Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Movies You Can't Netflix: Santa Claus

(Hola, Shakers, su película vienen hoy de México alrededor de 1959. ¡Feliz Navidad, bichos!)

Forget everything you thought you knew about Santa Claus. This movie* pisses all over those notions like it's had one too many cervezas. Santa does not live at the North Pole. Nope, he lives in a castle on a cloud in outer space. That ain't the half of it: His reindeer are windup toys, there are no elves, and he has to battle it out with Lucifer for the hearts and minds of all the children down on Earth.

Instead of elves, Santa has a whole mess of little kids helping him out. Children from every corner of the globe have been sent to help Santa. They labor night and day making toys for other kids the world over. It's like one big multi-ethnic sweatshop (which maybe explains why the African delegation is wearing nothing but leopard-print loincloths... No, I guess it doesn't. (This bit is, just FYI, usually removed from broadcast versions of the movie**.))

And Santa has gizmos galore in his ... laboratory. He's got a telescope that can spy on anyone anywhere, a giant ear in a radar dish that can pickup even a whisper, and a weird contraption that allows him to see what every child is dreaming about. It's been said Santa knows if you've been bad or good and all that, but until I saw him in action here, I never realized how creepy that really was. (No telecom immunity for Santa, I say!)

Lucifer doesn't like Santa, but hey, Lucifer doesn't like anyone. He sends Mitch***, his top henchman, up to earth to tempt all the kiddies into ill behavior, and thereby pissing off Santa to no end. First and foremost on Mitch's list is Lupita, a poor peasant girl whose only wish is to have a dolly of her own. But try as he might, Mitch can't turn the girl to the dark side (i.e. petty theft.) She "doesn't want to be evil" (her words) and shuns Mitch.

On Christmas Eve Mitch does his best to muck things up for Santa, moving chimneys and setting door knobs aflame. But Santa is pretty spry, plus he's got a bag of magic powder given to him by his old friend Merlin. Yeah, Merlin. Apparently he's no longer working for King Arthur and is now mixing things up at Santa's castle. In fact, he's the only other adult there. Forget what I said about the place being like a sweatshop, it's more like Neverland Ranch.

And as much as Mitch is bound to ruin things for Santa, Santa is determined to get Lupita that dolly she wants. He's one final stop before sunrise, which he has to avoid lest the reindeer turn to dust. (Are they vampire reindeer? Fuck if I know. I thought they were mechanical.) But Mitch puts a Doberman between Santa and Lupita, and it's up to Merlin to save the day.

This sort of makes Santa look not only like a wimp, but daft as well. But that's okay, because Lupita gets her doll and Mitch is defeated once more.

This film was originally produced in Mexico, and later "Americanized" by producer K. Gordon Murray. I've no idea how much his version resembles the original, or if his work can count as an "improvement." The production is so head-scratchingly bizarre, I don't know if it pleases me more to think the original version was just as loopy, or that Murray thought up all the crazy shit himself for American matinee audiences. Either way, I recommend gulping down a puke-inducing level of eggnog and sitting down to watch this unique bit of cinema.

* The film is available here, should you be inclined to view it. Thanks, Liss!

** If you're a glutton for punishment and want to see the offending image, click here, but be warned, it's in really bad taste. WTP is the only thing that comes to mind when I see it.

*** Actually, his name is Pitch, but the narrator kind of mumbles it the first time out, and I misheard it. But it was imprinted on my brain as "Mitch," so that's who he'll always be to me.


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