Story from KISS: MONSTER - The Official Album and Tour Magazine #2
By Chris Alexander
Gene Simmons changed the rules of rock and roll when he created The Demon, a hulking, nightmarish blood dribbling, fire monster with a sex drive, as intent on demolishing cities a la Godzilla as he was destroying bass lines and deflowering your daughters.
Indeed, The Demon is a villain, that dark part of Simmons culled from his child-like love of Lon Chaney, weird fantasy and four color pulp fiction. So, when KISS drifted into the 80’s and lost their make-up and element of visual phantasmagoria, where was Gene to channel all that darkness?
Well, onto the silver screen of course.
While KISS sourced new line-ups and Paul scrambled to keep them relevant, Gene rolled the dice and made a series of genre romps, many of which called on him to be morally checkered and in most cases downright evil. Time has filed away many of these pictures and a serious look at Gene’s excellent work (in most cases, his presence is what made the films) in them is long overdue. Here then, is a look at five undervalued movies that saw everyone’s favorite Demon chew scenery and freak out his co-stars.
Late writer/director and all around visionary Michael Crichton (JURASSIC PARK, COMA) directed this vaguely futuristic action thriller that saw Tom Selleck (TV’s MAGNUM PI) as a cop out to stop an evil genius named Luther (Simmons, natch) who has created an army of killer robot spiders and smart bullets. Tightly wound and played straight, RUNAWAY has plenty going for it, chief among its attributes is Simmons’ well tailored, dead eyed, criminal mastermind, his first on-screen role since 1978’s KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK.
Gene Simmons: “Luther was a composite, in my mind, of various reference points. One was Conrad Veidt, a German silent expressionist actor, who came to work in Hollywood when sound came in and is most famous for films like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and THE MAN WHO LAUGHED and also played everything from Evil Middle Eastern characters, to Nazi's and so on. A touch of Charles Middleton/Ming The Merciless, from the Buster Crabbe/ Flash Gordon movie serials and some of the Mob movie bad guys, specifically Al Pacino's eyes in the first GODFATHER film. Michael Crichton and I became friends. I got the acting job when he called me into his office - it seems his secretary, a former liaison of mine, recommended me. He said “stare into my eyes for 30 seconds:. During that time, I want your eyes to tell me that you're going to kill me. I did. And he gave me the job. Crichton was 6'9" tall, as I recall. A brain surgeon/scientist in his former career. He would go on to write Jurassic Park, create ER and other classic properties. He was a nice man. I think RUNAWAY is a guilty pleasure. A decent enough movie for its time. And I got to kill my onscreen mob girl friend – played by Kirstie Alley - by shoving a knife into the back of her skull. Nice.”
NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE (1986)
A certifiably bizarre 80’s thriller, one that strangely has yet to find a cult following. In it, Simmons goes so far over the top, he floats in orbit as the evil Velvet Von Ragner a he/she psychopath who kills George Lazenby then runs afoul of his vengeance crazed son (a pre-FULL HOUSE John Stamos). Tacky, weird and hypnotic, the film is supremely strange and Simmons presence is one of the great WTF turns in cinema history.
SIMMONS: “I had a month off from touring and a producer called me into his office and introduced me to the writer/director. And cash was offered. I knew little about the project. Only that I would play two roles. I was game. I like to work. Then I found out I would play a military type, as well as a transvestite..high heels, lipstick, corset…the works. Now, it’s always fun going to work in your girlfriend's stripper chic outfits and have to pass the truck drivers who whistle and torture you. “Nice ass, Gene.” Ugh.Really though, playing Ragner was not a proud moment in my life. ‘It takes a man like me, to be a woman like me.’ Ugh.”
WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE (1987)
Another incredibly undervalued Simmons performance as one of the 80’s most menacing villains. This Gary Sherman (POLTERGEIST III) directed shoot em up is only tenuously linked to the popular Steve McQueen starring1960s’ TV show of the same name, with Rutger Hauer playing McQueen’s bounty hunter grandson pitting wits against Simmons’ mad Arab terrorist. Here, he goes back to the controlled mad genius mold of Luther but with even more shivery results in a much better film to boot, with a memorable sign off moment.
SIMMONS: “Gary Sherman, the writer/director gave me the job over Charles Bronson, who was a leading man in those days. When I found out the lead would be Rutger Hauer, I jumped at the chance. Hauer's android performance in BLADE RUNNER continues to be one of my favorite performances on screen, by any actor. When you mix a bad guy with religious conviction, you get a different shade of evil. On day one of getting on the set to shoot scene one , Sherman introduced Rutger and I to each other. The entire crew was there to clap and welcome us. Rutger wrapped his hands on my face, and drew me in and kissed me on the lips. And everyone laughed. I was…stunned. We had a great time on the set. At this period in my life, I wanted more. And the non-makeup days in KISS were not fulfilling to me. I didn't feel connected to who I was on stage. That's life.”
RED SURF (1990)
This little seen thriller is flawed but is notable as being an early big screen turn by then TV star George Clooney. Simmons is not a villain, rather he is a burned out Vietnam vet who is world weary from the violence that surrounds him. Again, not a villain, but a morally checkered and scene stealing character that makes this otherwise mediocre picture worth watching.
SIMMONS: “This was a very low budget movie and George Clooney had yet to find his strengths and had yet to become a movie star. We all got along great and it was a good working experience. It was a fun role. The director, Gordon Boos worked with Francis Coppola and other greats as an AD. He was a modest guy. He saw his chance at doing something to get him to the next level. So, the producers wanted to call the movie RED SURF. I called them on the title. I said something to the effect "It blows." I mean, what the hell does surfing have to do with the color red. They went into this crazy explanation…and I said it sucks. The title still sucks”.
Mike Judge (BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD, OFFICE SPACE) wrote and directed this lovable, sharp and frequently hilarious comedy that sees Jason Bateman launch a ludicrous plan to cheat on his wife, with disastrous results. Simmons steals the show as usual as skuzzy “as seen on TV” lawyer Joe Adler, a sonofabitch ambulance chaser who bullies and manipulates his clients for a quick buck.
SIMMONS: “I don't know if Mike wrote the role of Adler for me, but I have certainly met these kind of ambulance chasers. And my reference point for the character was Gene Hackman in a movie called CLASS ACTION where he defended an auto company against his daughter who was the lawyer for the victims. Hackman was polite, and nice….and nefarious. I like EXTRACT. It's funny and well written. You know, I really enjoy acting but my blessing is sort of my curse. I'm in KISS. That takes a lot of time. I also have voracious appetites in other areas. Business and pop culture. But there are only a certain number of hours in the day and I simply can't do it all.”
But I would never complain.
I am blessed.
For more notable “Gene on Screen” also check out his cameo in the 1986 horror film TRICK R TREAT where he plays a loudmouth DJ named Nuke and his quietly menacing turn as drug lord Newton Blade in the season two opener of TV’s MIAMI VICE.