Rob Rector continues his jovial romp through the grotto of the little-known classics, to bring you another installment of “Paracinema.”




Paracinema: Holiday Edition

As the holidays near, I celebrate the holiday like any other red-blooded American: decorate the house, trim the tree, and gather ‘round the warm glow of the screen to watch traditional fare. My children can recite the legend of Santa Claus with the best of them.

For example, they know that he’s a space alien aided by hordes of child slave laborers who enjoys ethnic stereotypes, hangs out with Merlin the magician, robotic reindeer, and keeps NSA-like surveillance on children when he’s not battling Satan’s minions.

You know, just like in the old Currier & Ives paintings of yesteryear.

Or, in this case, just like the 1959 chestnut Santa Claus, produced by K. Gordon Murray, who took international films, cheaply (and poorly) dub them in English and somehow convince unsuspecting TV stations to slap them into their schedules and induce fairy-tale-themed hallucinations to a generation of North American children. Of his 60 films in his 15-year career, Murray managed to mangle the legends of Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb (together, at last!), Puss N’ Boots, The Pied Piper, Jack & the Beanstalk, Mother Goose, and of course, jolly old St. Nick himself.

Gordon also has the distinct (dis)honor of having three of his films featured for roasting by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew.

The opening scene of Santa Claus is alone worth your time. In it, an overly enthusiastic Santa plays a pipe organ for children ‘round the world: watch him squint suspiciously at those German kids, leer inappropriately at the belly-dancing “children from the Orient,” attempt to “get funky” with the children from Africa, and gaze adoringly at the cowboy-suited kiddos from the U.S.

Each group of children looks as though there is a gun just slightly off camera ordering them to perform their “traditional” native songs.

This goes on for about 10 minutes before we are introduced to the film’s antagonist, a devil named Pitch, who looks as though he’s busy auditioning for a Hades-set Bob Fosse number before Lucifer hand-picks him to head to Earth and turn all children evil. We are then tossed to Earth (somewhere in Mexico, where this bit of Night of the Living Navi-Dead was originally made), where we meet “good little boys” who are rich, and then witness little Lupita, who is poor. Lupita wants a doll for Christmas, but we all know she won’t get jack, because her mama is broke and Santa ain’t got no time for that.

Just kidding. Santa is wrathful, but not heartless. He puts to use his various surveillance devices (which resemble oversized marital aids more than spy equipment) to keep creepily close tabs on Lupita. Apparently the world’s other children are of no bother to ol’ Father Christmas, as Pitch battles for her soul by surrounding her with nightmarish dolls dancing about her.

In fact, if there is one word that sums up the experience of Santa Claus, it is “nightmarish.” It’s a hell-spawn holiday classic that must be witnessed to see Christmas cheer churned through a German Expressionist meat grinder. Scoot your young’uns close to the tube as they watch Sata get pelted with rocks, nearly get burned alive, vengefully slip drugs into adults’ drinks, and wield weapons that impale his foe. José Elias Moreno plays Santa as an aggressively petty old coot, and he is not aided by his perpetual laugh, which resembles the last sound you might hear before being ripped apart by jackals.

There’s much more in store for those who decide to take the trip known as Santa Claus, but I feel that there should be some presents that should be left unwrapped. So tilt back the egg nog, grab a handful of coal and bask in the bizarre otherworldly delights that await within. (Both the MST3K version and the English-dubbed version can be found on DVD, Amazon streaming and YouTube, or perhaps under a slime-caked yule log near you).

Review by Rob Rector, Lead Entertainment Writer