Saturday At The Movies: Santa Claus 1959

santa1“It’s just not Christmas until you watch the 1959 Mexican Santa Claus.” These are words we say around my home every year right around this time. It’s become tradition, and a fun and hilarity filled evening when we do it. Find out why this surreal bad movie is such a holiday classic in my house, after the jump.

Retail Hell

I first discovered this classic when I was working in video retail. Typically movies would play in the store while we worked, and during the holiday season, holiday movies were the choice of the day. One of the managers, when he thought we weren’t doing our jobs, or were messing around too much would punish us – with this movie – Santa Claus also known, believe it or not, as Santa Claus Vs. the Devil.

There are some movies that are just so bad that they are good. That said, this ‘punishment’ soon became entertainment, then tradition, then a holiday favorite. I love this terrible flick. I know it almost as well as I know The Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Princess Bride, and say the dialogue along with the movie.

santa2I’ve taken Santa Claus to heart, as have many employees of that long ago video store. It’s a legacy that lives on, and although the words of that sadistic but well-meaning manager were originally spoken in sarcasm, they have become almost gospel – “It’s just not Christmas until you watch the 1959 Mexican Santa Claus.”

The Movie

Santa Claus was a major release in Mexico the year it was made, directed by Rene Cardona, and written by Cardona and Adolfo Torres Portillo. It starred the oddly malevolent looking Jose Elias Moreno in the title role, comedian Jose Luis Agruirre as Pitch, and among a cast of hundreds, Lupita Quezadas, who steals the movie as little Lupita. The English translation in 1960 was done by K. Gordon Murray, who also narrated.

The story is of one Christmas Eve. We watch Santa prep for his annual journey around the world, learn all his secrets, and watch, along with the narrator, who becomes a character in the film himself, as Santa does battle with Pitch, a demon from Hell who attempts to corrupt a handful of children on Earth. It is a musical comedy fantasy of the most surreal. One wonders what the producers were smoking.

Insanity

Forget everything you think you know about Santa Claus. This movie has a whole new set of rules for their mythical character. Santa lives in outer space, his helpers include Merlin the Magician, the Roman god Vulcan, and an army of singing slave children from all over the world (including places where they don’t celebrate Christmas) who make his toys for him. And how he sees and hears the children of the world is kinda creepy as well.

santa3The reindeer are mechanical (and scary), Santa has a key that opens any door, and a flower that turns him invisible. He apparently regularly does battle with the Devil, but is afraid of dogs. The music by Antonio Diaz Conde is both migraine-creating and contagious (you will be humming the funeral dirge version of “Jingle Bells” for weeks afterward), and the living doll dance sequence is the stuff of acid trip nightmare.

All in all though, it is a blast, and so much fun. It is definitely more Plan 9 from Outer Space than Manos: The Hands of Fate, and speak of the devil, it has been done by “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to great hilarity. I love this flick.

santa4Tradition

I bought the VHS copy from the video store when they closed it down. We wore that out, and when we saw the DVD for only a dollar at a (what else?) dollar store, we bought several copies. We watch it every year, because, after all, “It’s just not Christmas until you watch the 1959 Mexican Santa Claus,” and have introduced, entertained, and yes, tortured friends and family with it year after year.

We look forward to the annual viewing every year. I suggest you check it out as well. Check your dollar stores, or do a search on YouTube. It’s there, sometimes with commentary, and your holiday will never be the same again. Merry Christmas!

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