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 Night Before

“This is the kind of movie that’s so bad, you gotta tell someone about it.” Can’t take credit for that, as it was my viewing companion, but she’s dead-on. The Night Before is a putative Christmas comedy that’s putrid in execution and puts the rank in rank amateur.

Three stoner dramatis personae have a tradition, as mindless as whoever concocted this as a plot device: to hang out and get blotto together on Christmas (and also to try and seek passage to an exclusive party, The Nutcrackers Ball).

Their leader is soon-to-be-dad Isaac (a frumpy-dump Seth Rogan), so if this is a Hero’s Journey, this is more of the sandwich variety. Milking the lazy stupefied Peter Pan-t-load mien he’s come to adopt in just about everything, Rogan’s Isaac is terrified at the prospect of growing up and pending fatherhood. His wife, sensing this, enables Isaac in a kind of last night of freedom: giving him a container full of pharmaceuticals so he and his pals can cut loose Hangover-style, minus the charm, direction or the comic timing.

That an 8 month-along mom-to-be would do something that stupid beggars belief, but even dumber, that her “rock,” (“Like Dwayne Johnson”, she ‘jokes’. Seinfeld eat your heart out) would actually indulge….well, that’s the set up, for a movie that’s so tonally off, it needs a tuning fork, and is about as enjoyable as a set of cymbals clanged upside your noggin.

The usually reliable Joseph Gordon Levitt (Ethan) cuts a wan, labored Kevin Spacey figure as a loser who’s still hung up on an ex years later and resorts to side hustle work as a Santa elf (he’s even the butt of a joke: “a 33-year old elf?” In terms of age-inappropriate behavior, though, he gets off easy)

And to round out the idiot triumvirate (the name “Three Stooges” is already taken) is Chris (Anthony Mackie), a star NFLer, who — and kudos here for the realism — is suddenly a breakout star due to banned substances.

The Night Before features repugnant bathroom sex, steroid abuse, dick pics, a nose-bleed into a Martini, projectile vomiting during midnight mass, and a host of indignities too numerous to be unaccompanied by even the slimmest shred of wit or joy. And also James Franco and Miley Cyrus. The state rests, your honor.

As willfully ugly as a Christmas sweater, and as actively repellent as any comedy ever made.

* (out of 5)