Santa Claus (1959)

If you thought you'd have to wait a while for something "worse than the Star Wars Christmas Special," have I got a surprise for you.  I stumbled across this dubbed version of an Mexican production from 1959 on Netflix.

They also have an Mystery Science Theater 3000 version.  I haven't seen that just yet, but we're planning to get around to it next.

What really concerns me - what horrifies me - is that Netflix predicted I'd consider this a three-star movie.

I kind of wish I'd visited Wikipedia before watching this instead of afterward, so I'd have known it ranks on the IMDB's top 100 worst movies of all time list.

For the record, I would still have watched it; I just wouldn't have done so sober.

This is more a morality play than a movie.  Santa is a clear stand-in for Jesus, who gets name-dropped once or twice.  The moral of the story isn't exactly nuanced: do good, and you'll be rewarded in the end - this is actually stated a few times.  Not exactly deep theology.

To the extent this has one, the plot revolves around Santa battling with a demon over the souls of children.  If that sounds interesting, I assure you it's because I've done such a poor job describing the film.  Their battles, by and large, take the form of a series of practical jokes.  The most extreme act taken by the demon is to sic a dog on Santa so he's trapped up a tree.  This, incidentally, leads into the movie's climax, where Santa, having lost most of his magic items, needs to find a way to escape his predicament before the sun rises and his mechanical reindeer turn to dust.  Not exactly the stuff of legend.

I should mention that all of the action - and I use the term VERY loosely - takes place in the second half of the film.  The first half is spent introducing us to Santa and his young helpers, who are separated into delegations from various country.

And how are we introduced to them?  Through a musical number, of course.  One by one, the narrator announces each group.  They each sing in turn, while Santa plays an organ.

This goes on for a good five or ten minutes (yeah, I know I should go back and check... not going to happen).  The children seem very tired and very bored during this sequence, possibly because they're singing songs like "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and possibly because they've spent the past year building toys.

That's right.  Child labor.

Did I mention that Santa lives in space?  Or that his jolly laugh is that of a supervillain?

Anyway, when we're finally through this display, Santa begins spying on the children of Earth in his observatory.  He does this through the use of a series of hybrid magic/technological devices, usually incorporating a fabricated body part.  If the film's designers were going for whimsy, they missed by a nightmare.  In particular, the oversize moving mouth on the computer is going to be haunting my dreams until Easter at least.

In addition to the cast of "It's a Small World," Santa has two adult helpers.  First, he has a shirtless "key master," who makes him a giant key that can open any door on Earth.  This actually may be my favorite part of the movie.  The key master never gets a name in the English version, although Wikipedia claims he's identified as Vulcan in the original.  I kind of like Santa having some kind of magical blacksmith on staff: that works for me.  Too big to be inserted, the key is scraped over locks, causing a bunch of sparks to fly.  This is probably the most visually interesting effect in the film.  Not that it's a high bar, mind you.

His other helper is "Mr. Merlin."  I want you to stop reading for a moment.  Because, whatever you're thinking of right now - now matter how awful - is actually better than what's in the movie.  Unless you've seen this.  In which case, I sincerely apologize for dredging up these memories.
While I actually love the notion of Saint Nick having access to alchemy and magic (as anyone who read my first novel is aware), this doesn't exactly broach the subject in a serious manner.  Merlin is pure comic relief.  Just like Santa Claus.  And the demon.  And almost everything else in this movie.

There are a few attempts at drama using the kids Santa's been spying on.  Needless to say, none of it works very well.

Now.  All that said, I will give credit where it's due.  I've already mentioned liking the magical key.  In addition, Santa's castle looks pretty cool, and I appreciate the notion behind trying to integrate science and magic in Santa's workshop, even if the execution fails miserably.

But, ultimately, the bottom line is whether or not you should see it.  And the answer to that is Hell, no.