Saturday, December 10, 2005

I'll Buy That For $5 Dollars!

OK, at $5 I know it's a tad more pricey its $1 DVD competitors, but if you see the DVD shown below at your local Giant Food or Dollar Store Emporium, grab it! I'm talking about K. Gordon Murray's English-dubbed version of Rene Cardoza's 1959 Mexican holiday oddity, Santa Claus!

This is the film that introduced the holiday tradition of Santa Claus battling The Devil (actually the Devil's henchman "Pitch") with the assistance of Merlin the Magician (hey, it could happen!) - would you expect anything less from the land of masked wrestlers and Day of the Dead celebrations? Now, thanks to the folks at Brentwood, this bizarro rarity is available in brilliant color (the transfer looks great, no doubt because it was filmed in "Mexiscope" Eastmancolor, as one poster proclaims) for a fin. The cover artwork is, of course, horrible and misleading (with a stand-in Santa model), but that's part of the deal with these rare gems of the bargain bins - you have to look past the crappy covers to make memorable discoveries (like a grab bag, you never know what you'll find, which is part of the fun/adventure). The best cover for this film is the one put out by Westlake Entertainment Group (below right), that retails anywhere from $5.95 (at to $14.95 (too much!, at!). You can also find versions online for anywhere from $2.95-$3.99, but when you add in shipping and handling...well, shop and compare!

Implausible Plot Synopsis: (taken from the Westlake DVD)
Santa Claus, high above the North Pole in his cloud-borne castle equipped with more surveillance devices than the Impossible Mission Force, prepares to deliver presents on Christmas night. Santa is especially interested in helping Lupita, the daughter of a poor family who wants nothing more than a doll; and a young boy whose parents are so wealthy they never spend any time with him (Santa fixes this by feeding them Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters). However, the Devil will have none of this and sends his minion, Pitch, to foil Santa's plans. Pitch in turn recruits three Naughty Boys to help him set traps for Santa.

What Makes It Great:
Santa Claus lives in a palace that looks like it was designed by Gary Panter circa his design for Pee-Wee's Playhouse (there's a telescope with a big eye at the end and a radio machine that looks like Pee-Wee's pal Chairy with eyes and big whorey lips attached), and then there's the "It's a Small, Small World" sequence in which Santa plays the organ while children from around the world present the most dumbed-down racial stereotypes of their cultures (little African children prance around in loinclothes and shake spears, les enfants Francaise wear berets and chant "Frere Jacques," Mexican kiddies wear sombreros and sing "La Cucaracha," American kids wear cowboy duds while singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb"!, etc.). It goes on for what feels like an eternity, but truly has to be seen to be believed.

In a review from Santo Street magazine, Tony Kay observed the wonder of the weird science and futurism-meets-expressionism set design on display in Santa Claus:
One of the things which makes SANTA CLAUS a fantasy classic is the absolutely amazing, daring, bizarre production design. There are numerous wonderful, colorful, lurid, cheesy and surreal f/x and objects, an exceptional combination of baroque and ultra-modern, reflecting no doubt significant cultural changes in Mexico at the time.

For instance, Santa's "Fantastic Crystal Laboratory" is surely one of the most amazing things ever designed for children's cinema as well. (Disney surely stole many of the concepts for the scientific toy factory in his BABES IN TOYLAND musical, which was released the next year).

An entirely expressionist view of cutting-edge scientific technology, this astonishing super-lab boasts many amazing new inventions, many, curiously, of a "covert surveillance" nature.

The very creepy "Master Eye" was an early cinematic manifestation of the fear and paranoia of Cold War spying, chilling because it might have been true. The design itself is a steal from the Martians in George Pal's exciting WAR OF THE WORLDS.

A TV dish antenna with a human ear grafted on is effective, but perverse, to say the least.

Most odd of all, however, is the absurd "Tele-Talker", a giant face screen with a phallic, light-up nose and gargantuan, talking, ruby-red lips, aptly illustrating every small child's oral fixation, bigger than life itself!

Elsewhere, Santa's mechanical reindeer are extremely malefic, as they laugh in a most sinister (and irritating) way

And then there are the surrealistic images, like something out of Bunuel and Dali. Like this domestic dispute between Mom and Dad with Devil's messenger Pitch (striking a very masculine hand-on-hip pose) looking on.

Or the macabre Giant Dolls coming out of their boxes dream sequence:

And the Mexican kiddies celebrating Christmas "Day of the Dead" style:

So just don't take my word for it. Check out some of the many great reviews for this obscure Bargain Bin Classic. And for more on K. Gordon Murray, the man responsible for bringing the South of the Border Santa Claus to El Norte, be sure to read Michael Yockel's in-depth article for the Miami New Times.

Santa Claus links:
Bleeding Skull
Santa Claus - The Fairy Tales (from The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray)
Santa Claus Foto Gallery
Santa's Color Wonderland

K. Gordon Murray Links:
The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray
The K. Gordon Murray DVD Colection
The Wizard of Coral Gables
Michael Yockel's "Miami's B-Movie Mogul"


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