Santa Claus (1959)

At our latitude, Santa Claus comes with a set of built-in expectations: an unhealthy BMI, a felt suit, more hos than a red light district, and of course, the white beard.

1959’s Santa Claus, aka, Mexican Santa Claus, aka, Santa Claus vs. The Devil, upturns the sled, and gives us so many weird twists and turns that it makes for must-see Christmas viewing (especially if you’re tired of seeing James Caan glower at Will Ferrell on every fourth channel this time of year).

In this version, children, not elves, are the unlucky toilers in Santa’s employment standards-skirting workshop, and director Rene Cardona goes through great pains to show us that the kids are of every color and creed: there’s a protracted scene of ethnic stereotypes as American kids with cowboy hats, Germans in dirndls (say that three times fast) and Africans in grass skirts sing traditional, and decidedly un-traditional songs (the Brits sing a few bars of “London Bridge is Falling Down,” for reasons that defy logic and description).

And weirder still: Santa’s workshop isn’t on the North Pole, but is lunar. So it’s not a stretch to say this film is sheer lunacy.

He really knows when you’re sleeping/awake, as his base is equipped with espionage equipment that’d be the envy of the Stasi: telescopic eyes, satellite dish ears, etc. so he can peer down onto the earth’s surface and find out who’s been naughty/nice (depicted here, oddly, as “good” vs “liars).

Santa’s antagonist is “Pitch,” which sounds like some obnoxious a capella singer but who is in actuality a devilish emissary sent by Satan himself to spoil Christmas (“pitch” is a reference to a pitchfork). Pitch gets inside the heads of children to make them do bad things, like chuck projectiles at Kris Kringle or covet expensive dolls.

As weird and wonderful as Cardona’s infamous Night of the Bloody Apes (in which a bad scientist tries to treat leukemia, a bone marrow ailment, with an animal heart transplant) Santa Claus is a real break from your typical holiday fare, not to mention reality.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to the Really Awful Movies Podcast team discuss Mexican Santa Claus!] 

The Country Bears

“Based on a theme park attraction” is second only to “based on a popular video game,” as the phrase mostly likely to have these reviewers sprinting like Usain Bolt —with a boulder bearing down on him in the opposite direction.

The Country Bears, though, is one such movie…a project inexplicably inspired (if that’s the word) by a Walt Disney World attraction. In our neck of the woods, Ontario, there’s something called a spring bear hunt…but don’t expect us to fire potshots at these creatures.

For whatever reason — we sure as hell can barely explain — this is an oddly charming, bizarrely horrifying film.

Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel “I see dead people” Osment) grew up in a human family. And is a cub. Otherwise, he may have gone all Grizzly Man on his adoptive bipedal parents. He’s a budding musician, and took inspiration from the eponymous band, the Country Bears, an all-bear band who’ve since disbanded.

Like an ursine VH1 Behind the Music special, Beary tracks down the various members of the band, and they reunite for a big tour. Of course, there’s an obstacle in their way: an evil developer (Christopher Walken) who wants to tear down their concert hall, as well as an unscrupulous concert promoter who wants to exploit them (Alex Rocco, who got it in the eye in The Godfather).

As badly received as any movie we’ve discussed on the Really Awful Movies Podcast, this one isn’t as deserving of opprobrium as you might think. That could’ve been the beers or the weed talking, but here us talk about it…this was a fun podcast to do.

We’re continually surprised by what comes across our metaphorical desk every week on the show, and this one’s no different. So, is The Country Bears a classic for the ages? Perhaps not, but give it a crack…