TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SANTA CLAUS (1959)

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SANTA CLAUS (1959)

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Delightfully bad holiday flick was made in Mexico and dubbed into English making it even worse than it already is. The story has Santa (José Elías Moreno) preparing for Christmas from his workshop in space…yup, that’s right…where he is assisted, not by elves, but by children from every country…apparently Santa is totally fine with child labor. As Santa readies for the one day he comes to Earth, Satan…you also read that right…sends his demon henchman Pitch (José Luis Aguirre) to Earth to corrupt all the children into doing evil and ruining Christmas. Now it’s up to Santa to stop the Devil’s little helper from turning all the good kids bad!

Flick is directed by René Cardona from a scatterbrained script by he and Adolfo Torres Portillo and is simply a weird little movie that is quite amusing in it’s epic badness. Aside from having a child labor force, creepy Santa can also watch children 24/7 with his magic eye, has a key that can open any door, powers of invisibility and can even see into kid’s dreams…stalker much!?…and what’s with the shirtless blacksmith (Ángel Di Stefani) and that lip thing! Not sure I want to know! All the traditional Christmas elements are thrown out the window as Santa has his castle in space, mechanical reindeer and even has Merlin The Magician (Armando Arriola) working for him. From it’s hilariously cheap sets, horrible SPFX and disturbing children’s dream sequences, this is a hysterically awful…and sometimes uncomfortable…attempt at a Christmas movie from our filmmaking friends South Of The Border…and we’d love to know what they were smoking when they came up with this yuletide nonsense. The first half of this cheap flick is spent with Santa observing Pitch’s hi-jinx with his James Bond meets Pee Wee Herman spy equipment, as creepy St. Nick can only come to Earth on Christmas…a restraining order perhaps? We do see Santa scaring three boys out of being naughty, so this is a possibility. The second half is Santa vs Pitch as he tries to bring Christmas to all the boys and girls and Pitch plots with three bad kids to stop him. There is a fairly slow pace, some religious overtones and just overall seems like something out of a drug induced nightmare, far more than a holiday tale of everyone’s favorite jolly fellow…and is entertaining for all the wrong reasons.

Sometimes creepy flick has sentimental nostalgia, as I actually saw this as a teen at a Saturday matinee in the late 70s at the long gone Fairview cinema…hey, there was free popcorn and I took my hot MILF neighbor’s son to score points with his babe of a mom…and it is far funnier now that I am old enough to appreciate camp and unintentional laughs. Back then it was just awful and even my ten year-old charge knew it. Definitely worth a look for a holiday ‘so bad it’s good’ film festival with some brews definitely required as part of the show. Would make a great WTF Christmas double feature with Santa Clause Conquers The Martians!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 hilariously bad Mexican Christmas trees.

fred clause rating

Uh…Santa…what the f%&k is that?…

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SATURDAY MATINEE: ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS (1988)

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ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS (1988)

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This light, sweet and fun Christmas comedy may be one of the most underrated Christmas flicks around. Flick has the late Jim Varney starring as his popular Ernest P. Worrell character, this time a cab driver who has a very special fare in his cab…Santa Claus (Douglas Seale)! A man claiming to be Santa Claus is in town looking for recently fired children’s TV show host Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark). It seems Santa is ready to hang up his red boots and hat and Joe is the perfect replacement. Things go askew and Santa winds up in jail, his magic sack stolen by precocious runaway, Pamela (Noelle Parker), who wants to be called Harmony Starr, and Joe balancing both the offer to be St. Nick and a horror film role!…leaving only one person to right it all and save Christmas, the bumbling Ernest!

While the film’s story is nothing new or special, the script by Ed Turner and B. Kline is imbued with loads of heart and Christmas spirit by director John R. Cherry III. It’s the little touches that really make this work, like children recognizing Santa right away, despite being surrounded by doubting adults and two bumbling airport storage clerks (Gailard Sartain and Bill Byrge) dealing with crates containing Santa’s reindeer and sleigh. There are also a pair of Santa’s little helpers (Buddy Douglas and Patty Maloney) who come to get Santa out of trouble and Santa getting a cell full of inmates to join along in Christmas carols. Cherry also seems to restrain Varney’s over-the-top, motor-mouthed handyman just enough to keep him from getting tiresome and Ernest’s sincere love for Christmas, also comes across nicely. The flick has a lot of fun scenes…you know Ernest is getting behind the reins of that sleigh…and the characters all are appealing save for Robert Lesser as Joe’s slimy agent, Marty, who is supposed to be a jerk. It all works well and is filled with holiday spirit and charm, with a tone that is not too childish as to alienate adults and not too adult to bore the kids.

Another reason this works so well is the cast. Varney has his Ernest character balanced well between his babbling monologues, legend in his own mind ego and child-like love of Christmas. The bumbling Ernest also gets to don a few disguises to spring Santa from prison and help Mr. Claus convince Joe to saddle up as jolly old St. Nick. It’s fun to watch Varney have a good time with it, which the comedian obviously is. Douglas Seale makes the perfect Santa. A somewhat naive and innocent view of the world, yet with a passionate love for Christmas and a ‘never give up’ spirit when it comes to people. He is not overbearing, which is all the more fun when he gets the most unlikely folks in the Christmas spirit. A charming actor. Noelle Parker is pretty and feisty as rebellious teen “Harmony”. She and Varney work well together and she even gets in on the disguise fun with her co-star. The character works well as the troubled teen who has a grudge against Christmas, but is slowly won over by the spirit of the holiday. Oliver Clark is also solid as a man trying decide between a possible movie career, or believing the fantastic notion that this old man is really who he says he is and that Joe is destined to be the next Santa Claus. The rest of the cast are fine and fun as an assortment of eccentric and cartoon-ish characters in support. The whole cast seem to be having a good time and it translates to the audience.

This is a fun holiday flick that may have gotten overlooked by some of the more popular classics, but really deserves to be recognized for it’s spirit and charm. It’s an entertaining movie that makes good use of Jim Varney’s classic Ernest character in just the right doses and has plenty of Christmas feel despite it’s Florida location. It’s story of Santa in trouble and Christmas in peril is nothing new, but pulled off nicely here with a lot of heart and zero pretensions. It’s cast gets the tone and has a good time and along with John Cherry’s directorial touch, deliver a fun and spirited Christmas comedy that is perfectly balanced for kid and adult alike.

MONSTERZERO NJ FUN FACT: Actress Noelle Parker who plays precocious teen Pamela/Harmony was actually born on Christmas day, thus her name!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Christmas trees.

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REVIEW: KRAMPUS (2015)

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KRAMPUS (2015)

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Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘R Treat became an almost instant classic once the flick was discovered on DVD and now he is finally back in the director’s chair with Krampus, a dark comic fantasy based on European folklore. The legendary Krampus is a demonic creature that serves as an anti-Santa Claus, who comes to punish the naughty at Christmas time…at least according to parts of Western Europe.

This tale finds young Max (Emjay Anthony) becoming increasingly disappointed with his family and their completely dysfunctional treatment of Christmas, which Max still believes in. His spirit is broken when his redneck cousins push him to the edge when mockingly reading his letter to Santa out loud at an already spoiled pre-Christmas dinner. He shreds his letter and casts it angrily out the window denouncing Christmas and any hope of having a happy one. This evokes a massive snowstorm and power outage and at it’s core lurks the creature of legend Krampus, along with his demonic elves and minions, who soon, one-by-one, start taking the members of this holiday-challenged family to a very un-merry fate.

Krampus is not quite the devious and twisted fun that Trick ‘R Treat was, at least not until all hell breaks loose in it’s last act. As co-written with Zach Shields and Todd Casey, Dougherty goes for something with a little more mainstream accessibility and thus with less of an edge than his Halloween classic. The PG-13 movie is a bit more family friendly film, but certainly does have it’s dark, wicked moments and satirical…though cliché…jabs at what Christmas has become in modern times. No better is this illustrated than in it’s opening credits sequence set at a mall. There are some suspenseful moments, but the film don’t quite have the constant atmosphere of ghoulish fun that graced Trick ‘R Treat. The earlier scenes of family chaos are a tad flat and presented the cliché ‘yuppies vs white trash’ scenario seen so many times before. On the plus side, Dougherty’s sumptuous visual style dazzles and chills with his snow-covered vista’s and the dark shadows that dance in fireplace lit rooms. His creatures are all twisted, evil versions of classic Christmas toys and characters, including the title monster himself. That and a splendid animated flashback about halfway through…the best segment in the film…evokes elements of Tim Burton when he was at the top of his game. The FX of this modestly budget film are all top notch and exquisitely designed though, I was not quite as impressed by Krampus himself as I should have been. He looks cool, but doesn’t have much more impact than some of his minions, such as the kid devouring jack-in-the-box or vicious ginger bread men, which evoked nervous giggles from the audience. Adding to some of the film’s atmospheric moments is Trick ‘R Treat composer Douglas Pipes’ effective score, aided by Jules O’Loughlin’s lush and spooky cinematography. Dougherty succeeds here more than he slips and overall this is a fun movie if not totally living up to his previous fan favorite.

The cast was a mixed bag for me. I am not a fan of Adam Scott, who I find very bland and he was so here as dad, Tom. Toni Collette is wasted in a very stereotypical suburban mom role, as Sarah, that gives this gifted actress very little to do except grimace at her redneck relatives and look worried/scared. Young Emjay Anthony fares much better as the sensitive and disillusioned Max, though the story has him take a back seat to the more bland Scott and David Koechner, who plays gung-ho brother-in law Howard. Stefania LaVie Owen showed some moxie as Max’s sister Beth, but the script has her disappear in the first act and Krista Stadler was good as Tom’s European mother “Omi” who provides old-world charm and the Krampus exposition we and the film’s characters need. The rest…including hard working character actress Conchata Ferrell…all play cliché white trash members of Sarah’s sister Linda’s (Allison Tolman) family and they are stereotypes we’ve all seen before.

I liked Krampus and more worked for me than didn’t. I did wish it had a bit more of an edge and that things were a little livelier in it’s more sedate, cliché and sometimes flat, beginning. The second half of the film really delivers what we came for, especially the last act and makes up for it’s weaker parts, though I wish the film kept it’s focus on Max instead of turning it over to the blander adults. The film looks gorgeous and the spooky visuals, creature designs and animated flashback reminded me of Tim Burton at his finest. Not quite the instant classic that Trick ‘R Treat was, but a film that certainly entertains, overall and may grow on one even more, upon repeat holiday viewings. Flawed but still recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 Christmas trees.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)

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SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)

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If there ever is a holiday movie that warranted a “What the heck were they thinking?” it’s this one. Ridiculous story finds Martian ruler Kimar (Leonard Hicks), lamenting that the joy-less and robotic Martian society is negatively effecting their children, who are obsessed with watching TV programs from Earth. He comes to the conclusion that the children should experience fun and happiness and the only person who can bring that to the kids of Mars is Santa Claus (John Call). So, Kimar kidnaps Santa, along with two Earth kids, Billy (Victor Stiles) and his sister Betty (Donna Conforti) and brings them to Mars. Once there, the jolly Santa starts to win over the Martians, but the evil Voldar (Vincent Beck) plots to put an end to all this holiday cheer and return Mars to it’s old ways.

Written by Paul L. Jacobson and Glenville Mareth and directed by Nicholas Webster, this is a terrible movie on most levels. The story is ludicrous, the sets and FX are horribly cheap, the acting is terrible and it moves at a snail’s pace for an 80 minute movie. That’s also exactly what makes this flick a twisted yuletide treat, it’s just bad enough to be delightfully entertaining…especially with a healthy helping of holiday spirits while you watch. You sit there just wondering what drugs were passed around during the script writing process and marvel at how seriously the cast and director are taking this nonsense. The actors playing the Martians play it with complete urgency, save Bill McCutcheon as the oafish Dropo and John Call’s Santa comes across as more oblivious and deranged than jolly, as Santa. He seems barely bothered at all that he has been kidnaped to another planet and that certain factions are out to get him there. The dialog is atrocious and a sub-plot of an Earth ship in pursuit to rescue Santa is completely dropped after a scene or two. Where did they wind up?…and why expect any logic from a movie as scatterbrained as this!

At this point this flick is regarded as a camp, “so bad it’s good” classic. And It certainly is a lot of fun for all the wrong reasons. So if you are going to add this to your holiday watch list, make sure there is plenty of egg nog or whatever your favorite holiday beverage is and have a good time with the audacity of it all. Also renown as the first role for singer and actress Pia Zadora as one of Kimar’s children.

3 campy Christmas trees.

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