Armagideon Time

Dorchester Geek City

April 25th, 2012

During my controversial reign as president of UMass Boston’s Sci-Fi Club, viagra approved I instituted regular “Movie Day” gatherings. The premise was simple. Once a week, doctor members and other assorted hangers-on were encouraged to cut class and cram themselves into the broom closet-sized clubroom to watch some tangentially relevant genre flick on a TV/VCR rig borrowed from the media lab.

The selection of films was pretty much what you’d expect from a bunch of geeks muddling their way through the early 1990s — Highlander (which was an inexplicably BIG THING back then…until the sequel poisoned the slavish dedication well), for sale Robocop, Repo Man, Hellraiser 2, The Road Warrior, and so forth. The logistics and staging process was left to the club’s secretary, a by-the-numbers fanboy whose writing aspirations boiled down to shamlessly cribbing from whatever RPG setting was currently in vogue. Though he appeared to relish — as certain members of the nerd herd do — the feelings of power and control associated with being the designated Movie Day Maestro, he was also prone to occasional bouts of peevish behavior when it came to fulfilling his role.

I don’t know whether it was a passive-aggressive way of demanding recognition for his “work” or a just an irritating personality quirk, but he’d arrive empty handed every third movie day or so and inform the gathered crowd that they’d “have to deal with this bullshit today.” This usually meant writing the event off for that week and going back to loud discussions of pointless topics…up until my pals Leech and Southie Dave called the kid’s bluff.

On that day, Leech just happened to have a VHS copy of the 1978 relegated-to-TV atrocity Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park in his satchel and Southie Dave — a geek-townie hybrid who took pride in his ability to irritate the more traditional nerd set — volunteered to go downstairs and reserve the AV hardware.

Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park is one of those trash culture touchstones whose “cult” status has been eroded away under a steady flow of snarky commentary by popcult pundits and related dumpster divers. Its astounding awfulness has been analysed and quantified to the point where it has acquired a small contingent of “sincere” (read: “affectedly contrarian”) defenders. Today the film is just another shopworn entry in the historical freak file, but in 1992 it was an entirely different kettle of crapola.

This was before the band’s resurrection from the dustbin of history with that “Psycho Circus” nonsense and the revisionist appropriation of Me Decade silliness in general. It was a time when Kiss was a joke, mired in nostalgia fodder and painful memories of the band’s aburdly awful 1980s incarnation. By some accounts, Phantom of the Park bore the lion’s share of responsibility for the band’s status as a facile punchline, but the movie was merely symptomatic of a larger phenomenon — the exhaustion which accompanies a massively overexposed and mediocre gimmick.

In truth, the movie was an manager-driven attempt to break through the ceiling of diminishing returns and conquer new media realms — “Let’s translate the concept to film!” It might have seemed sensible in theory, but fell apart in the actual execution. The gimmickry behind Kiss could only really work within the narrow confines of a live (or filmed live) performance or publicity still. Without the visual context its made-to-order seal of parental disapproval, the band’s music comes off as bog-standard hard rock bubbleglam, lacking the unique flourishes and hooks which distinguished acts like Sweet and Slade.

The shallowness (relative to David Bowie or Alice Cooper) of the band’s persona-building efforts made a long-form narrative effort an exercise in hilarity. That would have held true even if they didn’t turn the production reins over to Hanna-Barbera, who worked the thin gruel into a live action cartoon complete with all-too-familiar sound effects. (It didn’t help that none of the band’s members could act worth the remotest shade of a damn. Or that they had to overdub Peter Criss’s lines with the voice actor who did Grouchy Smurf and Zan the Wondertwin.)

That beautifully dated melange of hubris and ineptitude induced non-stop howls of side-splitting laughter and ensured that our viewing of Phantom of the Park became the most memorable Movie Day in club history.

That, and the resulting tantrum thrown by the deposed Maestro, who cursed us for our horrible crimes against good taste and proclaimed he would never manage another Movie Day. After Southie Dave responded “”Manage what? All you need is a student ID and a finger to press the elevator buttons,” the Maestro stormed out of the room and refused to speak to anyone for a week.*

That was a good week.

Recommended listening: Accept only substitutes.

*I’d have been more understanding if the kid was a highbrow cinephile and not someone who subjected the club to Robot Jox because it was “an important film.”

6 Responses to “Dorchester Geek City”

  1. Mike Zeidler

    I think I spent a good part of the summer of either ’91 or ’92 hunting down this movie, because it was so awesome in my early teen brain. I vaguely remembered it from its original airing when I was 2*, and I think the whole return of the make-up thing spurred it. Maybe MTV aired it at some point?

    While it is by no means a well made movie, it is probably (probably) a more important a film than Robot Jox.

    *between this, the Reb Brown Captain America TV-movies, and the Legends of the Superheroes/Superhero Roast it quite the memorable year for a toddler.

  2. bitterandrew

    I caught the pool scene on a local UHF Saturday matinee not too long before seeing the whole thing, so it was making the rounds at the time.

  3. Sir A1!

    I think what’s the real shame is that they really didn’t go all-in a la CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC; the management was basically self-aware enough that they knew having a budget bigger than a single episode of ISIS was too much to ask.

  4. Ken

    In the late 90s when I was going to Northeastern University I was one of the group of invisible students known as “commuters” who’s lack of campus accommodations put us several rungs below the social ladder and often relegated us to $30k a year squatters. On Wednesdays I had a huge gap between classes and since I couldn’t simply go to my dorm room and hang out until my next class in 4 hours, and it seemed silly to hop the train all the way home and come back, I had to amuse myself. Since we still had a good amount of great video stores in that area (The Huntington VideoSmith had a particularly good “cult” section, I also had access to Tower Video and this weird pharmacy that had a video store hidden in the back that had some rare stuff), I would rent two movies and essentially squat in one of the giant lecture halls that had pretty great A/V equipment and giant projections screens and basically had a multiplex cinema to myself.

    For the first few weeks I was pretty much left alone, a couple times a professor asked me what the hell I was doing in there and I usually said “Watching a movie” or “getting my tuition money’s worth” which seemed to appease them. After about a month I started getting other students coming in and asking if this was the “movie room”. A few would ask me how much the movie was and one time I jokingly said “$5”. By the end of the semester I routinely got 20-30 kids, all paying me $5 for the privileged of watching “Basket Case” or “The Decline of Western Civilzation” every week. Since no classes were held during the lunch break, I never interfered with anyone who actually had a legitimate claim on the rooms. It all worked out.

  5. bird

    i remember finding this in the late 90’s at a video rental place. I almost shit my pants. it was a great night of cheap vodka and a movie for a 20 yr old nerd and his slightly less nerdy girlfriend. the next few weeks were filled with quotes and re-enacting the flick. good times.

  6. bitterandrew

    “You’re looking for someone…and it’s not Kiss.”

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