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!] 

House

An American Ghost Story, Sinister, The Shining — there are a spate of movies about writers seeking solitude in a house, only to find the exact opposite. House is different it in that it throws in a dash of vetsploitation flavor, while employing practical monsters rather than the usual phantasmagoria as the personal demons.

House’s protagonist Roger Cobb should’ve heeded this advice: Don’t go in the house (also the title of a fab pyro-horror).

Where “horror has a new home,” House features that 80s genre staple: the cheesy prologue. Young Rog walks into a bedroom to find his aunt has hanged herself (it’s actually quite an affecting scene, as the old lady is creakily swinging to and fro).

Undeterred, Rog grows up to occupy the house as an adult — a successful trash novelist looking to get serious with a memoirs detailing his experiences in ‘Nam.

These horror people. When will they ever learn? Never rent bad Mojo domiciles, even if they seem like a steal, even in a tight rental / buyers’ market. Nothing good will ever come of it — unless you flip it real quick before you’re sucked into the Nether World.

So, what distinguishes this house, from any other on the market? There’s its foundation, built on a top-notch cast that includes William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, and Kay Lenz. Wendt (Norm from Cheers) is the jovial neighbor who happens by to ask if everything’s alright at the Cobb house (Rog has been dressing in army fatigues and has set up camera equipment to capture a monster lurking in the closet). Moll, the towering bailiff from TV’s Night Court, plays Rog’s Vietnam war buddy who appears in flashback (At 6’8, there’s one infantryman who’d be quite the sitting duck for the Viet Cong).

Ultimately, House is a middling fun, tongue-in-cheek haunted house creature feature. Similar in sensibility to Video Dead, it’s solid if unspectacular sick day viewing.

**3/4 (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of House on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]