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You Better Watch Out For ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’

 

santaMmm, McDonald’s! I could really go for some Big Mac’s, fries and nuggets. Also, some Coke. Delicious, delicious Coke.

Speaking of coke, the producers of the 1985 flop Santa Claus: The Movie were probably snorting a ton of cocaine when they came up with this holiday classic. It came down to this: Alexander and Ilya Salkind, the producers of the box office smash Superman, thought they could translate that same success onto another character — one in the public domain, so they wouldn’t have to worry about buying the rights to anything. And Santa Claus is sort of like Superman, in that they both fly, both wear red, and that they both can see through women’s clothes with X-Ray Vision.

Unfortunately, Santa didn’t quite adapt as well to the hero treatment, and what resulted was a fever dream of bright colors, possible musical numbers that never start but seem like they should, blatant product placement (by McDonald’s, Coke, and, of all things, Pabst Blue Ribbon), and John Lithgow chewing so much scenery he must have dislocated his jaw. The bargain did not pay off, as Box Office Mojo lists the film’s total United States box office gross as $23,717,291, far less than its budget of somewhere near $50 million.

Santa Claus: The Movie decides to give Santa (the Big Lebowski himself, the late David Huddleston) a backstory. Long before he became the jolly old elf the world knows and fears loves, he was a simple toy maker living in some undisclosed century. He, his wife and his two reindeer would ride around in the snow and give wooden toys to kids. How charming!

Well not so fast, because in the first fifteen minutes of this film, Santa, his wife, and his two reindeer freeze to death.

Riding back home one late snowy night, the Claus clan get caught in a blizzard and meet a wintry end. But wait! Luckily for them, they happen to die at the exact spot where a magical Christmas tree appears (why?), and out of this glowing magic tree come elves (again, why?). The elves bring Santa, his wife, and his reindeer all back to life, and the head elf announces himself by saying “I am the one called Dooley!” All the elves introduce themselves that way; it’s a weird elf thing, I guess. Also, one of the elves is named Patch, played by lovable drunk Dudley Moore, who does not look good with lipstick here.

The elves make Santa a job offer he can’t refuse: they’ll make toys, and he’ll deliver aforementioned toys to all the boys and girls of the world, in ONE NIGHT! How can this be? I don’t know, there’s some bullshit prophecy at play about how Santa is the chosen one, and he can control time, or something like that. It’s all very weird and vague. Also, the elves dance. Because sure, why not?

As the centuries tick on, Santa entrusts the elf Patch with coming up with bigger, better ways to make toys, so Patch pulls a Henry Ford and constructs an assembly line. Unfortunately, it produces really shoddy toys that fall apart, which gives Santa a bad name. I guess in the universe this film takes place in everyone is aware that Santa Claus is real…? Kids get into fist-fights over the subject, and say things like “My dad says he’s all washed up!”, which implies parents are sitting around discussing the productive merits of Santa Claus.

Santa promptly fires Patch, and Patch heads to New York City (for reasons unknown), bringing with him the magical gold dust that makes the reindeer fly. Meanwhile, Santa befriends a little street urchin named Joe. Joe is always dirty, wears a leather jacket, has no family, and he really wants to eat some fucking McDonald’s. In one scene, he stares through a window and longingly watches as families shove fistfuls of fries into their faces. Joe has a friend name Cornelia, whom he refers to as “Corny.”

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Corny, like Joe, has no parents. But unlike Joe, she lives in a big mansion, which is owned by her cartoonishly evil uncle, B.Z., played by John Lithgow. Lithgow performs with such gleeful over-the-top-ness that you can’t help become enchanted as he glowers and snarls and cackles and chomps on cigars. B.Z. is a big-shot toy maker, and he’s just gotten in trouble with Congress because his toys catch fire, and he also sells teddy bears stuffed with nails and glass (????). He needs some good P.R., and he gets it in the form of Patch, who shows up and offers to help B.Z. create something AWESOME for Christmas. Their awesome idea? Lollipops that make people fly! This is bad news for Santa. Kids love these magic lollipops so much that Santa sinks into a Sylvia Plath-like depression, where he mopes around and probably contemplates sticking his head into the gingerbread man oven.

Meanwhile, Lithgow wants to keep the success going by launching CHRISTMAS 2,  selling magic candy canes this time. There’s a catch: these candy canes can explode and kill people. It’s important at this point that I stress that I am making none of this up. It all happens in this movie, somehow. It’s a Christmas miracle. Meanwhile, McDonald’s loving street urchin Joe overhears B.Z.’s evil plans, and ends up held captive by B.Z. and co., until he is rescued by Patch. Then it’s time for a “thrilling” chase across the skies as Santa and Corny and Patch and Joe ride in their respective flying sleighs and try to avoid exploding.

The ending features a rather horrifying comeuppance for Lithgow’s character: in an effort to avoid being arrested, B.Z. eats a whole bundle of the magic candy canes, and ends up flying up into the cold, dead wasteland of space, where he will likely suffocate to death, after his eyeballs explode out of his head. Merry Christmas!

Did I mention this movie is fucking insane?

Also, it has such wonderfully tone-deaf dialog exchanges such as this:

SANTA: Next Christmas, you and I will have a date!

JOE: Really?

SANTA: Santa Claus never lies, Joe!

It’s worth mentioning for a film called Santa Claus: The Movie, Santa Claus is barely featured. He takes a backseat to Patch, but I guess PATCH: THE DRUNK ELF wouldn’t be as catchy. There’s a lunatic charm to Santa Claus: The Movie. It’s just so weird and off the wall that you can’t help but sitting through it all. It’s that train wreck effect — there’s something more productive you could be doing with your time, but it’s much more fun to watch the carnage. What better way to celebrate the holidays than to sit around your Christmas tree, drink booze-laced eggnog, watch Santa Claus: The Movie, and then put a plastic bag over your head and slip into a long winter’s nap? Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Chris Evangelista is the Executive Editor of Cut Print Film & co-host of the Cut Print Film Podcast. He also contributes to /Film, The Film Stage, Birth.Movies.Death, The Playlist, Paste Magazine, Little White Lies and O-Scope Musings. 'The House on Creep Street' and 'Beware the Monstrous Manther!', two horror books for young readers Chris co-authored with J. Tonzelli, are available wherever books are sold. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 and view his portfolio at chrisevangelista.net