Reel Toronto: Detroit Rock City
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Reel Toronto: Detroit Rock City

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
According to Wikipedia, Detroit Rock City made a pathetic five million dollars at the box office but has since become a cult classic that “has been often compared to the 1993 film Dazed and Confused.” That might be a nice way of saying it tries damned hard to be like Dazed and Confused (a real cult classic about a single, crazy night in the ’70s), right down to the dude who apparently hoped to build a career born out of playing a combination of Slater from D&C and Jay from Kevin Smith’s movies. Yeah, that didn’t happen.
What did happen is that, perhaps anticipating the film’s profit margins, the producers decided to save a few bucks by taking a movie that actually has “Detroit” in the title, and shooting the vast majority of it up here.

What we have here is some pretty standard fare about a bunch of rawker kids who dream of driving to Detroit (natch) to see Kiss. First they have to overcome all sorts of obstacles, such as people who like disco and authority figures who, like, don’t get it, man. Is it a spoiler to tell you that after a series of wacky adventures they DO get in to see Kiss?
It is? Oh, well, then nevermind.
Rockin’ kids like these need an oppressive school from which to escape. In the movie it’s called RFK High but it’s actually Cedarbrae Collegiate. Go Colts!
One of the subplots is about this kid whose mom is horrified by his hard-rockin’ ways. It’s the devil’s music, see. So she tries to keep him away from his terrible friends. The first time, she hauls him off to this religious school, which is actually Whitby’s Traflagar Castle School. The scenes there are fun because of Joe Flaherty playing a priest but beware: this film is not afraid to venture into cliche territory and the dudes free their friend by putting shrooms on the priest’s pizza. Crazy!
The second time Mom pulls the kid away it’s so he can confess at Metropolitan United Church. (Cliche intrudes here too: he makes out with a chick in the confessional booth! Heresy!)
The exterior scene, during which the mom leads a rally of anti-Kiss folk, was actually done in the park outside the Cathedral Church of St. James, not too far away at King Street and Church.
You can’t make a wicked teen comedy without a creepy near-rape scene, right? Well, this one takes place in a chop shop, played by Billy Sue’s Rebel Cars, formerly down at the bottom of Bayview Avenue. It’s a barrel of laughs.
In another saucy scene, one of our heroes realizes he can make the dough he needs for tickets by stripping. Imagine the awkwardness! You might not think it could get any crazier but they got Ron Jeremy to play the emcee. Nice.
We’re not experts on the Interstate system and we don’t want to go out on a limb saying these highway shots were done on the 407 but, um, did they have video toll technology in Ohio or Michigan in 1978?

Is it a spoiler to reveal that the boys DO finally get in to see Kiss? Or that Kiss rawk hard? Naw, of course not. It might surprise, however, that the arena scenes were not in Detroit’s Cobo Hall but rather at the not-quite-NHL-ready Copps Coliseum.
Prior to that, one of the kids manages to sneak backstage but, as you might be able to tell from the concerete and the hallway’s curvature, this stuff was shot here at the SkyDome. That’s right, we still call it the SkyDome.
There are a few great stories about the shoot here, including one about a guy who was asked to move out of shot because his 1979 Kiss-style costume would have been anachronistic in the 1978 world of the film.
According to the article at Kiss Assylum, the producers were “so anal about verisimilitude” despite missing that Kiss played Olympia Hall, not Cobo Hall, on their 1978 tour. Oh, and they shot their Detroit film in Toronto. But aside from those two things? Hardcore realism, man.
When the film bombed, Gene Simmons told, “I’m sitting on Mt. Olympus and these silly humans don’t behave the way I want them too, and now the heavens will open and I will zap them with lightning bolts.”
If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s that even a lame film (sorry, cult classic!) like Detroit Rock City cannot harm the morale of the powerful Kiss Army.