Thursday, December 27, 2012

Santa Claus (1959) –MST3K Review

Ok, so just go along with this. Santa Claus (Jose Elias Moreno) lives in a huge castle on some clouds hovering above the earth with Merlin. Yeah, the wizard Merlin! He appears to spend most of his time wailing away on his huge pipe organ while watching an army of international children slave away in his toy factory while singing traditional songs of their nation. He's quite jolly even if he also has the deranged eyes of a serial killer when he laughs.

As Santa prepares for Christmas Eve, Satan, yes that Satan, sends his devilish minion Pitch (Jose Luis Aguirre) to earth to do evil and stop Santa. Pitch does his best to tempt the super-cute Lupita (Lupita Quezadas) to steal a doll, but she resists. Santa watches from his cloud castle and cheers her on. Pitch shifts his focus to three wicked boys who want to kidnap Santa. Nice kids. It all erupts into an epic throw-down between good and evil. And your brain will probably erupt too once you’ve seen Santa Claus.

Movie Review
This is one of those movies that is so insane, so beyond anything you can really imagine that my summary just can’t do it justice. I didn’t mention the bizarre song and dance number that opens the film, the mechanical reindeer, the hallucinations, the magic flower, the huge huge mouth, the eyeball on a tube, the manic organ playing… I have to stop now or else my brain will melt again. Let’s just put it this way, if you love odd, colorful, cheerful and yet disturbing films, run, don’t walk, and find a copy of Santa Claus.

Rumor has it that this film was made to introduce the concept of Santa Claus to Mexico. Previously, Christmas was closely connected to the actual birth of Christ as well as the nativity. Check out Disney’s Three Caballeros to see Mexican Christmas traditions in 1944. But a little over a decade later, Mexico needed Santa and director Rene Cardona was there.

Everything seems coordinated to add to the insanity. The plot, while it makes sense in a basic way is just all over the place with the Santa mythos: no North Pole, no Elves, no Rudolph, no Mrs. Claus, no Lee Majors. Instead it’s slave children, bizarre surveillance equipment, Merlin and mechanical reindeer that laugh horribly, oh so horribly. Where did these ideas come from? And why pit Satan directly against Santa? No clue, but it creates drama, that’s for sure.

The acting is broad to put it mildly. Everyone here is so over the top that they are nearing Everest. Only Lupita seems to be playing a normal little girl, not really acting, but just being herself. But Santa? Insane and jolly. Pitch? Insane and evil. Three bratty boys? Bratty with mild insanity. Merlin? Doddering and insane. You get the picture. Actually the kids are the best actors in the film, a real rarity, but when you are going against so much ham, well you have to look good.

Everything is bright and rich in color in this film. Pitch isn’t just red, he’s RED. The reindeer are WHITE. You get the idea. The sets in Santa’s castle are huge, gaudy and actually kind of impressive. The location filming for the earthly shenanigans works well enough. The whole film is competently filmed. Some scenes don’t make complete sense, but its because the version shown on MST3K is actually edited for time.

This is easily one of the oddest holiday movies I’ve ever seen. It’s like a glimpse into a fever dream of a Mexican kid who at too many candy canes before falling asleep. It’s perfect for Mike and the bots.

Episode Review

This movie is a big Christmas gift for MST3K crew. It’s so deliriously out there that the riffing practically writes itself. The whole thing just hums along with great line after great line. Really it’s one of my favorite riffing sessions by the crew.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. The opening sequence with Santa playing the organ and all the little children singing various songs from whatever country they are from gets blasted by all kinds of ethnic jokes. Some might find it offensive, but Mike and the bots go for everyone equally, even the American kids. The whole thing is so ridiculous that even when they get a bit mean, it’s still funny. And honestly this humor is nowhere near as aggressive as we saw in the Sci-fi channel years with the rants against Japan in Invasion of the Neptune Men or the Canada bashing in The Final Sacrifice.

After the musical portion of the film concludes, then the jokes switch back to commenting on the oddities before us. But this episode also provides plenty of naughty humor by the boys too, especially when the huge mouth makes an appearance. Really the movie is asking for it, but I’m always surprised when they throw in blatant innuendo.

But the guy who brings on the most hilarious lines is Pitch. With his skintight outfit, his gadding about and his over the top expressions he’s the prefect target. When he and Santa face off it’s the perfect fuel for the riffing fire and it’s hilarious stuff. Between Santa's deranged eyes and ponderous voice acting (thanks to a dubber who didn't know what he was getting into I suspect) you start to wonder if he really is the hero. But Pitch is so awful with his mug pulling and scampering, that he's no better. That leaves us with the teeth rotting stories about Lupita and the rich kid who never sees his parents. Ah, who am I kidding, this whole movie is wonderful riffing fodder.

For the host segments you get a solid set of laughs. First off Mike and the bots are preparing to go caroling, but a badly placed mug of hot chocolate creates disaster. Next, everyone exchanges gifts, even the mads, and it’s all very odd. At the first break, Mike and the bots are Santa Klaws a rock band with holiday cheer! After the next movie segment the bots contact Mikes family on Earth to warm his heart. For the next break you get one of my favorite songs from the series, “Merry Christmas… if that’s OK”. It’s all about how to be politically correct during the holidays. The finale has a snow day on the satellite and Pitch visits the Mads when Santa comes in for a wrestling match.

This is a holiday favorite in our house. Nonstop laughs, a bizarre film and combined with Jack Frost and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians it makes for a triple threat of MST3K Christmas goodness.

I give it five prancing Pitches out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XVI.

Santa offering a gift? Or thirsting for your soul... you decide.


  1. Whoa. In general, I prefer my bad movies straight-up: supplying my own riffs is half the fun. But there are exceptions, and this sounds like one of them. I don't think I'd dare face this one without the MST3K crew.

    1. I think that's the safest course of action. I know this got a recent release on Blu-ray (why is beyond me), and the reviewer felt nothing but pain enduring this unriffed. But I'm curious to see the uncut version, partially because the sequence in Hell has a full blown dance number that was edited in the MST3K version and because the Roman god Vulcan is also in the movie (he's the Q to Santa, providing him with all the gadgets). I just don't know if I could survive that long musical number at the beginning with out the riffing.