Friday, December 21, 2018

The Magic Christmas Tree

The Magic Christmas Tree
Richard C. Parish

If you were to watch The Magic Christmas Tree from the start without seeing the opening credits and having no idea what you were getting into, you’d swear it was a Halloween movie at first. There’s a witch who may or may not be a misunderstood old lady in a creepy house, there is also a black cat and a few nosy kids. One tumble from a tree later and the movie is suddenly in color and the witch has given a kid a magic bracelet with Santa Claus on it. Just in case the film wasn’t already confusing, the kid buries a Thanksgiving turkey wishbone in his backyard and it turns into an indestructible talking Christmas tree.

"Can I try on your hat?"
The Magic Christmas Tree almost feels like a precursor to a film like Forbidden Zone (1980), with its fanciful dream logic and weird grotesque characters. Our “hero” Mark (Chris Koresen) is an unlikable jerk through pretty much the entire film. Not only does he goad his friends into invading the privacy of an old woman, but later he receives three wishes and proceeds to act like a complete creep by asking for the power to irritate everyone in his town for a whole hour. Later on, he wishes to enslave Santa Claus and he just starts acting worse from there. The whole thing culminates in an encounter with a giant who likes kids perhaps just a little too much in a scene that can only be experienced rather than described.

To make matters even more numbing the movie engages in a number of slapstick comedy gags that go nowhere and exist only to push the running time to one hour. You’ll want to crawl out of your skin as you watch Mark’s dad (Director Dick Parish) trying to start a lawn mower over and over again only to eventually have it explode when attempts to mow down the magic tree. Enjoy watching Santa Claus beg for his life when Mark captures him, feel the Christmas spirit when we watch news reports of children not receiving presents because Mark is an asshole. Even the tree is crabby, seeming put-upon by this whole chain of events, but honestly, I can’t blame it.

"OK, Santa, gimme the goods or it's going to get real Hostel in here."
There is something truly odd in the way that The Magic Christmas Tree lurches from one scene to the next. The story feels like a childhood nightmare induced by being overstimulated opening presents on Christmas morning followed by a horrible stomach ache from eating too much candy. The bleached out colors, the odd angry characters, the story that should only be an hour long but feels twice that, it all funnels into a dreamlike unease that would make David Lynch proud.

Much like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), The Magic Christmas Tree exists only as something created to occupy kids while adults attend to their holiday duties. I can only imagine the terror and confusion as this wandering fever dream of a story unspooled in front of unsuspecting children. At the same time it has an off beat charm in a modern era where children’s entertainment is analyzed and programmed down to the second. The Magic Christmas Tree is a holiday nightmare but perhaps it is a holiday nightmare that we deserve.

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