12/5/11

Santa Claus (1959): Satan. Santa. St. Nick. Old Nick.

When it comes to Christmas films, there are some pretty weird ones out there. I should know. I've spent every December for the last three years digging around for them. While other films revel in the dichotomy between the holiday and their subject matter, what sets today's feature apart is someone actually thought this freak show was appropriate for children.  Of course those folks were the same fine people that brought you several Santo Mexican wrestling movies, Night of the Bloody Apes, and The Aztec Mummy vs. the Humanoid Robot. You know, the classics. So come along with me to find out all about the children that Santa keeps captive, how Lucifer will stop at nothing to foil Santa, and where Merlin the Magician fits into all of this. Okay, that last part I may not be able to deliver on as I couldn't quite figure that out.

As the movie begins, Santa (Jose Elias Moreno) is preparing for Christmas. In order to know what children all over the world want for Christmas... well, maybe not all over the world (Sorry, Canada, Australia, Philippines, and Greenland. No toys for you.), he has a few kid helpers that live with him to help him out. I suppose the elves couldn't just do a little research for him. Meanwhile, in Hell, (There's something I never assumed I'd say in a Christmas movie review.) Lucifer dispatches Pitch (Jose Luis Aguirre), a minor devil, to turn all the children of the world evil and thus defeat Santa.  By all the children of the world, apparently Satan means five kids, three of which were pretty much evil little shits in the first place. The other two kids are Billy, a rich brat who gets things he wants but misses his parent's love, and Lupita (Lupita Quezadas), a poor girl who desperately wants a doll. With the help of Merlin, who lives with Santa in a space castle along with the children, Santa must avoid Pitch's traps to stop him if he is to deliver presents to all the world's children.

I'm not sure if that synopsis simplifies the plot of Santa Claus or makes it more complex. The film, drenched in startling Eastmancolor, is a strange a peculiar ride, and if it was filmed ten years later, I would have blamed it on the drugs. However, I can come up with no obvious scapegoat to blame this film on. Far and away more bizarre than the more well known Santa Claus vs. The Martians, director Rene Cardona, who helmed no less than six Luchador movies, trades in Santo for Santa, but he keeps the bizarre nonsense that makes the masked wrestler movies work so well. How do letters get to Santa in space? Through a special tube, naturally. How does Santa get all the kids of the world to  go to sleep? That's why he's got Merlin hanging around. How many children does Santa keep in his castle and where do they come from? Ok, so they didn't answer all the questions, but they did manage to fit in some copyright infringement on Disney (Santa says, "A dream is a wish your heart makes.") that somehow slipped by Uncle Walt. I also have to mention that Santa has a computer that talks with lips. Yeah, human like lips. So creepy.

Creepy is the order of the day after all. Jose Elias Moreno's Santa literally wont stop laughing, and he's only out creepied by an animatronic version of Santa in a department store window. Everything Moreno does makes Santa come off stranger and stranger. I mean he approves a kid's wish list that includes a machine gun. Jose Luis Aguirre is all mincing energy as the devil Pitch. As if Santa wasn't odd enough, Pitch romps around trying to corrupt a handful of children and his ultimate plan involves trapping Santa in a tree. None of which really add up to that much deviltry. There's not much to say about Merlin as played by Armando Arriola, but the character's appearance here is the second strangest place I've ever seen the wizard. (Sorry, Armando, but the title still belongs to Ringo Star's Merlin in Son of Dracula.) The only redeeming performance in the film comes from Lupita Quezadas as the poor girl who wants a doll. She's so heartrendingly sad looking I feel like before she filmed every scene they must have taken away every doll she ever owned. Strangely, she gives the film an emotional center that shines despite the bizarre goings-on, something I never would have expected to find here.

Santa Claus is not a movie I would show a kid. That is unless I wanted to threaten them that creepy Santa will kidnap them, keep them in a castle, and have his personal wizard put them to sleep anytime he wants. (Strangely,Jerry Sandusky thinks this sounds great.) I can imagine that a good number of baby boomers who  saw this as a kid had a nightmare about a ceaselessly chuckling Santa sucking them up into space and feeding them to a compute. Honestly, I might have a nightmare or two about that thing. For cult movie fans, Santa Claus is a must see because there is absolutely nothing out there quite like it. Luckily, it's really easy to get a copy. For those of you with Netflix, it's on Instant Watch, but for those without, you're not left without. This baby is in the public domain, and there's a pretty nice copy over on Internet Archive you can download or, more conveniently,  you can just stream it from where I've embedded it below. I can't believe that I waited this long to catch up with this one, and it definitely belongs on the 'NICE' list... okay, maybe the 'WEIRD but NICE' list, like the kid who wanted the machine gun.

Bugg Rating

4 comments:

  1. I believe I've only seen this one through MST3K. Gotta love how Santa brings out the most creativity in some directors...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ive been searching for this movie in Spanish I want to purchase it so bad where can I find it!??

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've been searching for this movie in Spanish I want to buy it where can I find it!??

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ive been searching for this movie in Spanish I want to purchase it so bad where can I find it!??

    ReplyDelete

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