• Santa Claus



    Released by: VCI Entertainment
    Released on: December 6, 2011.
    Director: Rene Cardona
    Cast: José Elías Moreno, Lupita Quezadas, Armando Arriola, José Luis Aguirre
    Year: 1959
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    The Movie:

    This amazingly bizarre Rene Cardona feature from 1959 follows a perpetually ‘ho ho ho-ing’ Santa Claus (José Elías Moreno) from his cloud castle home in the North Pole as he uses high tech surveillance gear to spy in kids the world over. He does this to see who has been naughty and who has been nice so that come Christmas Eve, he can descend upon their homes and bombard them with presents. This year, Santa has taken a creepy interest in a kid named Lupita (Lupita Quezadas), who doesn't want to be evil but wants to be good and whose parents have no money to buy her the doll she so desperately wants for Christmas. He’s also digging the son of a rich family, whose parents are more interest in their money than in their own child. Unfortunately for pretty much every body, the Devil sends his right hand man, a demon named Pitch (José Luis Aguirre 'Trotsky'), to recruit three bad kids and lay traps for the fat man across the globe. Hell-bent on ruining Christmas for everyone, these jerks try to stop him at every opportunity, but Santa’s smarter than they are… and he’s got his pal Merlin (Armando Arriola) and his animatronic reindeer to help him out when the going gets tough.

    Early on in the infamous Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of this film (not included on this release) the crew describes the picture as “nightmare fuel”, and that’s a pretty apt description of this completely off the wall movie that had to have terrified more than a few kids when it was first released. As colorful and quirky as anything you can imagine, the film is also seriously creepy and more than once Santa has an almost pedophilic quality to him, matched only by Pitch’s strangely homoerotic gestures.

    Originally intended for Mexican audiences and shot in Spanish, this is a rare ‘Santa Claus’ themed Christmas film that also deals in the theological and religious side of things as well. Santa himself is seen standing in front of a Nativity scene and mentions Jesus more than once. Interestingly enough, according to the extra features, Santa Claus himself was not a fixture of Mexican Christmas festivities when this movie was made, and Cardona’s movie probably went a long way towards changing that. Regardless, in amongst all the animatronic reindeer, unusually effeminate devils, stone faced little girls who may or may not want to steal things, senile wizards and rock throwing hooligans lies a fairly sweet, if completely disjointed and nonsensical, story about doing the right thing and being kind to others. The movie takes an interesting anti-materialist stance on things and quite blatantly puts family before material possessions and the accumulation of toys.

    As screwy and conflicted as all of this may seem, you have to appreciate the creativity behind the film. It really shows no shame whatsoever about depicting things far out of its budgetary grasp, content to wallow in its own low-fi charm and almost reveling in its horrible special effects and non-acting. When there’s this much completely bizarre lunacy on display one minute after the next, you can’t help but get sucked in.

    It should be noted that this is the American cut of the film distributed by K. Gordon Murray and not the longer Mexican cut of the film (though some of the material excised from the Mexican cut is included in the extras – more on that in a bit!).

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    VCI presents Santa Claus on Blu-ray in a VC-1 encoded 1.78.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that, while rough around the edges in many ways, is a marked improvement over previous DVD offerings. Transferred from the original negative, there’s still some print damage to spot and some softness throughout – meaning that this, not surprisingly, doesn’t look as crisp or as clean as a newer bigger budgeted picture would – but the improvement over the previous releases is quite substantial. Colors look great, reds are well defined and don’t bleed and if black levels aren’t perfect, skin tones at least look pretty decent. Some mild shimmering is there if you want to look for it and the widescreen framing looks good in that there are no chopped off heads or obvious cropping issues to complain about.

    Audio options are presented in LPCM 5.1 Surround Sound and LPCM 2.0 Mono in English and in LPCM 2.0 Mono in Spanish. The 5.1 track doesn’t really work here, there’s a bit of background hiss spread around with the effects and dialogue and it doesn’t fit the film all that well. The Mono tracks, however, sound decent enough. Levels are properly balanced and the hiss is minor. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and while the optional English subtitles contain a few obvious types and can be difficult to read in some spots (white text on a white beard tends to vanish), well, such is life. There’s been some room left for improvement here but, again, this is an improvement over the older releases.

    As far as the extras are concerned, VCI has put together an impressive selection of supplements starting with a commentary that comes courtesy of Daniel Griffith, a K. Gordon Murray expert and Mexican film history buff. The emphasis here is on Murray’s involvement with the picture, in how he acquired it, mixed it around a bit for US audiences, and released it on an unsuspecting populace but Griffith also provides some welcome background information on the Mexican company that made the picture, the director and the cast members when and where he can. All in all, this is a pretty informative talk and one worth listening to if you’re a fan of Murray’s output, this film in particular.

    From there, check out the fourteen minute featurette, Santa Claus Conquers The Devil, in which film historian Charles Kilgore and David Wilt team up with MST3K’s Kevin Murphy to discuss the history of the film and its impact on pop culture. It’s a fun but done with a good sense of humor and a nice companion piece to the commentary. Also quite interesting are the aforementioned deleted sequences from the Mexican version – included here are a completely bizarre musical sequence that takes place in Hades, a sequence in the toy factory, and the alternate English language opening title cards.

    If that’s not enough Santa Claus action for you, VCI have also rounded up a Howdy Doody bit called It’s A Howdy Doody Christmas that clocks in at just under nine minutes and three Murray produced Christmas shorts – the thirteen minute long Santa And His Helpers, the thirteen minute long Santa’s Enchanted Village and the thirteen minute Santa’s Magic Kingdom. These aren’t quite as completely off the wall and loopy as the feature is but they’re still quirky enough to provide some thrills and are absolutely worth a watch if you appreciate mid-sixties era oddities passed off as children’s entertainment.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are a theatrical trailer for the feature, a radio spot, a TV spot, a still gallery, and a teaser for the upcoming documentary The Wonder World Of K. Gordon Murray. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.

    The Final Word:

    The very fact that this movie exists on Blu-ray at all is a minor miracle in and of itself but when you add to that the fact that it actually looks pretty good in high definition and that it’s got a very impressive collection of supplemental material on hand to accompany the feature as well, it’s easy to see how this release turns out to be cult movie gold. You don’t have to be a Christmas movie fan to appreciate Cardona’s Santa Claus, you just have to have an appreciation for the weird, something this movie offers up in unqualified doses.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!