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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Santa Claus


Santa Claus
1959
René Cardona

Santa Claus (José Elías Moreno) reigns over the Earth from his impenetrable cloud fortress. Within its labyrinthine walls, lurk hordes of child slaves, a dark wizard, monstrous mechanical reindeer, and Vulcan, god of the forge himself. In the blazing pits of Hell, Satan instructs one of his demons, Pitch (José Luis Aguirre 'Trotsky'), to travel to Earth and turn kids against Santa. Pitch targets a few rowdy boys and the innocent Lupita (Lupita Quezadas). As Santa commences his night of breaking into people’s homes and passing judgement on them, he engages in battle of will with Pitch. One wrong move and it could be the end of Christmas as we know it.
"Is that an atomic explosion of hair coming out of your pants, or are you just happy to see me?"
Christmas is pretty weird to begin with, it’s a mash-up of religious iconography, traditions from multiple cultures, and crass commercialization. It often doesn’t take much to tip a holiday themed film into something strange and dark. Santa Claus dives in head-first with an assault of images that are, on the surface, supposed to appear whimsical, but come across as sinister and surreal. Since there is very little in the way of ‘canon’ Santa Claus lore, the filmmakers decided to add a host of characters from other stories, including Merlin, Vulcan, and the Devil. They also give Santa some gadgets to get from house to house, including inexplicably terrifying wind-up reindeer.

To make matters even more odd, underneath this heady layer of strangeness there is a considerable amount of darkness. Lupita is poor, her family obviously has very little and it is through this circumstance that Pitch pushes her to steal a doll.  Lupita and her family live in squalor, and at night she has unsettling nightmares about dolls. Her counterpart is a rich boy left to his own devices on Christmas night. He dreams of his parents waiting for him in gift wrapped coffin shaped boxes.

The look of Santa Claus, especially the scenes in Santa’s cloud castle, is drenched in early psychedelia, with strange machinery and odd sight gags. By contrast, the scenes on Earth are often much more somber and dark. It feels cold and late. The whole film is like a feverish nightmare.

"Say, that is a swell framed horse picture you have back there."
There is a terrible song that opens the film. I suppose it is meant to show how Santa brings kids from all over the world together. Instead it comes across like Santa has kidnapped lots of children to toil making toys for him, all the while dressing them up in the most stereotypical costumes possible. If you can make it past that point the rest of the film is easy.

Watching Santa Claus is an annual tradition for me. Nothing really encapsulates the weird, cheery darkness of the holidays quite like it. I recommend it on a storm-swept winter night. Make some cocoa, mix in a powerful hallucinogenic of your choice and settle in for the true meaning of Christmas.

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