www.fangoria.com | by Chris Alexander
Legendary genre journeyman director Gordon Hessler (pictured above with Ray Harryhausen) has passed at the age of 83. Hessler, a German born, British-blooded and educated, Hollywood-based filmmaker, is most notable to FANGORIA readers for his interesting post-Roger Corman work for American International Pictures, with the failed new “Poe Cycle” kick-starters THE OBLONG BOX (with Christopher Lee and Vincent Price), MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (with Jason Robards and Herbert Lom) and the Poe flavored Vincent Price classic CRY OF THE BANSHEE, not to mention the utterly mad horror all-star opus SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN starring Price, Lee and Peter Cushing.
Outside of that late 1960s, early 1970s golden period of Gothic horror, Hessler’s most famous contribution to pop culture was his work helming the blazingly awful KISS feature, produced by cartoon kingpins Hanna-Barbera, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK. Originally lensed as a TV movie of the week, the bizarre amalgam of live KISS performances, hammy overacting (by both the band and villain Anthony Zerbe) and the unusual Magic Mountain setting was also released in Europe as an extended theatrical feature called ATTACK OF THE PHANTOMS (the version that appears on the KISSOLOGY VOL.2 DVD set). Part pop-art fantasy, part horror movie and part accidental comedy, the film practically defines the term “cult movie” and has an international legion of followers, both KISS fans and non alike.
As a devout fan of horror movies, KISS co-founder and PHANTOM co-star Gene Simmons was thrilled that Hessler was the one directing the film. Indeed his first stint in front of the camera and their professional relationship was a positive one. “Gordon Hessler was ever the gentleman,” Simmons told FANGORIA today, a sentiment echoed recently in FANGORIA #324 by actress Meg Tilly, who bared all in Hessler’s arty 1989 thriller THE GIRL IN THE SWING.
“He was kind, he was considerate and caring. He would actually take the time to talk to us on set, not just about the filming we had to do that day, but also how we were feeling about everything, which is rare. He will be missed.”
KISS frontman and co-founder Paul Stanley also spoke to FANGORIA, whimsically recalling that period so long ago when the biggest band in the world made their first movie. “Gordon Hessler had the misfortune of being thrown into the impossible situation of trying to create a film with a cast led by four idiots who had no concept of acting and a script that had little pop and too much corn,” Stanley said.
“But he was a lovely, soft spoken gentleman and I truly felt for him, in what was clearly going to be a futile effort making KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK.”
Hessler retired from directing in 1990s to pursue other pastures but his lively, colorful filmography—that, as with the aforementioned THE GIRL IN THE SWING was often very personal— will endure as long as people still care about strange, often beautiful, and sometimes, like with the KISS film, ludicrous movies that matter.
Rest in peace, Gordon Hessler.
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