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).
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.
In 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.
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.
Vince 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.