What Music Did You Grow Up On?

I grew up essentially listening to three songs.

When me, mom and sis moved in with my Grams, mom left a lot behind. Her records were one casualty. We had the white album by the Beatles, Elton John’s first album, and Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell. In fact, I still have all those discs, and they still play relatively well, despite our grubby little kiddy hands smudging them.

Music was important to mom and it still is. She still introduces me to music I wouldn’t otherwise have heard. The latest is Alison Krauss. Back then, I remember trips to Mickey Music, a record shop in a Belleville strip mall. And looking for oldies shops in New York, where she hunted and finally found the Phil Spector Christmas Album and Elvis’s gospel album. My uncle Paul still has boxes of original 45’s from the early rock ‘n roll / R&B era, from “Speedo” and “Earth Angel” to obscure greats like the Jive Bombers (immortalized in John Waters’ Cry Baby). Unc ran a couple bars and would let us pick through the jukebox discs when they cycled through the latest tunes.

I think that’s how at age seven, I wound up with singles of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising/Lodi,” KISS “Detroit Rock City/Beth,” and Marvin Gaye singing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” We played those platters until the grooves became distorted. Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” was also a favorite. The opening horns drove me and Danielle into dances of spastic joy. Detroit Rock City, Grapevine, and Bad Moon Rising are still three of my favorite songs of all time. Like mutagenic substances, my proximity to the record player altered my DNA.

Mom thought music was a necessity, like I said. I remember Styx’s “Paradise Theater,” Elton’s Yellow Brick Road, Donna Summer, Steely Dan, and albums we’d break out to laugh and remember when we thought this music was cool, such as Leo Sayer. Elton’s “Crocodile Rock” with its ’50s nostalgia was one we’d always sing in the car.

The first album I bought was A Flock of Seagulls. I still dig their B-sides and minor hits like “Wishing” and “Telecommunication.” They still play casinos on the west coast. Next time I visit, I’ll make sure I see them.

So, what music did you grow up on?

 

Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me some heavy metal to eat!

Trick or Treat is the king of the Heavy Metal Horror movies of the ’80s. It’s not the scariest, nor does it have the best music, or the best monster make-up, but it has Ozzy and Gene Simmons, so it wins by default.
I’ve wanted to see this movie for years. Like the infamous Black Roses, where Vincent Pastorelli gets eaten by a wall speaker, Trick or Treat was infamous for Ozzy, Gene, and a scene where a girl gets raped by a demon in a car parked on lover’s lane. That scene turned out to be sillier than scary. I mean, after the tree rape from The Evil Dead, the bar is set pretty high on the disturb-o-meter for this sort of thing. But nothing brings back the mid-late ’80s like reminiscing about when Al Gore’s wife colluded with the religious right to protect children from “porn rock,” leading to some of the most hilarious Senate hearings ever recorded.
But the movies took a different tack; they went for the idea that maybe our heavy metal bands were demons sent to possess and kill us. Trick or Treat does even better. It begins with loser metal kid Eddie Weinbauer getting teased and bullied in school by the jocks, for well, being the only metal head. They prank him into running naked into the gym while the girls are playing volleyball, and for a moment I thought the story was going to be good and disturbing in a Stephen King sort of way, because he looks really pitiful as he squirms belly first back into the locker room. But no, it quickly reverts to exactly what you’d expect from this kind of picture.
And that’s not bad. Movies are all about expectations; sometimes we’re joyfully surprised. This isn’t one of those times, but if you want to see a demonic heavy metal singer return from the dead, it certainly delivers. Weinbauer’s idol is Sammi Curr, a hair metal douche who testifies before congress that if they try to censor him, “we will take you down!!!” It was a cute nod to the PMRC circus that Tipper created, which eventually led to those “Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics” stickers on certain CDs. Shortly thereafter, Sammi dies in a hotel fire, and Eddie is crushed. He thinks about suicide, but instead visits his one metal buddy, the DJ named Nuke- played by Gene Simmons. Nuke gives him a tape that has Sammi’s latest song on it.
At home, Eddie plays Sammi’s new record over and over, until the backmasked track summons his evil spirit back from the grave! First it seems like nothing much. When the jocks try to get revenge for Eddie leading them on a wild chase through school that ends with them spraying the faculty lunch room with a fire extinguisher, the metal shop comes alive (heh, get it? METAL shop?) and threatens to drive a spike through Lead Jock Douche’s eyeball. But Eddie’s a pussy, and calls off his metal minions. But soon, Sammi’s spirit has a mind of its own, and wants to get his evil mix tape played on the radio, so he can… I dunno, come out of your radio and look like the undead member of Motley Crue? Sammi doesn’t really do much when he manifests his power except zap a few people into dust and ’80s clothing.
The one girl who takes pity on Eddie gets demon raped into a coma by Sammi, after he lends her that tape before knowing its power. Sinister stink lines ooze out of the stereo and seduce her, taking off her clothes for our amusement, and then solidify into a Satanic Sammi slug monster that slips her the supernatural salami. It wouldn’t be a heavy metal horror movie without the boobies, and it manages to jam every ’80s fear about the music- suicide, porn lyrics, backwards tracks, and Satanism- into one package. So while the story flops all over the place, unsure whether Eddie Weinbauer should be a villain bent on revenge or a sympathetic dork turned hero, it is a lot of fun for fans.
Part of it is worth it just to see Ozzy with his hair neatly parted, playing the part of a smarmy religious figure attacking his own music, and Gene Simmons playing a DJ. They have small roles, however, and evil Sammy gets defeated by a toilet at one point. He’s not really that scary, doesn’t have any cheesy lines like in latter-day Freddy Krueger movies that might make him better company if he’s not going to be frightening. No such luck. It also doesn’t help that our hero is Marc Price, “Skippy” from Family Ties. He’s decent enough, but he’s no Steven Dorff in The Gate!
Trick or Treat is decent fun for metal fans, with music by Fast Eddie from Motorhead and Dave King of Flogging Molly. It’s sadly lacking in gore, as the demonic singer’s power mostly consists of zapping people with electricity and making them turn to dust. Nowadays it’s most worth watching for the cameos, which also includes Glen Morgan- director of Final Destination– as Eddie’s nerdy pal and only friend. It’s pretty obvious why he went into directing, but he’s better than most of the cast!

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? only if hair metal returns…
Quotability Rating: low
Cheese Factor: Motorheadcheese
High Points: Cameos
Low Point: lame villain
Gratuitous Boobies: one scene, but they are nice 

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Role Models

Damn it is great to see a hilarious comedy that Judd Apatow has no involvement with. I like his films, but give someone else a chance. David Wain, writer of “The State,” one of the best skit comedy shows ever, and director of Wet Hot American Summer comes together with snarkmaster Paul Rudd (Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Sean William Scott- who hasn’t been this entertaining and well, not annoying since he was The Rock’s punching bag/sidekick in The Rundown– to give us a filthy-mouthed but soft-hearted comedy that somehow manages to make fun of, and yet embrace male nerdery of many kinds.

If you’ve seen the Role Models trailer or commercials you know the story- Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) work for an energy drink company, peddling “Minotaur” to school kids to keep them off drugs and on hyper-caffeinated, guarana-infused beverages. Wheeler loves it- he gets to dress up as a bull-man and bag chicks, but Danny hates the dead-endedness of his job, and his girlfriend Beth, a lawyer, is sick and tired of his super-negative attitude. So she dumps him, and Danny breaks down in front of a bunch of schoolkids and causes untold mayhem, which lands him and Wheeler with a 30 day jail term. Unless they placate the judge by performing 120 hours of community service with his favorite charity, Sturdy Wings.
Sturdy Wings is the creation of a tough-as-nails ex-addict Gayle Sweeney (Jane Lynch, A Mighty Wind) with a dagger tattoo on her arm and a no-bullshit attitude. She’s not going to let them coast through their sentence, since she had to claw her way out of hell. So she hooks them up with her two toughest cookies. Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, “Human Giant”) is a foul-mouthed, hostile little black kid who delights in embarrassing and shocking the shit out of adults. Something he is quite good at, greeting Wheeler with an accusation of pederasty. And Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, “McLovin” from Superbad) is a fantasy-obsessed nerd who gallavants around in a cape, with his trusty foam sword at his side. To his credit, he doesn’t just play McLovin again, and this nerd is different from his last.


Happy-go-lucky Wheeler takes foul-mouthed little Ronnie in stride; he’s obviously a smart enough kid who acts out because he wants to see what he can get away with; his mom isn’t a stereotypical exasperated single mother, but one who knows what her son needs- a positive male role model- and who doesn’t give in to his bad boy shtick. Wheeler eventually bonds with the boy over a mutual love of boobies, and when he explains the enduring power of the rock band KISS, I was in stitches. How he tells the tale of a bunch of Jewish guys from New York who dress up weird t get laid and sing about their penises, is a masterful bit of writing filtered through Sean William Scott’s likeable doofus persona.

Augie introduces Danny to his fantasy world- players of a game called LAIRE- Live Action Interactive Roleplaying Experience- or what the geekerati know as LARPing. If you read my review of Monster Camp you’ll know all you need. LAIRE is a bit of LARP with a healthy dose of obsessiveness from the Society for Creative Anachronism; we meet a gaggle of people at the local park dressed up as knights and maidens, who like to whack each other in the face with padded foam swords. These folk are lorded over by King Argotron (Ken Jeong, Pineapple Express) who may not be able to grow a real moustache but can lead a nerdy nation of cape-wearing Renn Faire rejects. Danny refuses to get involved at first, but of course Augie slowly grows on him. Mintz-Plasse plays up the nerd angle but stays likeable and doesn’t tumble into parody.
If there’s a weak point it’s that the women get little to do, and when they do, it’s a bit over the top. Jane Lynch has some great moments as the hard-ass leader, but she sticks out as the least realistic character. She seems like an exile from an SNL skit, while everyone else is fully fleshed. Danny’s girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks, W., Zack and Miri Make a Porno) gets very little to do except give Danny a chance to redeem his misanthropic ways. That’s unfortunate, since she’s quite a good actress, and it would have given the girls a bit more to laugh about. KISS and Dungeons & Dragons jokes aren’t really their domain. Ronnie’s hilarious asides, like constantly calling Danny “Ben Affleck” are enough to make the movie fun, thankfully.

When Danny finally understands Augie and how to channel his own anger to get things done instead of bitching all the time, the final mash-up of KISS and D&D nerds is a rollercoaster ride of hilarity. Like Monster Camp, the nerds are poked fun at, but much of the joke is how mundane their strange hobby is to them, and the people who hatefully mock them- like Augie’s stepdad- are made the butt of the joke in the end. It was a masterstroke to include a much more mainstream example of Adults Dressing Up, such as KISS and Minotaur mascots, so we’d have something accepted to compare it to. The theater loved it as well, and they couldn’t have all been nerds who were already familiar with the concept of adults dressing in capes.
It has its flaws- Jane Lynch’s character really doesn’t come into her own until the end, and Danny’s inevitable reunion with Beth is a bit unlikely, albeit heartwarming. But Sean William Scott has graduated from his Dude, Where’s My Car? days, and Paul Rudd is proving that he can lead a film. He’s got his own thing going, and let’s hope like Ronnie says, that the Jersey boy (Passaic born and bred, yo) gets to be Ben Affleck some day. He’s got the chops. McLovin shows he’s not a one note wonder like Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder, and Bobb’e Thompson is funnier at age 12 than most adults in the skit comedy gang. He’s going to be one funny motherfucker.

So, Role Models is a fine role model for an R-rated comedy. At least two sets of fine boobies- probably added as a what-the-hell measure when it was obvious they’d never get a PG-13 with Bobb’e dropping F-bombs and McLovin waxing jizzpantsic over Queen Esplen- bring us back to the early 80’s era of Caddyshack-style guy-comedy, unlike the Apatow bromantic kind where wiggling wangs rule the screen. David Wain, I salute you. I didn’t like Wet Hot American Summer‘s over-the-top antics much, but I thank you for this movie. It’s one of the best comedies of 2008, a year that gave us Pineapple Express and the excellent Forgetting Sarah Marshall among others, so that’s saying a lot.

3½ whispering eyes out of 4.

Chiller Theater Expo


I won’t deny that I’m a geek. I’m a cranky sysadmin. Have been for over a decade. The Weezer song “In the Garage” could be my high school anthem. I believe I’m past that to a degree. Other than blogging and an occasional die-rolling escapade. I don’t even play computer games anymore. So why the fuck was I at the Chiller Expo? It’s a horror con held twice a year, the big one being in October, since Halloween is the holiday for all things horror. Well, I wanted to meet Ace Frehley. And my friends Darth Milk and The World’s Tallest Man (Dross) were engaging in what they call Costumed Aggression.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 9: Hrrrm

Milky put together a great Rorschach costume, and Dross had become a perfect representation of Darth Revan. They both looked great. The first step in any nerd costume is not being fat (one reason why I don’t do it). Because then they wouldn’t be Rorschach and Darth Revan, they’d be Fat Rorschach and Lardbutt Revan. You’ve seen such things on the interwebs, I’m sure. Fat Tron Guy. Fattie Darth Maul kid. To my everlasting horror I’ve seen fat guys dressed as Sailor Moon, female coyotes, Fat Mad Max, Indiana Fats and the Beer Gut of Doom, and so on. Just don’t do it. If you can spend $800 on a fucking Stormtrooper costume, you can spend $300 on Nutrisystem for 6 months before the science fiction convention your life revolves around. But on the other hand, without you fanboys devoid of that human trait we like to call dignity, the internet would be a far less funny place. So don’t let me tinkle in your Count Chocula; have a ball. And please, keep LARPing (more on that in a future post).

Hail to the King baby


Chiller Expo is run by a bunch of idiots who keep getting kicked out of hotels. This was my first one, and having to wait 2 hours in the rain to get in, I would not have done it if Milky wasn’t depending on me for a ride home in the Blue Meeny, and he hadn’t promised a hotel room party afterward. That party was not to be, due to a Nerd Wedding happening somewhere at the hotel; we met some cool folks but Old Man Tommy was not about to endure a fucking wedding at a horror convention. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, and one of them was a “hand fasting” of people dressed up like Inigo Montoya in Seinfeld’s Frilly Shirt. My retinas have enough scars without seeing a vampire wedding, or a zombie wedding, or whatever horrors lay in store for us that night.

Snake Plissken? I thought you were dead.

The wait was worth it, however, because like Dross said- nothing makes you feel better about yourself than going to a convention like this. If you ever sit on your couch and wonder if you’re living a good life, do yourself a favor and do to a Comicon, or a Chiller Expo. If you are contemplating suicide because you feel like a complete waste of flesh, go to a Furry Convention. Then again, that might drive you to suicide, like a Lovecraftian beastie too terrible to behold, because those people fuck plush animals and dress up like fuzzy bunnies. Chiller is several magnitudes better in the Geek Hierarchy, and these people look like they have lives. Of a sort. There’s large biker contingent, a subset of guys with 6 inch or longer goatees, and a smaller Gwar! fan faction.

Zombie Attack!

The first thing you hit is the dealer room. Here if there’s any sort of horror movie DVD, movie poster, or expensive, delicate figurine you can imagine, you will find it. Obscure horror movie you and 3 friends on myspace have seen? They have a t-shirt. I myself wore my Evil Dead: The Musical! t-shirt, so I could rise above the unwashed masses (and how true that phrase was) with a Broadway show t-shirt. I could have bought a huge diorama of Bruce Campbell as Ash the chainsaw-wielding slayer of the undead, but I’d have to sell some of my collection of scary pointy weapons to make room for it. And no, I don’t have any of those cheap Made-in-China Renn Fest weapons littering my man-cave. My tastes run toward the custom-made Bowie knives by American Bladesmith Society Master Smiths. If a burglar trips in my home, I won’t need to call the police. He’ll be a pincushion.

Emperor Popetine

Rorschach was a huge hit at the convention. The Watchmen movie is coming out next spring, and there’s a lot of hype for it. Perhaps you saw the trailer before Dark Knight. Every Nerd, Dick and Harry wanted a photo with ‘Shack, so I was a busy man with the camera. Another thing about conventions is that every has-been of movies, music and televisions goes there to sell photos and autographs for beer money. $20 or $30 worth of beer money. I had a few names on my list- Ace Frehley, formerly of KISS; Linda Hamilton of Terminator fame, but known to nerds for that ’80s TV show “Beauty and the Beast”; George Kennedy, from Cool Hand Luke, but more importantly the Naked Gun Trilogy; and Ernest Borgnine, who’s…. Ernest fucking Borgnine, dammit!

Nerds like the obscure ones

We worked our way through the maze of hotel hallways leading to the Space Ace, and it felt like the Copacabana scene in Goodfellas, except with the dregs of nerd-dom surrounding us instead of New York glitterati. At the end of our long journey, we were greeted by an empty room full of police tape making a makeshift set of velvet ropes leading to the rock ‘n roll star. An unhelpful goon proffered post-KISS Ace wares, since the make-up is now owned and trademarked by KISS entrepreneurs Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, who will sell you a KISS coffin if you like; and they’ll let someone else play the Space Ace on stage now, too. They’ve become The Phantom of the Park, while Ace has stuck to principles.

I look high because the goon didn’t say ‘smile’

Ace looks like Keith Richards’ younger brother; years of rocking hard have taken their toll, but he is a friendly and happy guy. Some stars get surly, but he was all smiles. Of course, we just paid $30 to get a picture taken with him, by a fat bodyguard who takes a shitty photo. I’d be smiling too. I wish he had copies of his solo album there; I had dreams of finding a 180 gram vinyl limited-edition and getting it signed in a flourish of silver paint marker. But the reality is that KISS is long behind him. He had the best of the solo albums, and his cover of “Back in the New York Groove” made the song a U.S. hit. I never liked KISS much once he left, but that’s another story. It was great getting a photo with him.

Boba Fett and Darth Kabuki

After seeing has-been star power drain my wallet, I decided to forgo dropping any more money to pose next to the likes of Angie Dickinson, or even my teenage crush Linda Hamilton. I’d rather remember her as Sarah Connor. In the lobby we met more followers of Costumed Aggression, including a kick-ass Boba Fett costume and another Sith Lord named Darth Childmower or something. Others included a nurse from the games/movie Silent Hill; a guy dressed as the Burger King with the creepy mask, who engorged the loins of every nerd in the house by bringing his girlfriend dressed as Princess Leia in slave gear from Return of the Jedi. There were plenty of Jabbas to slobber over her.

Fredwina Krueger and waif

Some of my faves were more obscure, being the snooty sort of ex-nerd that I am. A couple dressed as Frank (Dennis Hopper) and Dorothy (Isabella Rosellini) from Blue Velvet; a great Snake Plissken costume from the Escape from New York/L.A. movies, who actually looked like young Kurt Russell; the gorilla with a space helmet from Robot Monster; and a kid wearing a giant milk carton with her face sticking out under the “missing child” logo.

Silent Hill

The costume contest had plenty of more typical, but excellent ideas- a guy dressed as a zombie cop attacking a woman, complete with his guts falling out and throwing a severed head at her. That won “scariest costume” and looked professional. There were a trio of Ghostbusters, with proton packs; a decent Godzilla costume, missing the tail. Maybe he’ll have a tail next year, but he could stomp Tokyo and get away with it. The funniest one, which won “most creative,” was Emperor Popetine. Pope Joe Ratzenberger just kinda looks like the evil Emperor from Star Wars.

Who you gonna call? Three nerds!

Unfortunately for Milky, there was also another Rorschach. Milky’s costume was better, and he better resembled the scrappy vigilante in size too. They got a photo together for another fan. We spent the rest of the night photographing the nerdiest people we could find; I’ll end with them here, so you can feel better about yourself. Now, I’ve got to review 9 more horror movies before Halloween, so I’m going to watch stuff like The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, which isn’t nerdy at all. Nope nope.

Fat Star Wars guy
Robot Monster

Heineken? Fuck that shit!

Where losers win!

Dueling Rorschachs

Not sure if he just likes kilts or if he’s in a costume.

Godzilla and his terrible grimace

And finally, a guy dressed as Batman with underoos.
Wow, I feel GREAT about myself now.

17. KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park

Schlocktoberfest #17: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park

Man, I love the ’70s. They continue to be an endless well of entertainment. I remember seeing KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park on TV as a kid, shortly after the equally hysterical Star Wars Holiday Special. Watch either of them today and you’ll have trouble believing they are real. But thank goodness, they are. The Star Wars special included a coked-up Carrie Fischer cameo, and brought Wookiee Life Day into the national consciousness; the KISS movie scarred us more deeply, and we hid it like a bruise from a drunken stepfather.
KISS was one of the biggest groups at the time, appealing to teens because of the heavy glam rock music in the age of disco, and to kids due to the crazy costumes. I idolized them as a child. I had the action figures. I dressed as Peter Criss one year for Halloween. Sadly no photos exist to record this infamy, but take my word for it. I played my tape of Dynasty until it wore out. But this movie, even the band despises. Hell, even Peter Criss- who I’ll admit despite my childhood obsessions, was probably the least talented member of the band- wouldn’t even show up to record his lines, and had to be dubbed by his stunt double.

No, I’m Back in the New York Groove!

Loosely based on the Phantom of the Opera, which had already gotten the ’70s glam-rock treatment with Brian DePalma’s Phantom of the Paradise, the thin story involves an overzealous designer of animatronics at a big amusement park. KISS is playing a concert there, and is stealing the thunder of his Westworld-style robots who are stationed around the park, posing as kabuki samurai or gorillas in cages. When he’s fired, he decides to clone KISS and make robots of them, so he can rule the planet with their rock and roll. But KISS won’t stand for that. See, they aren’t just rockers, but have been granted powers by their strange talismans, which they protect in a glass case.

The talismans which give KISS all their powers!

The KISS personae, which casual fans might not even know about, are- the Starchild, Paul Stanley, whose vocal prowess and star-shaped eye makeup grant him eye laser beam powers, among other things. Gene Simmons is the Demon, who can breathe fire and growls like a tiger; Ace Frehley, the Space Ace,can teleport, and Peter Criss is the Catman, who mentions having 8 lives, and is the useless Aquaman of the group. But hey, he’s got a cape. In fact they all wear faux chain mail capes, even as they lounge around the pool at the KISS Mansion.

Lifeguards in chainmail

Even though KISS was nearing their peak of popularity, the movie was relegated to TV in the States, and the original plan to have all new songs for the movie was shelved. The network thought it was too scary- laughable today, or even when compared to ’74s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark– so the cheesy battles between KISS and the renegade robots were set to goofy cartoon music. Hell, the whole thing was produced by Hanna-Barbera, so I’m surprised Scooby Doo and Shaggy didn’t show up to pull the mask off the bad guy. It really must be seen to be believed, so I’ll let you be the judge.

The greatest glory of the ’70s

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Forgotten Vinyl – KISS: Music from "The Elder"


So what’s “The Elder” and why did Kiss make music from it? That’s a good question, and today it will be answered in detail beyond your wildest dreams. It’s a famous flop, born of hubris, hobbits and excess.

Back in 1980 I was in 4th grade, and Kiss was the greatest band in the universe. It didn’t help that my older cousins liked to dress up as Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley for Halloween, and had painted the Destroyer album cover on the wall in my grandmother’s spare room. I had Destroyer on cassette and played it incessantly, until it wore out and “God of Thunder” played extra-slow on the stretched tape. Me and my sister preferred it broken, because the giggling children in the song were creepier that way. I also had a single of “Detroit Rock City” that we played over and over, trying to make sense of it. We knew it had a car accident and dancing in it, but before the blessed interweb there was only the rumor that it was about a fan who died in a car accident on the way to a Kiss concert.
Unfortunately I got into Kiss right when their career took a “downturn,” or nosedived into the shitter because of the flood of Kiss dolls (had ’em, lost ’em, cried when I saw them on ebay) and other merchandise. They haven’t learned, either- you can be buried in a Kiss coffin, if you’re a diehard fan (rimshot). In 1980 they came out with Unmasked, trying to shed their glam rock image and get a broader fan base. I had that album and remember feeling gypped that there were no photos of them without make-up in there. The cover had a cheesy comic book story on it, and in the end, they really look like that under their masks! It was the equivalent of “Remember to Drink Your Ovaltine” in A Christmas Story for me.

It was only later that I discovered Kiss’s next album, quizzically titled Music from “The Elder.” It was a huge flop, apparently. They didn’t even tour for it. But I didn’t know that then- I was a fan of the Highlander movie, and David Eddings’ Belgariad Tolkien ripoff, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, so when I found a fantasy concept album by Kiss I was totally into it. Looking back on it now, it seems like they watched the Ralph Bakshi movie of Lord of the Rings a few times, came up with some generic plotline about an ancient cabal who trains a hero every generation to fight whatever evil has risen in the world, and recorded some songs about it. Some of these songs are pretty damn good, but wow, as producer Bob Ezrin confessed, some are “the product of a serious cocaine addiction.” Ace Frehley left the band over the direction the group took, and while he may have never succeeded above his great single “Back in the New York Groove,” I will posit that the “Space Ace” was the one with his faculties in the finest order during this period. They wanted to make a movie using the proceeds of the album, and Christopher Makepeace (Rudy from Meatballs) was credited on the album. If this was anything like Lord of the Rings mixed with Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, it would have been epic.
The gatefold sleeve of the album lacks any image of the band, so it’s sort of like The Black Album by Spinal Tap- you can’t immediately recognize it as a Kiss album. It looks more like a disc of Gregorian Chants than hard rock- it was a huge mistake to not go the Molly Hatchet route and put a Boris Vallejo cover on it. Just imagine the band done Vallejo style, swinging axes and breathing fire while riding a manticore. Now, that would have gotten your attention. Instead, you open the gatefold and see a big wooden table with a candle on it, and the inscrutable verses that read:

“When the earth was young, they were already old…”
Since the dawn of time, the Elder have watched silently
over a virgin world and all its creatures…
Now, they have assumed the form of mortals so that they
might walk amongst men and guide them.
The Elder are an ideal…They embody the wisdom of the
ages and the power of goodness and knowledge…
But the Elder were not alone in the beginning and are not
alone still…Another force has existed eternally…

In every place, in every time, an evil is loosed whose
sole purpose is to destroy all that is good. And in every
time, and every place, it is the task of the Elder to find
and train a warrior…a champion to conquer the evil.
As the looming clouds gather, the council of the Elder sits
at their ancient table under the sign of the Rose. Once again
they must combat the evil that is lurking in darkness and
spreading throughout the world.
They await the word from Morpheus, the caretaker, whether the
boy be deemed ready for the sacred rite of accession to the
Order of the Rose…and for the pronouncement of his sacred duty…

The odyssey begins…

Beyond being a crime against ellipses, it sounds like something your brother makes up in between bong hits after watching The Beastmaster or Dragonslayer. I think the horrible fantasy novel I was writing in junior year of high school was something along these lines (It is long since burned, before you ask). The lyrics vary from as bad as this to actually pretty damn good- they did begrudgingly include “The Oath” and “A World Without Heroes” on a box set. The ballads sound nothing like Kiss, but the rockers are some of their best stuff in my obviously biased opinion.

The album originally began with some medieval-sounding horns called “fanfare” which now comes after “The Oath.” According to wikipedia, this throws off the story of the album, but we never noticed. If it began with a processional fanfare, it would have scared off any fans that figured out it was a Kiss album, so it was the right choice.

Like a blade of a sword I am forged in flame
Fiery hot
Tempered steel fire-bright to the night I take
I fear not

The fanfare thing sounded all fantasy-ish back in the 80’s of course, when if you mentioned The Lord of the Rings, you meant the Bakshi movie or the Hobbit movie with “Yo ho, my lads! Down down to Goblin towwwn!” and the Keebleresque elves of Elfquest and their ilk.

Then you cut into “Just A Boy,” where Paul Stanley sounds like he lost his testicles. It’s not badly written, but it was a horrible choice to have the chorus sang in a castrato. There’s some nice guitar work in it, and it does draw you in to the fantasy tale quite well.

Who steers the ship through the stormy sea
If hope is lost then so are we
While some eyes search for one to guide us
Some are staring at me

They smartly stick a rocker between this and “Only You” (not the Platters song) called “A Dark Light.” Despite the lyrics of this one being vague and cryptic, it’s a good song and has a good guitar riff. However, you can tell that Kiss isn’t cut out for prog rock. Things really don’t pick up until the end of side 2. “Under the Rose” is a dark and dreary tune that sounds more like a funeral dirge than a Kiss song, and works well for the concept. If you play it alone, you’ll be horrified. I always thought the lyric was “Only you… are the magi” but I’ve been told it is “manchild,” which is even worse.

(sub rosa– get it??)

Side 2 starts off with the single “A World Without Heroes,” which Lou Reed (!!!) helped pen. It’s a bittersweet ballad and the best known song off the album, which would have worked as a quiet interlude as the camera panned over the landscape, or Christopher Makepeace was molested by orcs. It would be especially fitting, since he was the Dungeon Master in Mazes and Monsters.

A world without heroes
Is like a world without sun
You can’t look up to anyone
Without heroes
And a world without heroes
Is like a never ending race
Is like a time without a place
A pointless thing devoid of grace

Then we’re introduced to what must be the villain- Mr. Blackwell, which sounds suspiciously familiar…. was he named after the famously acerbic fashion critic? By the way, if the music links stop working, the entire album is on youtube, and accessible via this Mr. Blackwell link. With a chorus like:

You’re not well, Mr. Blackwell
And we can tell
You’re not well, Mr. Blackwell
Why don’t you go to hell

Sung back and forth between Gene Simmons as the evil Mr. Blackwell and the scorn of the chorus, it’s very silly but still a bit of fun.

Next is another instrumental called “Escape from the Island” that has sirens in it for some reason. It still sounds exciting and makes me want to escape from an island, chased by goblins in Kiss make-up, but I always wondered why a fantasy tale would have air raid klaxons.

9. Escape from the Island

Possibly then worst song on the album is “Odyssey,” which has the most pretentious and nonsensical lyrics I’ve read in a long time. I mean, even as a teenager they sounded dumb, and I was a really dumb teenager.

Through the luminescent night
On beams of neon light
You and I in wing-ged flight
As we cross the starry sea, powered by what we see
Now and then, the victory

Once upon not yet, long ago someday
Countless times we’ve met, met along the way

I won’t subject you to the awful verse about the stallion and the mare.

One of the best songs rounds out the album, simply titled “I,” with the rocking chorus, “I believe in me.” They even end the chorus with “I wanna rock ‘n roll all nite!” to throw a rockin’ bone to the fans.

The story ends with the boy being accepted into the fellowship (where have I heard that before) so maybe they imagined this as the first in a trilogy. That was rather ambitious of them, don’t you think?

The finale, with the raspy voiced Elders and Morpheus who sounds vaguely familiar…

It’s too bad it was such a failure, but you can sort of see where it overreached itself at nearly every step. I really enjoy listening to it, and not just for nostalgic reasons. As pretentious and vague as some of the songs are, you do get a hint at what the movie would be like. The back of the album says it would include Christopher Makepeace, Antony Parr and Robert Christie- all whom share being involved in a show called “The Littlest Hobo,” about an intelliget German shepherd walking th’ Earth and having adventures. Just imagine the fantasy epic they would have created.
The album doesn’t deserve to be on a “worst of all time” list, which it is, but it was certainly a disappointment for fans, especially after Unmasked, which if I recall, had a song called “She’s So (European)” on it. The band doesn’t disown the album, and I like the self-effacing quotes from Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley regarding it:

  • “I go on record saying it’s not a great KISS record but I think it’s a really great record.” – Paul Stanley, 1996
  • “As a KISS record I’d give it a zero. As a bad Genesis record, I’d give it a two.” – Gene Simmons
  • “We’ve done a lot of fuck me suck me songs and we thought we might like to go a slightly different route.” – Paul Stanley, 1982

That’s right up there with “Lick My Love Pump,” from Spinal Tap if you ask me. Pure classic. Whats even better, is I remember who introduced me to this album, which requires a careful dive into the shipwreck of my high school life. He was a rather insane Kiss fan, and is probably a four-star general in the Kiss Army now. He’s probably better known nowadays as Maul Stanley or C.C. Banana, and while I slap my forehead at the realization that I hung out with this guy, part of me rejoices that if I ever go to a class reunion, it doesn’t matter if everyone else in my class is a Captain of Industry, at least I’m not the C.C. Banana guy.

Though I’ve found out where the church they used for the album cover is on Park Avenue, and I might have to go take a photo of it. Just not in a banana costume.
If you want to experience this album at its fullest, find the vinyl on ebay like I did (yeah I sold my original ages ago) or get the CD off amazon:

80’s Trash of the Week: Runaway

It Is The Future… where every home has a robot, Tom Selleck saves us from Gene Simmons, who has made evil microchips that turn projectors and erector sets into deadly killing machines.
All the good parts condensed into a trailer.

I can be pretty forgiving of a movie that makes me nostalgic. I saw Runaway back in ’84 as a 13 year old idiot, and it was the greatest thing ever. Robots, computers, boobs, and Gene Simmons. Now just a few years earlier, the horrible KISS album Unmasked came out and shattered our childhood dreams that KISS were exactly like they were in KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, demons from another dimension who bring us Rock and save us from monsters. Before the blessed internet, the movie was the only way we could glimpse what Gene Simmons looked like in human form. If he was truly human… we all knew he had a cow’s tongue grafted on, so perhaps his make-up was really a tattoo, or a birthmark.

According to the wikipedia, Runaway was meant to be “the sci-fi blockbuster of the summer,” but Michael Crichton’s dreams were smashed like a poseur band under KISS’s boots when James Cameron, the one true god of the action film, came out with another little killer robot movie called The Terminator. Crichton would have to shut up about the d-d-dangers of technology until 1993, when he stole Charles Pellegrino’s idea about getting dinosaur DNA from amber. So we have James Cameron to thank for not another retread of Westworld coming out every few years. Crichton’s other bad 80’s film, Looker, which was about making CG “models “of perfect fashion models and then killing them, will be the subject of another week’s review.

This movie starts out bad and gets progressively worse. It has a few interesting ideas that it executes clumsily, and it’s hard to believe that it’s made by the same guy who gave us the pretty damn good 70’s movie Westworld, also about killer robots. Futureworld had come out already, so maybe we were sick of killer robots that looked like Radio Shack leftovers. Either way, watching it now is like getting teeth pulled.

It begins with Tom Selleck and his female partner (see, in the future we won’t be as sexist as Michael Crichton’s novels) show up at a corn field to catch a runaway robot that looks like a Tonka truck.
The wily robot runs all over the field, and the cops, as a robot version of Animal Control, can do nothing better than chase it on foot and tackle it. It of course, explodes. That’s what technology does. Later, they show up at a hostage situation where the home robot has a gun and shot its masters. There’s a baby inside, so Selleck dons chain mail and some oven mitts, grabs his trusty laser, and heads in to kill Rosie the Robot, who looks a lot like an old projector with wheels on it. Sort of like Battlebots would be, years later. So maybe they got that right.

To Selleck’s discredit, he plays the part completely straight.

Our hero is pretty bland and has no personality, except hating robots (despite owning one) and being afraid of heights. This and the spy flop Lassiter pretty much buried any hopes of a Tom Selleck action hero career. Even with the porn ‘stache. Magnum, P.I. always had some humor, and this movie would have benefited from a little. As usual, Crichton takes his nervous-nelly technology-fearmongering incredibly seriously, with such awfully written exchanges as:

Ramsey: Lemme tell ya the way the world is. Nothing works right. Relationships don’t work right, people don’t work right, people make machines so why should machines be perfect?
Karen: Because they’re machines.
Ramsey: Yeah, well thats not the way it is.

Pretty deep, huh?

J-NEE’s got a gun…

Once they check out the killer projector, they find a custom chip in it with a red mark on it, the universal symbol of evil. Once the token black cop inspects it, he declares it can “turn any domestic computer into a killing machine.” Dun dunt DUN! Who would do something so diabolical? Gene Simmons from KISS, that’s who. Just look at how deliciously evil he looks. He’s loving every minute of it.

That little smirk means “I was banging Kirstie Alley in my trailer.”

Yes, Kirstie Alley. Back in the 80’s she was smokin’, now she’s a smoked pork loin. Actually that’s a cruel and easy joke, but she’s a Scientologist and we show them no mercy here. I guess she’s just got a lot of body thetans now, or the cans on her e-meter were filled with gravy. But here, in the magical 80’s, she was hot stuff, with some wild eyeshadow.

If I only knew that thetans lived in pie.

In this scene, they are checking her for bugs. Not coochie-thetans, the electronic kind. It’s a clever excuse for her to get topless. In the 80’s, discerning audiences demanded at least one boob scene.

Gene Simmons’ gun pre-dates the cool RoboCop gun by a few years, but isn’t as cool. Instead of being a machine pistol, it uses Acme Cartoon Technology to sniff out its target, turn corners, and double back. Tom Selleck actually runs away from it, dodges it, and so on. We later learn that it is a mini-rocket that traces your heat signature, when the black scientist cop lights a smoke next to one they captured. Yes, he lights a smoke next to an unexploded rocket cartoon bomb that chases you all around the studio backlot to explode up your ass. The movie is that smart. They also use a fucking psychic to track where the bullet came from, to show that flim-flammery is better than science.

Hey Gene, that’s no Love Gun.

Selleck’s partner gets shot in the arm with the Wile E. Coyote gun and he demands to remove the bullet himself, since those “disarmer bots” (also looking suspiciously like a projector with stuff on it) are always screwing up. He saves her arm and she’s just fine one scene later, that’s the power of the human touch. In the next, most exciting scene, the cops get into their crappy little cars and get chased by little remote-control modems that explode under them.
They get chased because they forgot to scan Kirstie’s purse for bugs, and there’s a great scene where they jump from moving cars, with the doors open so the cars are 10 feet apart, instead of going through the windows. They shoot the bomberbots with a laser mounted on top of the other car, that uses the same sound effect as the Star Wars ship lasers.

Not the best way to swap cars, but the best way to show Selleck’s ass.

Kirstie, shaken by that idiotic chase, finally gives up “the templates” for the Evil Microchips, which look like photo negatives. They meet Simmons to trade the templates at a sushi restaurant with a racist neon logo, where his partner gets captured because Selleck isn’t paying attention.

Hai! You wan’ sushi? Yes, the face is yellow.

Simmons doesn’t just have Acme chase-you bullets, evil microchips, and remote control bombs at his disposal. The film’s probably most famous for the spiders, which look like erector set toys, and can jump on you, inject acid, and explode with a lot of sparks, “leaving no evidence.” Except acid burns and robot shrapnel in your face. My personal favorite scene is when one kills a female cop in the bathroom, because she dies like a cartoon cockroach. Her legs flail and then stick straight up like she got sprayed with Raid. Crichton should be commended for directing this touching death scene.
Dying in a toilet stall is never dignified.

They trade templates for hostages, but only give him half, so Simmons has to sneak into the police station to find out where Selleck lives. Despite looking like pure evil, and being the city’s most wanted terrorist, he just dons a uniform and uses their computers. He doesn’t even hack in on a phone line, even though he hacked the police cameras earlier. He shows up at Selleck’s house and kicks over his housebot, who talks like Cartman’s mom and looks suspiciously like a stereo system on wheels with a phone attached. Then he takes his annoying kid hostage, and to the top of a highrise under construction, because he knows Selleck is afraid of heights. Not that it stops him from going to the top of the building, hanging from underneath the freight elevator, and swinging around like an orangutan. Also, there is a Spark Factory on the top floor. Action films have a lot of spark factories in them, sort of like how every spaceship since Alien has had a Dripping Chain Room.
The intolerably long roof scene.

Simmons unwisely tells him that the spiderbots are programmed to kill the first person down the elevator, so Selleck uses their cold robotic logic against his nemesis, by making him land on the ground first. And we all know what that leads to. Explosive acid-injection! One even gets him in the crotch.

Where’s the KISS Army when I need them?
After the requisite second death scene, they all live happily ever after, and are all killed by Terminators. I wouldn’t recommend seeing this film, unless you want to shatter your nostalgic yearning to see it again. It’s badly paced and feels intolerably long, it has what is probably Jerry Goldsmith’s worst score, and Selleck and his partner are so damn boring that Gene Simmons chewing up the scenery like Ozzy on a bat’s scrotum isn’t enough to keep it interesting. Unlike The Last Starfighter, it lacks the charm necessary for me to overlook its faults. It was deservingly overshadowed by The Terminator, whose effects and pacing make it look like a TV movie in comparison. The spiderbots are kind of neat and they manage to make them look better than little tinkertoys in a few scenes, but this is a relic best avoided.