HOTTER THAN HELL ITSELF: KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK (1978)

Throughout the 1970s, the rock band KISS served as a kind of symbol for my own paradoxical, f’ed-up world. On Sundays, we frequently heard diatribes against the band spewed from the pulpit. “Knights in Satan’s Service,” the preacher warned, again and again and again. Believe me: Gene “The Demon” Simmons, with his long wiggling tongue and blood-drinking candids (from various albums) inspired countless, tongue-speaking “the Holy Ghost has taken over the service” and paranoid “Jesus is coming again soon” frenzied Sunday night services that usually dragged on past midnight, which left us dragging through Monday morning classes.

At school, it was the exact opposite. My parents, for reasons I still cannot fathom, moved us from Indianapolis to a small, gun-toting Klan county populated by trailer parks, farms (which smelled of cow fertilizer for six months out of the year), and mini-suburbs. To many of the kids from this hayseed community, Peter, Paul, Gene, and Ace were akin to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and if you were foolish enough to criticize the sacred prophets of rock and roll, be prepared for an ass whuppin’. You weren’t even safe breathing negatives about KISS in front of the white trash girls, because they had become zealous converts, one and all, with Peter’s “Beth, I hear you calling,” and would promptly order their boyfriends to beat the holy shit out of you from here to Sunday. As stupid as I was in my teens, I was still smart enough to keep my mouth shut on the subject of KISS. Actually, I was never sure what all the fuss was about either way. Their songs were harmless trifles and their stage act wasn’t much different than the average Vincent Price movie. My younger brother, on the other hand, got caught up in the KISS phenomenon and actually risked buying two of their LPs. Unfortunately for him, he was eventually caught in possession of “Hotter than Hell” and “KISS Alive.” Needless to say, those records were offered up  to an angry Jehovah in the sacred church parking lot bonfire shortly before Sunday night service (I can still hear those echoes of the Burgermeister Meisterburger laughing “the children of Somberville will never play with toys again” as he lit the torch).

Imagine my surprise then when, a few years later, I caught Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park(1978) at a friend’s house (the church folk never found out). My confusion over the KISS brouhaha magnified, only (perhaps) surpassed by Gene becoming a kind of constipated Pat Boone-type late in life.

Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park could very well be to 1970s TV movies what Manos: The Hands of Fate was for the 60s: a movie so bad that one risks permanent lockjaw from having watched it, which of course is its appeal today (I’ve grown wiser in middle age).

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The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)

THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

When it comes to Halloween entertainment there are perennial television special favorites. Like most fans of the holiday, I would rank Charles Schulz’ It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966) and Rankin and Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) near the top of the list. A few years ago, however, a friend sent me a slice of heaven in the greatest ever hour of Halloween entertainment : The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976). Lynde, for the unenlightened, was a comedic entertainer who got his break in Bye Bye Birdie (1962), which lead to his popular role as the warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched (1964), to the The Paul Lynde Show (1972), and most famously to his entrenchment as the “Center Square” in the game show “Hollywood Squares.” Lynde’s Halloween special is so stunningly beautiful, so representative of its era (and what an era the 70s was: the last great decade of American pop culture), that I felt a pronounced nostalgic lump in my throat. This Halloween bash seriously belongs in one of those time capsule thingys that we occasionally shoot into space for Martians to peek at.

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special.

Of course, with the banality of reality TV and unimaginative attachment to hyper-realism, some will pooh-pooh my blushing exclamation as misplaced nostalgia. Others may see the show as a bizarre curio from a long gone era (these are the boring and predictable types who think of everything pre-existing their entry into the world as relics from tens of thousands of years ago). On my end, I will utterly dismiss the naysayers as being hopelessly constipated. You know the type. They prefer angst-ridden X-Men to Jack Kirby’s fun lubbin’ Jimmy Olsen who teamed up with Goody Rickles and the Hairys. Stay far, far away from these people. They will only bring you unhappiness. They will turn you gray, incorporate you into their bourgeoisie, status-quo painted white picket fence world, or, heaven forbid, get you a job in a faceless institution. Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! Continue reading