Yuletide Oddities (Mania.com)

By:Chuck Francisco
Date: Thursday, December 06, 2012
Source: Mania.com

Once you've survived Killer Kringles (read the article here), it's time to face a string of Yuletide Oddities which are so strange that a Peter Fonda led LSD trip wouldn't help you make sense of them. No, I'm not talking about Christmas dinner with your family, as odd as uncle Chet might be. Instead, I've gathered a number of the strangest cinematic holiday "classics" to grace a darkened screen. This isn't your run of the mill list, which would include genuine goodness, like Gremlins or A Christmas Story. Grab your passport, as we travel the world in search of the weirdest takes on the holiday season (I'm kidding, we're just headed to Mexico).
 
Santa Claus
Country of Origin: Mexico
Year: 1959
Director: Rene Cardona
Release: VCI Home Video, 2011 (DVD & Blu-Ray)
Running Time: 94 minutes
 
This perennial Mexican holiday favorite is a lesson in the kind of creepy excess which we don't commonly associate with the jolly big guy. From his castle in the clouds, Santa utilizes high tech devices, like his eye ball telescope, to keep close tabs on the world's children. Really close tabs. Like, Megan's law close tabs. He speaks to his field agents using an enormous mouth bot computer (literally massive Rocky Horror-esk lips that speak back to him). He's pulled around the world by nightmare inducing robotic reindeer. Their soulless dead eyes will infect your dreams for decades. With magical devices crafted by the wizard Merlin, Santa travels the world completing his famous rounds, all while a low level demon named Pitch attempts to corrupt a young girl name Lupita. 
 
It's peculiarity is exacerbated by the hammy narration of famed American Producer K. Gordon Murray (for the English language release). Murray would take foreign children's films, redub them, then release them stateside. His delivery is the creamy Oreo filling, holding both sides of the high camp cookie together. Santa Claus is likely most well known for having been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (episode 521). The flick is very goofy on it's own, but I recommend watching the riffed version of it for all but the most masochistic of Maniacs. 

 

Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny 

Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1972
Director: R. Winter
Release: Available as a bonus feature on Rifftrax: Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny DVD
Running Time: Full: 95 minutes/DVD 83 minutes
 
It doesn't get much more zany than this tall glass of mercurial madness. Santa's magical sled becomes somehow mired in the treacherous beaches of southern Florida (a likely story!). Using mind rays, Saint Nick summons local children to aid him in pulling the sleigh free, with the help of a number of animals. All of this while Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn watch and riff them from a distance. This isn't the kind of crazy which could easily be sustained for ninety minutes, however, so Santa tells the gathered slave children the tale of Thumbelina (which is a completely separate film, shown between our title segments!).
 
After we return to beach bound Santa, the freakish children summon our shabby bunny hero, who arrives on his mystical fire engine. Bunny then helps Father Christmas complete his present delivery duties, and as the film ends, our nightmares can truly begin. This cheapy rose to Internet prominence in 2010, when Rifftrax released it as a video on demand riff in the same vein as MST3K (Of which the RT guys are all alumni). It was born in an era where poorly made kid's fare was commonplace; "why spend real money when children don't know the difference?", reasoned many producers. We certainly are in their debt for producing such nightmare fuel for future generations.

 

 

 

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

 

Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1964
Director: Nicholas Webster
Release: Public Domain
Running Time: 81 minutes
 
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is probably the most recognized of the absurd holiday films. It owes it's fame to a few strokes of luck. Firstly, it's title screams of 50's nostalgic drive-in fun. Try saying it without smiling. Secondly, it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (episode 321), during what is considered one of the strongest seasons of the show's enduring run. Lastly, it's fallen into the public domain, and so it's easily available all around the Internet for both unspoiled viewing, and as part of several late night horror host's shows, including Elvira's Movie Macabre and Cinema Insomnia (with personal fave, Mr. Lobo). 
 
The zany plot involves mischievous Martians who recognize that their children are growing up without imagination. Rather than looking into education or societal reform, their plan is instead to kidnap Earth's Santa, and force him to spread joy among their own masses. I'll spare you the gory details, since you can actually watch the whole film right here on YouTube:

 

 

Of course, this is but a small sampling of crazy that film makers have wrought in the name of quick holiday pay days. What is your favorite Yuletide Oddity? 

 

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema. You can hear him on awesome podcast You've Got Geek or follow him out on Twitter.

 



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