“SCOOBY DOO! AND KISS: ROCK AND ROLL MYSTERY” (Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Chris Alexander
Ardent fans of Hanna-Barbera’s ludicrous and legendary 1978 TV movie KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK (of which this writer is one) love it unconditionally; the film (directed by recently deceased genre filmmaker Gordon Hessler), is absolutely one of the strangest, inadvertently hilarious and patently ridiculous cult films of all time and there’s truly nothing else quite like it, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. But for the band, PHANTOM is of significant historical relevance. By the time the film began production, KISS was at their commercial peak and, with of co-founder and self-confessed pop culture junkie Gene Simmons’ enthusiastic blessing, had found its garish painted visages stamped across every sort of mass-marketed merchandise known to man. And, after the success of STAR WARS the previous year and the pomp of their literally blood soaked Marvel Comics appearance, it made sense to push the KISS phenomenon into the realm of cinema.
The resulting picture was indeed like a live action H/B cartoon; a sloppy, one-dimensional cheese-fest that re-invented the band as rock and roll superheroes battling a mad scientist (THE OMEGA MAN’s Anthony Zerbe) and his legion of cheap monster robots at Magic Mountain. PHANTOM may now be regarded as an untamed gem of excess and camp hilarity, but its dismal reception signaled the first decline of KISS, with members leaving left and right, half-full arenas, disappointing album sales and creative disinterest. By the time KISS released 1981’s bloated (but actually rather brilliant) rock opera THE ELDER, KISS’ reign had run its course…or so we thought.
But of course, KISS is now 40 years old and PHANTOM ultimately stands as simply another fascinating chapter in their long evolution. The band now commands a multi-generational audience and, in their senior years, have perfected both their image, their sound… and their sense of humor. That sense of humor is alive and thriving in their latest “WTF” endeavor, SCOOBY DOO! AND KISS: ROCK AND ROLL MYSTERY (out now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD), an absolutely hilarious and beautifully animated mash-up that serves as both a remake of KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM and a nod to other fantastical moments of KISStory, including their Marvel Comics specials, their PSYCHO CIRCUS comics and, yes, THE ELDER. All of this cosmic lunacy smashes up against a typically silly Scooby-Doo romp perfectly, without insulting either fan bases. In fact, SCOOBY DOO! AND KISS (much like the recent KISS MEETS ARCHIE comics) is a damn-near genius attempt to re-invigorate both brands for a new demographic. And it works.
The story sees the newly opened amusement park “KISS World” (note: back in 1979 when the DYNASTY tour was in-design, Gene wanted to have a travelling carnival that toured with the band called KISS World; it was too expensive and the idea was deleted) under attack from a fanged ghost witch who hisses demands for a mythical rock, while scaring the wits out of innocent patrons and employees alike. The park faces closure, despite the attempts by park owner Manny Goldman (iconic sitcom and film producer Garry Marshall) and vaguely sleazy band manager Chip McGhoo (longtime KISS manager Doc McGhee, sending up his own image perfectly) and pretty soon Scooby and the gang are called in to investigate.
Turns out the kids of Mystery Inc. are huge KISS fans and come to the park dressed in full costume and make-up, all save for Fred (Frank Welker, who has played the character in every animated inception of the series since day one), who prefers a more genteel band like the whiter-than-thou barbershop group “The Five Ascots”. When Scooby (also Welker), Shaggy (SCREAM’s Matthew Lillard), Velma (THE FACTS OF LIFE’s Mindy Cohn) and Daphne (Grey Griffin) arrive, they are met by KISS and, after some friction and truly funny encounters, the two troupes opt to work together to stop the witch from releasing the dreaded planet-decimating “Destroyer” demon from the dimension of KISSteria.
Of course this is all totally ridiculous, but that’s the point. It’s a Scooby-Doo movie. And Scooby-Doo has long served as an ideal entry point into horror and dark fantasy entertainment for little kids; this goofy, often very imaginative and occasionally even kinda spooky flick is no exception. But if you’re a KISS fan, SCOOBY DOO! AND KISS is a gift, so choked as it is with references to KISStory (director Penny Marshall appears as “The Elder”, the aforementioned uber-monster is called “Destroyer” after KISS’ hit 1976 album, not to mention the direct nods to PHANTOM OF THE PARK etc.) and classic KISS songs and the band must have had a blast making it.
Gene in particular relishes the larger than life cartoon version of himself, a scowling, self-obsessed but heroic, lizard-tongued beast whose relentless appetite rivals that of Shaggy and Scooby; his line delivery is top notch and one wishes the sometime actor would do more of this sort of performance. Paul Stanley sends his Starchild character up with aplomb as well and even sings lead vocal as one of Fred’s beloved “Five Ascots”, backed by bandmates Eric Singer (The Catman) and Tommy Thayer (The Spaceman), who are also clearly having a blast. Other weird touches include having DEXTER actress Jennifer Carpenter and both Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes appear in supporting roles. It’s just non-stop fun.
SCOOBY DOO! AND KISS: ROCK AND ROLL MYSTERY is a great, light fantasy for little kids and the perfect companion to/improvement upon KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM. Unlike during the days when PHANTOM failed, KISS has now transcended any expectations of commercial success; they’re staples of the pop-cult landscape and that freedom to play with their image and legacy is truly something to behold. Whether you were there back in the early NYC shows in 1973 or just discovered the band last month, you’ll have a blast with this totally odd, truly special bit of prime weirdness.