Of the various characters to inhabit Badmoviedom, Santa Claus has earned himself a small but solid place of honor.
When you mention "Santa Claus" and "Bad Movies" to the average person (or at least the average person who can connect the two), you're probably going to hear about the more famous Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Now, I certainly don't mean to take away anything from what is an acknowledged classic. But I'm afraid that, in my opinion, it only occupies second place in the Bad Santa Claus Movie Hall of Fame (admittedly, a fairly small edifice). This is admittedly a controversial decision, and may be influenced by the fact that I've seen Santa Claus...Martians at least a dozen times. Even so, I stick with my pick.
Nor does first place go to the awful, multi-million dollar Santa Claus: The Movie, though it doth sucketh indeed. Not to mention that it cost at least three or four hundred times the combined budgets of the two films above it. No, in spite of wasting infinitely more money and serving up awfulness on a scale that only the high-budgeted can, it earns only a third place standing.
No, occupying the coveted first place position is the classic Mexican flick Santa Claus. And let me take the opportunity here to introduce a sadly neglected personage in the Bad Movie Universe: Mr. K. Gordon Murray. This is the man who, among other delights, provided Americans with The Brainiac, a film that deserves a place along side Plan 9 from Outer Space and Robot Monster.
Mr. Murray is best known for providing cheap drive-in fare in the '60s. He did so by picking up Mexican flicks on the cheap and dubbing them for American audiences. These movies, mostly from the Churubusco-Azteca studio, tended to be cheesy horror or wrestling movies (a very popular genre in Mexico), with the odd (very odd) children's fantasy film thrown in. Thus, Mr. Murray was responsible for allowing U.S. audiences to savor the adventures of, among others, Nostradamus the Vampire; Santos the masked wrestler; The Wrestling Women and the Aztec Mummy (in fact, the later two met up in the imaginatively titled Wrestling Women vs. The Aztec Mummy).
The Churubusco studio specialized in what, to American audiences, were rather unsophisticated movies to begin with. Take the Nostradamus the Vampire flicks. They were produced in the late '50s, the same time that Hammer Studios in England was turning out such adult-themed horror movies as Curse of Frankenstein and the classic Horror of Dracula. In contrast, the Nostrodomus movies were, if anything, more corny than the Universal Studio horror films of the '30s, or even the Poverty Row stuff of the early '40s, like The Devil Bat.
To these meager beginnings, Murray added dubbing that makes that of Godzilla movies look brilliant. Part of the problem is that Mexican films tend to be extremely talkative, so there's plenty of dialog to loop in. Also, it appears that the dialog was probably translated verbatim from the Spanish, so that it sounds extremely strange to the American ear. We spend quite a lot of time listening to characters disclaiming in an intensely stilted fashion, to very much humorous effect for all. To this we can add greatly exaggerated acting, goofy special effects, broad comedy acting and, for Americans anyway, odd plot devices. Like, say, the adventures of crime and monster fighting professional wrestlers. Or, for instance, having Santa Claus live in a Crystal Palace in Outer Space, where Merlin the Magician helps him in his work, which includes battling the Devil.
Of the dozens of such epics brought over the border by Mr. Murray, this is undoubtedly the one seen by the largest audience. In the '60s and '70s, every Christmas season, this flick would be rolled out for weekend matinees. Parents looking for cheap babysitting while they shopped would drop their kids off at this movie, unaware of the psyche-scarring potential of this demented film. I'm pretty sure I saw this movie myself as a youngster, under those exact circumstances.
The film starts with normal credits, with "Jingle Bells" playing in the background. That way, if any parents were dropping their tykes off as the movie began, it would appear normal enough that they wouldn't grab their children and run for their lives. Next, we see Santa's palace floating on a cloud in Outer Space, which The Announcer helpfully explains is "right above the North Pole." What Carl Sagan might have made of this I'm not sure. Actually, there are three big palaces on three separate clouds. Does Santa own all three, or does he have neighbors we don't know about? If so, my guesses are Johnny Carson and Bill Gates. Inside, Santa is fussing with a Nativity scene, beginning the film's disconcerting mix of Santa and Christian theology. As he's working, Santa gives his rather ominous laugh, sounding much like a stage villain as he ties a young maiden to train tracks.
As Santa walks through his palace, we see that it comes equipped with Arabian Nights-style archways, confusing us even further. Santa, "la-la"-ing his way through "Silent Night," sits down at his pipe organ, which comes equipped with a sign that reads "Toyland." Toyland is the place where Santa's toys are made, not by elves, but rather by children from around the world, presumably kidnapped and forced to toil in Santa's sweatshop. Does Kathie Lee Gifford know about this?
For the next seven straight minutes (!!) of screen time, Santa plays a song from the relevant country (identified by both the Announcer as well as the sign on Santa's organ) with vocal accompaniment from the appropriate group of children. Aside from singing a native tune, the kids are all dressed in rather stereotypical clothing to represent their respective countries, or group of countries, or continents. Showing that Mexico is rather low on the Political Correctness scale, the first group is identified as from Africa. Dancing to Santa's "jungle drum" tune, these black children are dressed in leopard skin leotards and sport bones through their hair and noses(!). We wade through fifteen (!!) groups wearing their national costumes and singing their countries' songs (the American kids, by far the most off-key of the bunch, are decked out in cowboy outfits and butcher their way through "Mary had a Little Lamb), as Santa camps it up at the organ. Also, one can't help but notice that one kid in particular seems to appear in three-fourths of the groups presented. I'm assuming this was the director's son or something.
After the most chilling organ recital since The Phantom of the Opera finally draws to a close, one of Santa's serfs comes in and shows him a prototype "devil" doll. This is used as a clever segue to "Hades." There we watch a bunch of guys in devil suites (yes, horns, tails, red makeup and little beards, the whole smear) capering around in a dance so horrible it reminds one of the "Dante's Inferno" production number from Staying Alive. What? C'mon! You remember!! It was the sequel to Saturday Night Fever? John Travolta. Directed by Sly Stallone. Big stories in People Magazine about how Stallone helped John pump up to Rambo size? Anybody? Hmm, I think I have an idea for the next issue.
Now I know what you're thinking. Why is the Devil, and Hades, in a kid's movie about Santa Claus? Well, be assured that continued watching of Santa Claus makes it all as clear as stone.
Their charming dance number is interrupted by the voice of Lucifer (proving even he has limits on torment), coming over the P.A. System of the Damned. He orders Pitch, his chief devil, to go topside and hinder Santa. He then gives Pitch the rather sizable task of making "all the children of the Earth do Evil!" That means Pitch will have to sway the well over 2% of children who aren't already going Evil.
If he fails, Lucifer threatens a terrible punishment: Pitch will have to eat chocolate ice cream. Because (snicker) he's, like, in Hades and everything, so I guess (chortle) that to him, chocolate ice cream would be, like, you know, bad. Pitch goes on to nervously explain at length about how this would be detrimental bad for him. Actually, though, I think Lucifer already knew that, and that was why he used it as an illustration of a horrible punishment. In that, as you can see, it wouldn't be much of a punishment if Pitch, you know, liked chocolate ice-cream. OK, so are we on the same page here? Lucifer ends his orders with the cryptic statement, "Go up then, and show the world who is its real master!" Um, so your contention is that the world's master isn't Santa Claus, right, and by defeating him nobody would, er, think he was?
Back on Earth, we cut to an upscale toy shop (in Mexico City! Who'da thunk?) with a big mechanical Santa laughing in the window. In real life, this thing would put any kid who laid eyes upon it into therapy for years to come. Children in the street stare at the huge collection of fabulous toys, knowing that in just a few days Santa will be bringing them to rich little boys and girls all over the world.
Here we meet some of the featured players of our little story. The first up is Billy, the movie's Poor Little Rich Boy. He has all that money can buy, but doesn't have what he really wants: the loving attention of his own parents. And while there's indeed reason to feel sorry for the Poor Little Rich Boy, they never stop to tell you how much better off he is than, say, the Poor Little Poor Boy. I mean, look, I'm willing to stipulate that in some very real ways, he's worse off than the, uh, Rich Little Poor Boy, and certainly is in a position to envy the, er, Rich Little Rich Boy, but still...
Next is Lupita, the good little girl of poor parents. Lupita, more than anything, would like a doll, any doll, to play with. Still, even if Lupita's mom is too poor to buy her a doll, at least she'll let her precious girl stand in front of a store window and gawk at the huge display of things she can never have. Hmmm, maybe Pitch could get Lupita to commit evil by leaving pamphlets by Karl Marx at her house. It certainly worked on plenty of other people. Perhaps she'd be inspired to assassinate the Poor Little Rich Boy and redistribute his toys among the children of the Proletariat. But, no. Alas, Lupita has been too conditioned by the false ideology of the Bourgeoisie to ever become one of the Intellectual Vanguard.
Finally, we meet three "rude little boys." Needless to say, these brats are ripe for Pitch's picking, and will be his main assault force in his efforts to destroy Santa Claus.
Through all this that robotic Santa, although offscreen, has continued with his dubbed laughing. Frankly, it's getting a bit creepy.
You know, now that I think about it, even though Santa's job is to deliver toys to tots around the world, and Pitch's instructions covered "...all the children of the Earth," neither seems to get out of Mexico City, or even cover many of the bases there. In fact, these five kids, three of them in one group, pretty much appear to be the main focus of both sides this Christmas. I guess all the Poor Little Rich Boys other than Billy, as well as the Rich Little Poor Girls (not to mention the Poor Little Poor Girls...I'm getting a headache here) besides Lupita are gonna get screwed big-time this year.
Pitch is successful in getting the Three Rude Boys to commit mischief. Producing rocks from thin air (and for my next feat of magic: pick a card, any card), he gives them to the Ill-mannered Trio, and, as the Announcer tells us, "his evil plan goes into action." The Uncivil Threesome then, *gasp*, throw the rocks through the store window, smacking the mechanical Santa. For the first time, the audience truly comes to comprehend what horrifying Evils might be unleashed when Satan's depraved Chief of Demons bestrides the Earth. Actually, Pitch's malign powers are even greater than tempting delinquents into tossing a rock through a window. For one of the igneous missiles teleports somehow to Santa's Gold and Crystal Palace in Outer Space (I hope you didn't feel as embarrassed reading that as I did typing it) and hits Santa right in the kisser.
Santa cusses out Pitch, but is unable to effectively respond because, as he notes, "everybody knows I can only go down to Earth on Christmas Eve, and not before." Luckily, however, one of Santa's kiddy laborers, a Mexican lad (actually, this is never stated, I just deduced it from the fact that he's wearing a serape and a sombrero, and that his name is "Pedro") saw the whole incident on Santa's Orwellian surveillance devices. He rats out the Unmannerly Triad, as well as putting in a good word for Lupita, who resisted Pitch's wiles.
They go to Santa's Observatory control panel. This machine comes complete with a weird face, including big foam lips. At the touch of a switch, Santa's Master Eye, a long snake-like appendage with an eyeball on the end (I'm telling you now, this movie will scar your kids for life if you let them see it) comes projecting out to spy out Lupita. When Pedro claims to have found Lupita ("...in Mexico." Who'da thunk?), Santa runs over and looks through the scope. Actually, Pedro might have jumped the gun a little, as the view has only narrowed enough to take in the entire globe from space. Sure enough, though, it next shows Lupita watching a puppet show, "still dreaming about that doll she wants for Christmas."
Walking home, Lupita manages to snag a doll from a street merchant without anyone noticing. Pitch pops in and tries to get Lupita to keep the doll, while the Announcer advises her against it. Lupita, to Pitch's annoyance, returns it. I guess she's putting him behind schedule in his quest to make "all the children of the Earth" do evil. Pitch petulantly informs Lupita that poor children who won't steal must do without. The Announcer disagrees, informing her that if she remains good, she'll "be rewarded somehow." Actually, and this isn't meant as an excuse to steal or anything, but Pitch is probably closer to the mark on this one.
After rejoicing over Lupita's triumph over the Dark Powers, Santa turns his attention to Billy. Uncomfortably, we see that Santa has spied him sleeping in his bed. But his invasive depredations aren't complete yet, for Jolly St. Nick informs us that "his dream will appear on the DreamScope." Yes, even in sleep, there is no sanctuary from the all-seeing Bearded Watcher. Billy's dream involves receiving two giant boxes for Christmas. Inside: his parents. This provides valuable evidence that Morrissey saw this flick before writing his classic song, "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me."
Santa now invades Lupita's mind in a similar fashion. Her dream, wow, it's about dolls! Who'da thunk? But, wait, Pitch is influencing her dream, trying to subliminally get her to commit a sin. This pisses Santa off no end. In the dream, Lupita is surrounded by giant gift boxes. Hey, what a coincidence! They look just like the ones in Billy's dream! Lupita is singing a song about dolls when the boxes open. Giant scary doll-women come out and do a rare dance (in that it's not well done). They then try to convince her to steal (see IMMORTAL DIALOG). I'm telling you, any kids seeing this pic are buying a one-way ticket to Freaksville. Santa vows to get Pitch when he goes down to Earth. He doesn't go into any detail, but I think his plan generally involves kicking Pitch's big red ass.
Next they spy on the Unruly Three, who, unsurprisingly, are up to no good. They are hiding under their bed and whispering, but of course this avails them naught against Santa's invidious Ear-Scope. Among their various schemes: breaking "our neighbor's" window (no points for originality there), and next to steal "that kid's toy," because "he's got a lot of 'em." These kids are evidently pros. Notice how they don't refer to their perspective targets by name. They're obviously being purposely oblique, in case the Feds are bugging the place. One of the kids notes that if they just wanted toys, they could be good. I guess because when you're good, you're always rewarded in material fashion. Right? But one of his compadres notes, "What's the fun in that? It's no fun to be good!" and this momentary portal opening onto the straight and narrow path closes forever.
Next, they discuss their most sinister plot. Believing that Santa's "too far away" to notice them (actually, it's just their luck that they're the only three bad children in the entire world that Santa's paying attention to right now), they scheme to write him a letter masquerading as good children. In this way they would reap all the rewards of a moral lifestyle without any of the work. Then to top it all off, they joke that Santa's probably too old to read or know what's going on. Santa starts sputtering to his underage henchpeople that "the Devil is very many centuries older than I am," noting "that it's just that I haven't been well lately." Sigh. It's always about someone else, isn't it, Santa? Well, they weren't talking about how old the Devil is, but how old you are. When are you going to face your own problems and stop whining about other people? Anyway, Santa yells at them over some kind of cosmic P.A. system, and the brats run off, presumably to seek out an ACLU lawyer and begin Invasion of Privacy proceedings.
Over at Billy's house, we see him composing his letter to Santa, asking for Blue Chip Mutuals. No, wait, I'm sorry, he's asking that his parents stay home with him on Christmas Eve. Everybody together, now: "Awwwww!" He also asks for a brother of his own age (uh, kid, we've got to talk), so that he won't be so bored.
From there we go on to a montage of different kids writing and mailing Santa their requests, everything from a bicycle to a "Papa" ("...or even just a Mama." Man, those macho Latin cultures, huh?). Sorry, kids, Santa's only going to six houses this Christmas. Maybe next year (odds of winning: one in one billion). The Lawless Three also attempt their fraudulent letter scheme, in spite of the fact that Santa's on to them. At the post office, the letters for Santa are tossed down the incinerator chute, but through the magic power of reverse photography, they fly up the flue to Santa's place (in Outer Space? Never mind...). There Santa divides the letters into good children and bad children piles, while requests for brothers and sisters are forwarded to The Stork, who, we note (giggle), is located is Paris! Har Har.
But, wait. Who authorized Santa to decide who, and what, is "good" and "bad"? Aren't these very concepts reactionary and demeaning, imposed on indigenous peoples by an imperialist Western elite? Don't different cultures have different beliefs? And what about the negative impact on a child's self-esteem if he/she is put into the "bad" section. When is the Government going to do something about this?
Now I know what you're thinking: Hey, Ken, what kind of Santa Claus movie can this be without King Arthur's Merlin? Well, don't worry, the very next scene takes us to "Merlin the Wizard" in his laboratory, who's "a little absentminded perhaps, but Santa's most devoted helper." Merlin, as usual, comes equipped with a long, gray beard, starred robe and conical hat. Here Merlin works on Santa's famous gadgets, like the mechanical reindeer who would disintegrate if touched by sunlight, the rose that makes Santa invisible when he smells it, and the powder that puts people to sleep (insert your own "so does this movie" joke here). Unfortunately, the Dream Dust needs to be mixed up fresh, resulting in a long, long "comic" scene of Merlin getting the ingredients together. Now I'll admit that having your robotic reindeer disintegrate when exposed to sunlight is a serious design liability, but...what? You're, uh, not familiar with any of these gadgets? Look, buddy, let's just go with the flow on this, OK, or we'll be here all night.
Santa stops by The Master Blacksmith and Key Maker of the Palace, who gives Santa the Golden Key that Open All Doors. When waved in front of a door, a little spark shoots out (wow, special effects!), and the door opens. The Blacksmith handily has a series of doors for Santa to try his magic key on, sort of like he was shopping at Builder's Square or something. The Blacksmith is made up to look like the standard interpretation of Vulcan, the Greek god of the forge. Perhaps this is who he is in the Mexican version, but K. Gordon Murray changed his identity for fear that American audiences wouldn't know who Vulcan is. Anyway, key collected, Santa's finally got all the gear he needs to break and enter into homes around the globe.
Santa procedes to his gym, which consists of one of those old reducing machines where you put a strap across your belly and it shakes you. The Announcer informs us that Santa has to watch his weight so he can get down chimneys (the key is for houses without them). Then he goes to a series of rather large plaster chimneys (who thought of this stuff?) and awkwardly climbs into one, "proving," as the Announcer tells us, that "Santa has reduced his waistline. It might not seem so, but he fits into the chimneys alright." Sure, dude, whatever.
Cut to a comical sign:
|TRANS HEAVENLY AIRWAY
FLIGHT S C 707
THE SUPER REINDEER SPECIAL
Red Carpet Flight to:
EARTH, MARS, JUPITER & SATURN
Via the Milky Way
Har, har. That's rich, I'll say. Next, we see Santa's sleigh, drawn by his four plastic bone-white reindeer. The Announcer informs us that "Santa's helpers from all nations [that's odd, aren't there more than eleven nations?] sing happily as they come to make sure that everything works properly, and that the sleigh and reindeer will shine brightly in the Christmas sky"(?). To make sure he doesn't linger, his helpers enter singing a ghastly song, "Merry Christmas Everyone," apparently to prod him to take off as soon as he possibly can. One of the toys they throw in his bag is a large ball with Mickey Mouse on the side. So even Santa is a licensee of the Disney Corporation!
Santa runs down his inventory: "The bag for Powders for Dreaming of Joy and Goodwill [that's Jerry Garcia's present, I believe], the Flower to Disappear, the Golden Key that Opens All Doors, the sleigh [yeah, that'd probably be handy]...." The mechanical deer are explained when the Announcer notes that "Santa's sleigh is really a huge toy sleigh, and he has to wind it like any other toy to make it go." Presumably, this is the compromise Santa made with the ASPCA and PETA over the whole "reindeer issue." Don't ask me why, but the bit where Santa inserts the giant cranking key into one of the reindeer, and they come to life, rolling their eyes, open and closing their mouths, and "merrily" braying, is really creepy. This effect is not lessened in the least by Santa's constant maniacal laughter. Santa finally takes off with a prayer to Jesus, which to my mind raises more questions than it answers.
So Santa flies through Outer Space on his way to Earth's atmosphere. One would think that, by now, Santa would know how to fly this thing, but his almost smacking into the moon sorta argues against it. Of course, you'd also think that scientists would know by now that the moon is about fifteen feet across and looks like a big golf ball, as we can clearly see here. As the Earth comes into view through all the clouds and mists in space, the Announcer wonders, ."..where Santa will go first? Europe, Africa, America?" Gee, I don't know, but if I were a betting man I'd probably guess, umm... MEXICO?!!
Down on Earth, we check in with our various players. Pitch is taking a nap next to a warm chimney (har har). Billy, the Poor Little Rich Boy, is put to bed as his parents are leaving for the evening. His mother cruelly tells him to think of all the nice things Santa will bring him, when all he wants, sniffle, is for his parents to be with him on this, of all nights. After they leave, we get a nice long reaction shot of the kid's eyes brimming with tears. The Naughty Three are up to no good of course, although one must commend their ambitiousness. They're scheming to trap Santa and steal all the toys for all the children in the world. However, while their plan is certainly enterprising, one must wonder if they've thought it through. For instance, where would they put everything? We've seen their bedroom, and frankly, it's not big enough to store all the toys in the world. And I must say, when they discuss making "Santa our slave, and all his candy and toys will be ours," well, that's probably a little over the top.
Over in the poor part of town, Lupita looks over the rest of the children playing in the street. Lupita hears Santa mentioned, and her mother explains who he is. Lupita asks if Santa will bring her a doll, and her tearful mother replies that it couldn't hurt to ask him for one. In fact, she says, they'll both say "a prayer." To Santa? Mom then gives a little talk about Christmas. Lupita replies that if Santa brings her two dolls, she'll give one to the Baby Jesus, proving that Lupita is either extremely generous, or else a savvy little operator who really knows how to kiss up. Then, as if this movie hadn't screwed up its audience's sense of theology enough, Mom says, "Maybe if we pray with all our might..." looks to Heaven, and the film cuts to Santa flying through space!
Santa finally reaches Earth, and his first stop is... Mexico City!! Who'da thunk! Pitch, waiting nearby, makes his plans to wreck Christmas. "This is one night that no one can take from me!" he chuckles, showing that even devils are taking advantage of the power of daily affirmations. And what's his first evil scheme? He's going to push a chimney out of place, so Santa can't enter this house. Um, wouldn't that just leave a big hole in the roof? I guess it's magic or something. But wait, ha ha, I guess Pitch forget Santa's Golden Key that Opens All Doors. Perhaps that will prove to be of assistance!
Santa immediately shows up at this particular house. Since Santa doesn't appear to have any magic item to help him control time (surely we'd have heard about it, in some detail), you have to wonder how he manages to go to all the houses in the world before his the sun comes up and turns his reindeer to dust (did I just really type that?). This question seems even more relevant when we consider Santa's landing technique. Instead of actually landing on the roof, Santa hovers over it, and laboriously climbs down a rope ladder he lowers from his sleigh. It looks like Santa, at this rate, could hit maybe, oh, eight or nine houses on a good night. At least he's helped by his apparently magic toy sack, which slowly drops itself to the roof, almost as if being lowered on a string. Santa jumps into the chimney and hits the roof. However, he immediately deduces what happened ("I can smell sulfur!"). Is this the end of Santa Claus? No!! From his sack, he removes his "magic parasol," which presumably utilizing the same technology as his self-lowering toy sack, wafts him to the street. However, since this device lowers Santa very slowly, I'd say Pitch at least succeeded in reducing Santa's itinerary to, oh, six houses.
Santa gains entrance to the house by, duh, using his magic key. The Announcer warns Santa that the children who live there are awake, and will see him any second now. Santa sticks his hand into his fanny pack and the audience turns its eyes, thinking that Santa will draw out a pistol and kill them to keep his secret safe. But wait! Instead, he blows magic powder under the door, and the kids fall asleep. Wow, that stuff works just like this movie, only it makes you fall asleep instantly instead of in five or ten minutes. Pitch, apparently just because he's very conscientious for your average devil, pushes the chimney back into place. Santa hears it scraping on the roof, and, just as Pitch sticks his head in for a look, Santa, well, he BLOWS real hard into the ashes, and Pitch's face ends up covered in soot. HAHHAHAHAHAHAHAA!! Man, I can't STAND it!! My eyes are watering!!
By the time Santa arrives at his next house, Pitch is waiting in the living room. His plan is to wait until Santa is in the chimney and then send his super hot flaming breath up the flue, burning Santa alive, and sending his flaming corpse crashing to the fireplace below. Uh, Pitch, you're not fooling anybody, dude. C'mon, that's a complete rip-off of Santa's blowing the ashes up the chimney! That's sad, man. I mean, really. In any case, the plan fails when Pitch jumps the gun. Santa escapes only mildly singed.
Pitch isn't done yet. He crosses to the front door. On the way there, though, Pitch proves again that he is the greatest physical comedian since Buster Keaton. He gets on top of the couch, and prepares to make a mighty leap to the floor. But instead, he just drops down!! HA HA. At his destination, he breathes on the doorknob, turning it beet red with heat. Finicky fellow that he is, he also tests it with a piece of paper, which bursts into flames. Now Santa will burn his hands on the door! Oh, Pitch, is nothing beyond your perfidy?! Hey, didn't they use this "heated doorknob" gag in Home Alone? Look like John Hughes owes K. Gorgon Murray a little "thank you."
Santa, however, is too cunning for this little plan. He sneaks in a window as Pitch keeps watch by the door. Santa quietly leaves his gifts, which just happen to include a toy cannon. Santa, in a brilliant piece of improvisation, uses it to shoot a sharp tipped missile into Pitch's butt! HAHAHA. And I have to say, a toy that fires projectiles hard enough to imbed in flesh is the perfect gift for any child. Santa uses his magic flower to disappear before Pitch can wreak vengeance.
Next we cut to Billy's, where he wanders alone through the huge, empty house. The Announcer takes the opportunity to reiterate, again, the whole Poor Little Rich Boy theme, just to really, really, make sure we all get it. Billy falls asleep in front of the fireplace. Later, the fire magically dies, probably the result of Santa using his, oh, Blue Fountain Pen that Extinguishes Fires and Flames of All Types. Santa enters, and the Announcer's prediction that Billy would receive "all the toys a boy could want" is vindicated, as Santa leaves a ball, a miniature guitar, a toy boat and two toy cars. However, Santa knows that even this fabulous bounty will not fill the hole in Billy's heart. Santa puts him into a trance with his dust that makes you "dream you're awake" (is there any kind of mind alteration beyond Santa?), and reassures Billy that his parents do love him.
We next see Billy's parents, dining in a fancy resturant. A mysterious waiter (guess who?) brings them smoking drinks, which turn out to be "Cocktails of Remembrance" (oh, for crying out loud!). A discussion about Love follows, and Santa reveals that those without love couldn't drink his cocktail, as it "would burn their throats." Has this thing been approved by the FDA? Anyway, it works. "Now that's strange," father says, "I have an urge to see our little boy!" Aww, that's sweet. As Santa looks on approvingly, Billy's parents rush home and hug him. The audience sighs happily. After all, with one plot line tied up, we're that much closer to the movie being over.
Pitch, unsuccessful on his own, drops in on the Mischievous Triad. They're just about to execute their cunning plan to trip Santa with a rope and steal his sack of toys. Suddenly there's a rather quiet crash of thunder and a bright light, as if someone had stuck a sparkler into the lens of a film camera. I'm assuming these were produced by Santa's Runny Piece of Cheese that Creates Calamitous Storm-like Phenomena. Scared, the boys run downstairs to their room, where they find that Santa has left them, yes, lumps of coal. Pitch, irritated by the failure of his proteges, takes advantage of the situation to set them fighting. "Lucifer will be well pleased," he gloats. Frankly, I think the guy's deluding himself. I mean, it hardly fulfills his promise to make "all the children of the Earth do Evil."
Pitch ends up on yet another roof, waiting for Santa to arrive. When he does, Pitch watches him by doing that guy-leaning-over-extremely-far-like-his-shoes-were-nailed-to-the-floor thing. In fact, he's done this already, earlier in the picture, but, you know, when you have a bit that great...
When Santa climbs down the sleigh's ladder into the chimney, Pitch climbs up and attempts to steal it. However, the reindeer won't obey him, and Santa soon makes his reappearance. Pitch then materializes a pair of scissors. I know what you're thinking. He'll cut the rope ladder, Santa will be trapped on the roof until the sunrise disintegrates his reindeer, and eventually Santa will die of starvation, as previously established. Luckily, such a, eh, grandiose scheme lies beyond Pitch's mental scope. He doesn't even think to use his flame-breathe to melt the sleigh or burn up the ladder. Still, he does hide, and after Santa puffingly has made his way back up the ladder, he cuts into Santa's magic fanny pack, depriving him of his Dream Powder and Flower of Disappearing.
The Announcer is bewildered by Santa's losses, especially the Dream Powder. "Now Santa won't be able to put anyone to sleep," he notes. Not to worry, buddy, Santa has much more effective methods for putting people to sleep, believe you me! He also hopes that the "Flower to Disappear doesn't fall into bad hands!" Yeah, I'd have to say it probably wouldn't be so hot if a bank robber or serial killer got hold of an object that makes you invisible. I'm not sure what Santa's liability would be on a thing like that, but it can't be good.
Santa enters a gate into the yard of a rather large estate. You know, considering how few houses he's hit, maybe he'd be better off concentrating on a poorer neighborhood. He passes a fountain that apparently has been doctored with dry ice, as it's giving off fog. Santa laughs at the sight, for no apparent reason. I mean, I know Santa's supposed to be jolly and all, but I'm beginning to think he's been dipping into the magic powders, if you know what I mean. Next he casually strolls past the house's Pit Bull, unconcerned because he still believes he has all his gear. In one of the few really sort of clever touches this movie can boast, we see from the doghouse that the mutt's name is Dante. You know, the author of The Inferno, about Virgil's travels in Hades. Since the hound is used as an instrument of Pitch's evil will, it's sort of funny. However, the gag is ruined in that all the dubbed voices insist on pronouncing "Dante" as "Dan-Tee," rather than the correct "Don-tay." Look, I know it doesn't take hundreds of people to dub a movie, but are you telling me that no one who worked on this knew who Dante is?
Pitch sends the dog after Santa, who, discovering his losses, climbs up a tree, trapped. Pitch taunts Santa and then heads inside to rouse the house's residents with the belief that a prowler is outside. Whispering in the sleeping owner's ear, Pitch tells him, "He's come to kill your wife, and your children. He's really quite vicious." Some might wonder if such a suggestion is appropriate for what is, after all, a children's movie. However, I wonder why it would be necessary to characterize someone who would murder a woman and her children as vicious. Isn't that implied?
Pitch is unsuccessful in awaking this fellow. However, he's apparently seen a lot of sit-coms. He knows wives always make their husbands investigate any mysterious noises in the night, so he goes to work on her. Santa, meanwhile, calls to Merlin for help. His cries are picked by the Ear-Scope, but unfortunately no one is monitoring it. You'd really think that someone would be required to attend to this, considering the consequences if Santa gets held up. Actually, they're probably all taking advantage of the one night a year that Santa isn't there to boss them around.
As soon as the man and his wife are awake, we are indeed treated to a "comic" sequence of the wife forcing her cowardly husband outside to investigate. She even uses the obligatory "I should have listened to my mother" line. Finally, he grabs his revolver and goes downstairs. Pitch uses their maid to call the police. Grandfather is used to call the fire department, during which Pitch blows into the phone receiver and flames come out the other end! So apparently Santa will either get his head blown off or held up by the authorities until he's trapped.
Like a super-villain in a James Bond movie, Pitch sets up his death-trap and then splits rather than see if it works. He instead pops in on Lupita to again try to get her to steal. She awakens and asks her mother if Santa doesn't bring toys to poor children. Mom reassures her that it isn't so, though she neglects to point out that he brings a lot more toys to rich children. Lupita, as she goes back to sleep, worries that it's almost daybreak (uh oh!) and Santa hasn't shown up yet.
Santa's still up that tree and yelling for help, which finally manages to rouse up the whole family. Armed with a shotgun and revolver, they stall before heading outside to deal with their intruder. Meanwhile, up in Santa's palace, Pedro (who has apparently spent the entire night featherdusting the castle. Merry Christmas, indeed!) finally wanders into the Observatory and hears Santa's cries. He immediately runs to get Merlin. Better hurry. Pitch is firing up the family, and the authorities are speeding on their way. Pitch pops in to gloat, noting that Santa will be trapped, starve to death and then Pitch will rule the Earth(!). Apparently, Santa's once a year toys giveaways are the only thing keeping the Powers of Darkness from taking over humanity.
The authorities start arriving just as Pedro and Merlin (humming the "William Tell Overture"!) get to the Observatory. Santa hurriedly explains the situation. Pedro, obviously covering for Santa's poor job performance, says that Santa has already been to "Asia, Europe and Australia," so he must be on the "American Continent." Nice try, kid. But we know Santa started in Mexico City, and that his fat ass hasn't left it once yet. Except for leaving gifts at three upper middle class or rich people's houses, Santa hasn't done squat. However, apparently the cover-up has already begun.
Merlin finally comes up with a successful strategy: use one of the stuffed cats in Santa's bag to distract the dog, and then Santa can scoot. The fact that Santa's been up the tree all this time, facing imminent death, and never once checked his huge sack to see if anything there would help, well, let's just say Santa won't be winning any MacGyver awards anytime soon. Sure enough, Santa pulls out the damnedest stuffed cat on wheels thing you've ever seen, and away goes Dante in pursuit.
The authorities enter the grounds just as the family comes out for a look. The Police, Fire Department and Red Cross (!) start spreading over the grounds, looking for signs of trouble. Pitch, although invisible, gives off smoke, and the firemen spray him with their hose. "He'll probably catch pneumonia," the Announcer approvingly notes, "but he asked for it." Few things bring as much pleasure as the destruction of your enemies.
Meanwhile, Merlin worriedly advises Santa to hurry back. Santa replies that he has one more house to go to, because the "children come first." Yeah, all five of them. In a rather convenient coincidence, the Flower to Disappear has fallen right outside Lupita's house, allowing Santa to retrieve it at the same time he drops off her doll. Outside, Santa's sleigh again announces its arrival with thunder and sparkles, which seems like a design flaw if he doesn't want anybody to see him.
Lupita's mother is awoken by dad returning home. "Did you find work?" she asks. "Nothing, my dear, nothing," he replies. Maybe the fact he went out looking for work on Christmas Eve, late night until dawn, had something to do with it. So no presents for Lupita. Hey, wasn't the lesson of Billy, the Poor Little Rich Boy, that it's better to have loving parents than lots of toys? Lupita has loving parents. Or maybe the lesson was really that you needs loving parents and toys, or else you're screwed. Lupita wakes up, dashes out the backdoor, and to the amazement of her parents, brings in a tremendously huge doll, which frankly would have creeped me out when I was a kid. Of course, I watched an awful lot of horror movies, too. Mom looks to Heaven and makes the cross gesture (?).
Santa makes it back to the castle, as the Announcer perpetuates the cover-up over Santa's sloth. "He's happy, gay," notes the Announcer, "for once again he has brought joy to the children of the world!" Yeah, expect the like two billion houses he didn't get to. The Announcer continues, "Blessed are those who believe, for they shall see God." Well, I say, blessed are those who didn't turn on their TV, for they won't see this movie. Merry Christmas, everybody!
Our Kindly Announcer fills in confused Anglo audience members on the film's, uh, revised legend of Santa Claus: "Away up in the heavens, far out in space, in a beautiful gold and crystal palace right above the North Pole, lives a kind and jolly old gentleman. Santa Claus..."
As Santa plays for various children in his
Toyland sweatshop, the Announcer introduces us to all the
relevant groups as this seven minute sequence drags on and
"These little helpers are from Africa... Here are Santa's helpers from Spain... Tots from China lend a hand as well... Boys and girls from England... Japan also helps Santa... talented children from the Orient [India, although Santa's sign just reads "Orient"]... even Russia has a delegation... the group from France, headed by Yvette and Pierre... German boys and girls help Santa, too... Here's a happy song from Italy... the islands of the Caribbean... the South American group includes Brazil and Argentina... the countries of Central America... children from the U.S.A. ...a neighborly group of helpers from Mexico...."
A Theological Discussion I never really thought I'd hear:
Lucifer, Lord of All that is Evil: "... you shall be punished, and instead of red-hot coals, you will eat chocolate ice-cream."
Pitch, Chief of all his Demons: "No! No, Lucifer, King of all Evil Spirits! Not that! By the horns of everything satanic, I beg you! To live I must have heat. Frozen meals are bad for me, especially chocolate! It's very bad for my digestion, which is so delicate."
Er, would that be before or after you, uh, finished
Santa Claus off forever?
Pitch makes a vow to his Evil Master: "Yes, I promise, oh Priceless Prince of Hades, that by my many wiles I will finish Santa off forever, and see that the children commit terrible deeds, and make Santa Claus angry!"
Not even in Fox Mulder's wildest, most paranoid dreams...
Our Announcer explains why we must abandon any hope of eluding the iron hand of Santa: "This is Santa's magic Observatory. What wonderful instruments! The Ear-Scope! The TeleTalker, that knows everything! The Cosmic Telescope! The Master Eye! Nothing that happens on Earth is unknown to Santa Claus!"
Damn Japanese instructions! Are you sure
this is how you get this thing to work?
Pedro recites the incantation required to get Santa's Big Brother Observing Mechanism to seek out the unknowing Lupita: "By thy magic powers, look for the child we're seeking, whether she's in a cave, or behind a million mountains."
Santa's big-faced contraption responds: "All righty."
Lupita engages Pitch's dream doll surrogates in a far-ranging
Existential Dialog on the nature of life and morality:
Giant Doll Woman: "Why don't you steal us. We can all be yours!"
Lupita: "No, you know that stealing is bad, and I want to be good."
Another Giant Doll Woman: "But you must learn to steal!"
Lupita: "No. You know stealing is bad, and I want to be good."
Yet another Giant Doll Woman: "We dolls don't like good little girls!"
Lupita: "No. To steal is evil, and I don't want to be evil."
Maybe Another Giant Doll Woman: "You must be evil if you want a doll!"
Lupita: "No, you know stealing is evil, and I don't want to be evil."
Presumably yet another Giant Doll Woman: "Steal, fight, (unintelligible), and we will all be yours!"
Lupita: "No. I don't want to be evil, and (unintelligible) is evil."
Giant Doll Woman: "You want to good, eh, you don't want to be bad?"
Lupita: "No, you know stealing is bad, and I want to be good.
Final Giant Doll Woman: "Well then, you'll never have a doll! HAHAHAHAH!"
A very odd conversation takes place between
Santa and helper Pedro as St. Nick readies to execute his yearly
Santa: I've really got to hurry! It's almost time for the Crystal Clock on the wall to strike ten."
Pedro: "Don't forget that you've got to return to the castle ahead of the sunrise because the sun will turn the reindeer into dust."
Santa: "Ho ho ho, no siree, no! I'll be here alright. In that case, I couldn't get back to the castle, and on what they use for food I'd perish! Because here our main food is pastries and ice cream made of soft clouds, and on the earth there's no such thing."
Pedro, who forgive me if I'm mistaken, but isn't he from Earth?: "What food do they eat on Earth, Santa Claus?"
Santa: "Oh, everything in sight! They eat most of the animals, the plants, the flowers, the roots, birds, even smoke and alcohol! But enough of this talking. We're wasting time and I must be off!"
Uh, great lyrics, Santa, but don't give up your once a year night job:
Hurry up, my children,
get on with your packing,
It's the night for Santa Claus
to fill all those stockings!
Merry, merry greetings,
I take to one and all,
so hurry if you want to,
enjoy the Yuletide song!
-Review by Ken Begg