Countdown to Christmas – A Christmas Carol (1971)

0

The time has finally come. Up at the North Pole, Santa is warming up the reindeer for the journey ahead. And poor Mr. Cratchit is freezing in the office of Scrooge and Marley. Fear not, redemption is close at hand. It’s time for one more look at the classic Charles Dickens tale as we wrap up our 3rd Annual Countdown to Christmas.Spooky Santa

We jump ahead to 1971 for one of my longtime favorite versions. Made for ABC television, this animated classic featured Ken Harris (How The Grinch Stole Christmas!) as master animator and Looney Tunes legend Chuck Jones as executive producer. Visually, the animation is stunning and very sophisticated, inspired by the original 19th century illustrations by John Leech and Milo Winter. It is a very dark and scary presentation, making it truly one of the most horrific adaptations of this tale. It is greatly enhanced by Alastair Sim and Michael Hordern reprising their roles as Scrooge and Marley from the 1951 classic film. Hearing their voices takes me back to my favorite film version, which I admit may very well influence my opinion on this film.

Scrooge 1971While the story is condensed at 25 minutes, it more than makes up for it in quality. In fact, it was considered so good that it was then released theatrically and went on to win the 1972 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. I have fond memories of watching this on TV in the 70s and rediscovering it in 2002.

This was released on VHS briefly in the 1990s, so seek that out if you can find a copy. There is a DVD version for sale on Amazon but it appears to be a bootleg copy, so buyer beware as this film has never been officially released on DVD. However, it is on YouTube and I cannot recommend you watch this version enough.

Scrooge 1971 2And there you go. Our countdown has ended. We’ve been dealt a murdering Santa Claus, a maniac in the attic, a nightmarish children’s flick and the Devil himself. And, as always, we have to see what Scrooge is up to. Now, it’s time for family, presents under the tree and a glass of egg nog as I get nestled in for a long winter’s nap before Santa comes down the chimney. Merry Christmas to you and yours from the Monster Movie Kid!

Countdown to Christmas – A Christmas Carol (1954)

2

One more day closer to Christmas and we look at another take on our good friend Scrooge. After having horror master Vincent Price guide us through the 1949 tale yesterday, it’s only fitting that we usher in two more horror legends today. We jump ahead five years to 1954 and we trade in one horror and mystery star for another. Vincent Price is out and Basil Rathbone is in.Spooky Santa

This was broadcast as part of the Shower of Stars CBS television program and was originally in color. Unfortunately, only black and white prints remain today. Now, this is a musical version and, I must admit, that I’m not overly fond of Scrooge musicals. I prefer my Scrooge gritty and a little scary. However, I’m pretty versatile with my musical tastes, so I went in with an open ear. Unfortunately, I found the music to be rather a chore to listen to and disappointed that it caused much of the story to be condensed. Story is traded in for musical numbers, leaving key elements missing despite running twice as long as the 1949 version.

Basil RathboneFredric March, best remembered for the lead role in 1931s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is Scrooge here. His performance wasn’t bad but the odd prosthetic nose he wore made him look a bit cartoonish. Basil Rathbone greatly overacts as Marley’s ghost and his performance seemed out-of-place. I also thought the special effects used for Marley in 1949 looked a little better. Sure, the technology has improved some here but I felt it was more effective in 1949. The decision to have Sally Fraser and Ray Middleton in dual roles as Scrooge’s fiancée Belle and nephew Fred as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present was interesting. It worked well enough. Even having Scrooge recognize them was a good twist. But Ray Middleton did not look the part of the Ghost of Christmas Present. And the decision to cut out the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was a mistake and takes away from Scrooge’s turn. It just seems like we take some big jumps. One minute, Scrooge and Belle are singing a love song to each other, the next she is leaving him. And as the tale wraps up, it just seems like Scrooge changes too abruptly.

Scrooge 1954Overall, I was disappointed by this one. There are definitely better versions out there. But, it’s on YouTube if you are curious. Watching it for free is the only way I can recommend you watch it.

Tomorrow, our viewing gets much better as we take a look at the classic 1971 animated version featuring the voice of my favorite Scrooge, Alastair Sim.

Countdown to Christmas – A Christmas Carol (1949)

0

The stockings have been hung by the chimney with care. However, Saint Nick isn’t quite in the air yet. As we have near Christmas Eve, we have one three more stops to make on the 3rd Annual Countdown to Christmas. Once again, it is time to see what old Ebenezer Scrooge is up to. Will this be the year that he decides not to listen to Marley’s ghost? Or will this be the year he breaks out in song? Tradition brings me back to my favorite Christmas tale of A Christmas Carol. And, just as we’ve done the last two years, it’s time to take a look at some cinematic Scrooge offerings.Spooky Santa

Well, technically, this year’s tales of Scrooge were never shown in a movie theater, at least originally. There are actually three TV offerings that give us a few more takes on the Charles Dickens classic. So, with our underdone potatoes and undigested beef, let’s see if we’ve found a few more gems this year.

Vincent PriceToday, we start off with a short 25-minute version from 1949. Now, despite being one of the earliest TV adaptation of the Scrooge tale, I was actually quite impressed with this one. For starters, and above all else, it has the legendary Vincent Price serving as narrator. Keep in mind it is 1949 and Price hadn’t quite slipped into horror mode quite yet. But he is as charming as ever and helps save this otherwise rather droll presentation. The cast is mostly forgettable and Taylor Holmes is horribly miscast as Scrooge. He just seems too whiny and overacts constantly. You might recognize the name of Jill St. John if not her face. She is one of the young Cratchit girls and would go on to become a Bond girl in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Its short length is its’ biggest curse and we end up missing a lot of the story. And just what was up with that out-of-key singing from the Mitchell Boys Choir? Go to YouTube and catch it for free. It certainly is fun to watch Vincent Price as least once.

Scrooge 1949As some added fun, be sure to listen to Derek and Dr. Gangrene talk about this version on the 12/9 episode of Monster Kid Radio. As always, you’ll find some great conversation going on. Let them know Monster Movie Kid sent you.

Come back tomorrow as we see what two more horror legends can do with this classic tale. Yes, it’s time for Fredric March and Basil Rathbone in a 1954 musical version.

COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS – SANTA CLAUS (1959)

0

Whenever you see the name K. Gordon Murray attached to a film, you can be assured of two things. One, the film originated in Mexico and was already a trippy adventure to begin with. And two, that there will be some very interesting editing and crazy dubbing. Now, take those two ingredients and throw in some Christmas cheer with a hint of devilry and you get Santa Claus (1959).Spooky Santa

Director Rene Cardona was well-respected in the Mexican film industry and, as hard as it may be to understand, Santa Claus was actually an award-winning film. In 1959, it won the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film. Honestly, I’m not sure what competition it had but it couldn’t have had much. The film remained relatively untouched by American director Ken Smith. Never heard of “Ken Smith”? That’s because it was the pseudonym of producer K. Gordon Murray. He’s legendary in the B movie community for bringing many Mexican horror and children’s films to the US audience. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your cinematic tastes.

Santa Claus posterIn Santa Claus, we find that good old Saint Nick actually lives in a castle in space. Instead of elves in his toy shop, he apparently runs a sweat shop for children from all over the world. And as he plays an organ, we see a tremendously stereotypical view of all the children. Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan sends his number one demon Pitch to turn the children against Santa. Santa keeps a watchful (and creepy) eye out on three troublesome boys, a poor little girl who only wants a doll and another boy who is lonely as his parents are always going out. Add in Santa’s helper Merlin, who creates magic dust and an invisibility flower and you pretty much get the idea. Pitch keeps getting foiled at every attempt to turn children evil and Santa, despite some obstacles, ultimately saves the day.

There is definitely some bizarre imagery in Santa Claus. The telescope Santa uses looks like something leftover from War of the Worlds, only with eye lashes added for good measure. Then there are the giant lips that are speakers, moving when Santa tries to communicate with his child labor. We also get the robotic reindeer and the acrobatic Pitch, jumping over furniture for no reason. And, as always, the somewhat annoying dubbing that makes everyone’s voices just seem unnatural.SC 2

So, is Santa Claus worth the 90 minutes? Young children may find it entertaining but the scenes in Hell may easily scare some. The rest of the film is relatively harmless. For parents, they’ll marvel at just how odd this flick is. Not quite on the same “so bad it’s good” level as Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood vs. The Monsters but not too far off. It is easily found on DVD and was even given the MST3K treatment. It is also available on YouTube in its original unedited Spanish version or the edited English version. Just be prepared for a cinematic fruit cake. One slice is more than what most people ever want to deal with.

SC 1Vince Rotolo covered this holiday classic way back in episode 81 at the B Movie Cast. And our other podcast friend Derek M. Koch over at Monster Kid Radio will be taking a look at this classic next week with guest Scott Morris from the Disney Indiana podcast. Be sure to check them both out! Then, come back here as we get to the good stuff with some Charles Dickens.

Countdown to Christmas – The Magic Christmas Tree (1964)

0

Now we all know that children’s films used to be much more innocent than they are today. But sometimes you have to wonder what was going on in the minds of some filmmakers. Today, a wannabe Polanksi just cranks out something on YouTube. However, back in the 60s you had to get financial backing. That makes The Magic Christmas Tree (1964) an even bigger curiosity.Spooky Santa

Our story begins at Halloween as we see young Mark and two friends on the playground. Mark decides he wants to go to the town’s haunted house and, once there, he encounters an old woman. After trying to save her cat in a tree, he falls only to awaken and realize that the woman was really a witch. She grants him three wishes with the use of a magic ring. By saying the magic words and planting the ring, a magic Christmas tree will grow. Of course, the tree can talk, much like a genie-in-a-bottle. His first wish is to have an hour of absolute power, which almost turns into a scene out of Carrie. Then, of course, his second wish is to kidnap Santa so he can get anything else he wants. Will young Mark see the error of his ways in time for Santa to make it for Christmas Day?

Magic Christmas Tree posterThis film runs about an hour but could have been much shorter if it wasn’t for some really bad editing. As in, nothing appears to have been edited out. There are so many pointless scenes that you wonder what director Richard Parish was thinking. Not a shock to find out he never directed anything else. In fact, nobody involved in this film ever went on to make another film. Despite being made in the United States, all dialogue and sound effects were added later, giving the impression it was a foreign film. I doubt any country would claim this one. You have the incredibly original idea to transition the film from black and white to color when Mark apparently dreams the whole story. There is the cutting edge lawnmower sequence that involves a turtle and the phone conversation that adds nothing to the plot. Did I mention the beyond creepy sequence with the giant in the woods?

I recently read a comment online is actually a very accurate description. They said it seemed like something you’d watch on the CBS Family Film Festival with Kukla, Fran and Ollie. There were a lot of classic films shown on that series but some were a little different. Thankfully, the powers that be never exposed the children of world to this one.MCT 3

I recommend this one only if you want to see something very bizarre during the holiday season. It is available on DVD but just watch it for free on YouTube but don’t say I didn’t warn you! And be sure to listen to Vince and the gang over at the B Movie Cast. They reviewed this one back on episode 272.

Since we’ve apparently decided to thaw out some leftover frozen turkey, come back next time as head south of the border for Santa Claus (1959).MCT 2

Countdown to Christmas – Black Christmas (1974)

0

Years before Jason terrorized Crystal Lake and Michael came home, and more than a decade before Freddy haunted our dreams, there was Black Christmas (1974). So, with only the Christmas lights twinkling in the distance, let’s take a look at the holiday horror classic.Spooky Santa

Director Bob Clark certainly has some highs and lows on his list of credits. Good would include films like Murder by Decree (1979) and A Christmas Story (1983) while bad would be such cinematic disappointments as Rhinestone (1984) and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004). However, the gems can outshine the trash and certainly Black Christmas should be considered a gem. For starters, you’ve got a great cast that includes such names as Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea and John Saxon. You’ve also got a unique holiday setting and, above all else, you have an original plot that was a bit ahead of its time. It offered up a slasher flick in which most of the victims actually had an IQ.

Black Christmas posterOur movie begins with the point-of-view of a man climbing up into the attic of a sorority house at Christmas. The girls are having a party down below and are oblivious to their new resident. Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet) is our lead as Jess Bradford, who answers the phone only to hear an obscene caller. However, this caller has called before and he is clearly not of sound mind. Local lush Barb (Margot Kidder, Superman The Movie) takes the phone only to yell and potentially upset the caller even more. Innocent Claire (Lynne Griffin) wonders why Barb would antagonize the caller and heads upstairs to pack. Minutes later, she is attacked and killed in her room before being relocated to a rocking chair in the attic, plastic bag still over her head and a baby doll in her hands.

As our story progresses and it’s discovered that Claire is missing, Jess seeks the help of the police in locating her. Claire’s boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle, TV series Dallas) has little use of the police but actually is useful in getting them to listen. Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon, Enter The Dragon) agrees to help and soon discovers that there is indeed a killer on the loose. Could it Jess’ boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea, 2001: A Space Odyssey)? After all, he seems pretty unstable after discovering that not only is Jess pregnant but that she is planning on getting an abortion. As the bodies begin to pile up and the police attempt to trace the call, its building up to be anything but a silent night.BC 2

Black Christmas capitalizes on the urban legend of the “babysitter and the man upstairs.” Now, if you aren’t familiar with that tale, don’t Google it until after seeing the movie.  Despite borrowing on the legend, it does offer some original concepts that differ from many of the usual slasher flicks that would follow later in the 70s and on into the 80s. There are no sex-crazed teenagers here. In fact, everyone remains intelligent for the most part. Oh sure, there are some questionable decisions here and there, but not nearly as many as we’d get used to seeing just a few years later.

BC 3The list of potential cast members is quite interesting. Bette Davis was originally offered the role of the house mother while Malcolm McDowell was offered the role of Peter. Edmond O’Brien was originally supposed to be Lt. Fuller but ill health prevented him from doing the role. Even Gilda Radner was offered a role and even accepted before having to leave due to Saturday Night Live.

Black Christmas was not a success at the box office and initially received poor reviews. However, the film has since become a cult classic. Despite a short release under the studio’s alternate title Silent Night, Evil Night, director Bob Clark always preferred the Black Christmas title. So, if you are looking for something different and creepy this Christmas, you can’t go wrong with Black Christmas. The movie is available on YouTube, making it a pretty easy stocking stuffer. Just make sure you avoid that lump of coal remake from 2006. Going with the classic is the best choice and one you won’t regret!

Countdown to Christmas – Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

0

The holiday season is upon us and Christmas is now less than two weeks away. Behold, the 3rd Annual Countdown to Christmas is on! There will be some of the more unusual gifts under the tree along with some of the traditional efforts as well. To start our festive feast off on a horrific note, let’s break out the eggnog and take a look at Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).Spooky Santa

It was the 1980s and slasher films were in full swing. We’d already witnessed Michael Myers in the Halloween series and Jason in Friday The 13th. We were just getting introduced to Freddy, so why not take a look at another holiday mainstay. Just what could Hollywood do with our beloved Santa Claus? Plenty as it turned out, perhaps too much. The violence was turned up a notch and the complaints would eventually result in a ban of the film, naturally turning it into a cult favorite. So, just what was so bad about this film?

Silent Night Deadly NightOur film begins in 1971 as five year-old Billy Chapman is on his way to visit his mentally disturbed grandfather. He is with his parents and younger brother. Once there, and when his parents are talking with the officials, grandpa becomes alert and warns Billy about the truth of Santa. Turns out Old Saint Nick punishes the bad boys and girls. On their way home, the family runs into a robber dressed as Santa Claus on the roadside. Billy is terrified but the family stops. Moments later, his father has been shot to death and his mother killed before his eyes.

Three years later, Billy and his brother are now living in an orphanage run by an evil nun (is there any other kind?). After Billy is sent to his room for drawing twisted Christmas pictures, he accidentally witnesses two older kids having sex. Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) catches him and reinforces the concept that evil must be punished. So the stage is set in young Billy’s mind. Santa is the punisher and evil must be punished. Punishment is good.

The film then turns into a typical slasher flick at this point with the older Billy never really recovering mentally. He goes about killing those he feels needs to be punished, ultimately returning to the orphanage to save his younger brother from evil Santa and Mother Superior. Three different actors would play Billy at the different stages of his life with Robert Brian Wilson playing the adult Billy. Aside from some TV appearances, this film is the bright spot of his career. Overall, the movie isn’t necessarily great. In fact, it offers up some rather poor performances. However, the background story is quite entertaining.SNDN 1

The film is legendary for the rather intense images of the robber Santa, which played a key role in parents becoming angry and picketing it at movie theaters. First week sales were impressive, even out-performing the original Nightmare on Elm Street. But they quickly dropped due to the outrage and the film disappeared until it would see an early VHS release a year later. It didn’t help that some of the cast expressed embarrassment over the film.

One of the more amusing stories centers on Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney. He wrote a letter of protest against the film, expressing how the scum who made it should be run out of town. The original would go on to generate four sequels with Rooney actually starring in the fifth installment some seven years later. I guess Andy Hardy had bills to pay and he left his morals at home for the holidays.

SNDN 2Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t a horrible film but it isn’t that well-made either. It is mildly entertaining, especially if you are looking for a little gore mixed in with your tinsel and garland. There are some different types of kills as the body count stacks up. But, there are better holiday-themed flicks out there, so I would put this one a little lower on your Christmas wish list. You can add it to your collection with either the newly-released Blu-ray or paired up with the first sequel on DVD. Catch the trailer and judge for yourself but I must admit, despite it generally being a poorly made film, this one is a bit of a guilty pleasure.

As an added treat, Vince and the gang over at the B Movie Cast reviewed this in episode 312, so check it out and tell them the Monster Movie Kid sent you.

Next up, our countdown continues with a look at an earlier and better holiday horror flick, the original Black Christmas (1974)!