Jim Knipp On… Rankin Bass

rankinbassEach week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.

Sometime in the early 1970s, I was introduced to true horror.  The vehicle of this introduction was not the movies Jaws (which made me afraid of the ocean), nor The Omen (which made me afraid of British people), nor any of the other horror masterpieces that I somehow was allowed to watch at the precocious ages between six and nine.  No, the horror genre was thrust upon me via the wonders of television, which opened a window to a world of elemental evils, mutated minions, and surly Santas.  Of course, the world I speak of is that of the Rankin Bass Christmas television special, the most frightening, twisted universe that humankind has ever uncovered.

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“You know, aside from this one…”

“But Jim,” I’m sure you’re saying.  “Those are classics, full of joy and Christmas Spirit!”  And I would respond: “Why are you talking to your computer screen?  You know I can’t hear you, right?”  Then I would add “You’re wrong!”  And I’ll explain why after the break.

Why do I count the Rankin Bass Christmas specials amongst the worst Lovecraftian horrors?  Well, let’s start with:

The Characters

Included among the supporting cast in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are a collection of home-grown bullies that make your high school football team look like a support group,  fused together freaks that would give Sid from Toy Story nightmares, and misanthropic outcasts with weird obsessions for teeth or gold. Your main villain is some sort of cross between 1930s King Kong and Fluffy the Crate Ape in Creepshow. Your hero has a radioactive shnozz that is likely causing enough chromosome damage to the native reindeer population to ensure every year has another misfit to sing that catchy tune.  Trust me, if they do a sequel set twenty years into the future, all the reindeer will have two heads and flippers.

...flop, flop Rudolph, Santa's gotta make it to town..."
…flop, flop Rudolph, Santa’s gotta make it to town…”

And “Rudolph” is really just the beginning.  Who’s your secondary hero in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”?

...zombie Dumbledore?
…zombie Dumbledore?

That’s right, the Winter Warlock, a seven-foot tall elemental sorcerer who lives in the forest and turns people to ice-pops.  Sure, he’s supposed to have been set to good by Kris Kringle’s singing and good humor, but look at those eyes.  Do you really think he’s not going to be embracing the dark and frozen side and enjoying some kidcicles the first time he gets the munchies?  And in “The Year Without a Santa Claus” you get the Miser brothers.  I mean Cold Miser looks like the Winter Wizard’s younger, slightly less insane brother, but Heat Miser?  What exactly is he?

...the unholy get of Carrot Top and an English Bulldog...
…the unholy get of Carrot Top and an English Bulldog…

And what of the ‘jolly’ old elf himself.  Sure, in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” he’s youthful and handsome and is filled with the Christmas spirit, but isn’t he a little too perfect?  Like serial killer perfect?  In “Year Without a Santa Claus,” he’s a depressive old man who gives up on his one cause because someone had the temerity to challenge him.  You know, the sort of guy who retires to a secret room and stares moodily at his ever increasing enemies list until something snaps.  And in “Rudolph”… hell in “Rudolph,” Santa’s the ex-jock head coach who makes sure everyone is the same; that those that think and look different are stamped out, all the while making us soft and compliant for our alien overlords…

...in the live action version, Rudolph will be played by Elijah Wood...
…in the live action version, Rudolph will be played by Elijah Wood…

The Plots

...and did he rename him "Bumble Gimp?"
…and did he rename him “Bumble Gimp?”

Rudolph starts off as the classic misfit trying to fit in story, but so much horror lies just off the screen.  Who exactly built those misfit toys, and to what purpose?  And how did they get on the island?  Maybe they’re the failed clones of other toys, just waiting on the apocalypse?  Does Herbie really want to be a dentist?  He seems awfully keen to pull teeth, but I never saw one bottle of laughing gas or needle of novocain, so maybe he’s just auditioning as Jigsaw in the Saw franchise. The real horror, though, is Cornelius, who saves the day by literally grabbing a Bumble by the balls and jumping over a cliff.  Seems a tad extreme, but what I really want to know is what sort of Human Centipede shit did Cornelius visit upon this noble Ape of the North to make him so compliant afterwards? And what did HE really mean when he said “Bumbles Bounce”?

“The Year without a Santa Claus” seems like a kids’ movie, but it’s really psychological thriller in which a depressed and needy Santa Claus manipulates everyone around him to get the love and adoration he so desperately craves.  Santa, through his co-dependent wife, is willing to call upon demonic forces of weather to freeze Southland until they properly appreciate him, and even then doesn’t relent until he makes a poor little girl weep.  Sure, he sweeps in at the end and makes everything right, but what about next year?  What will he hold hostage when our love still isn’t enough?

...or maybe your child's tears will always be enough...
…or maybe your child’s tears will always be enough…

For the truest horror, we need to look at “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  Sure, Kris Kringle is an adorable young man with sandy hair and a boyish grin…

...sort of like a twitchy Ewan Macgregor
…sort of like a twitchy Ewan McGregor

…but what exactly is he doing?  Luring young children out of the house with toys, turning them against their parents, fomenting a children’s crusade against the authority… add a Doors soundtrack, some Kool-Aid and Nikes, and you have the makings of a horror classic right there.

The Way They Move

Remember this:

Scary as hell, that twitchy, inhuman ghost walking.  Well, the way the denizens of the Rankin Bass universe move make Samara from The Ring look like a ballerina in comparison.  You want scary?  Watch the Bumble as his eyes and mouth twitch and shift and tell me it doesn’t look like a sack-full of graveworms buried beneath a fur coat.  Or gaze at Cornelius’ mustache as it quivers and takes on a life of its own, some sentient Old One sent to plague the upper lips of men the world over.  Or watch the Winter Warlock as he dances awkwardly between the trees like a marionette controlled by some mad puppeteer with murder on his mind.  Of for real terror, pay close attention to Heat Miser, as he spasmodically twirls amongst the flames, his mouth clanking open and closed like the very gates of hell.

...where his children will sing to you forever and ever...
…where his children will sing to you forever and ever…

And that’s where the most frightening realization about the Rankin Bass universe sinks in:  They move like this because they’re all ghosts, every last one of them, destined to walk through this frozen afterlife and to haunt us once a year… every year… forever…

...or at least until you forget to pay the cable bill...
…or at least until you forget to pay the cable bill…

 

 

 

4 Replies to “Jim Knipp On… Rankin Bass”

  1. Hilarious post, Jim. My wife and I were just discussing how ‘messed up’ Santa was in Rudolph…you nailed it!

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