedy second to last, enjoying the sublime performances of Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves (as both Bill and Ted and the Evil Robot Uses) and William Sadler's Death, the wacky art direction, and the brilliant script that culminates at a Battle of the Bands at which Wyld Stallyns plays a great song off Revenge (technically a cover, but the KISS version is the famous one in part thanks to its placement on the Bogus Journey soundtrack). Only one more movie to go.

10 am - Detroit Rock City (1999, dir. Adam Rifkin)
There's only one choice to end on, and it's the great Adam Rifkin's tribute to KISS and the rowdy rock 'n roll movies of the 1970s. Rifkin employs the same anarchic spirit that informs so much of his work, dialing it up to 11 to capture not just the late '70s sex, drugs, rock n' roll vibe, but also to pay tribute to the kinds of movies Allan Arkush used to make. Some of the lead turns -- like those by James DeBello and Edward Furlong -- are a little shouty and one-note, but the supporting cast is terrific and there's enough sweetness mixed in among all the partying to make this more than just a crass celebration of debauchery. KISS were actively involved in the film (Gene Simmons is a producer and Shannon Tweed has a supporting role), which culminates in a performance by the band, which is why I want to program it last in our marathon. What better way to wrap up 24 hours of KISS movies than with a live concert by KISS?

You wanted the best, you got the best.

1 comment:

  1. Wanted: Dead or Alive was one of the more disappointing watches from Junesploitation last year. Generic is the word that also came to my mind about it. Still, it is not bad film.