Synopsis: From the strange and ridiculously colorful world of K. Gordon Murray comes the 1959 Holiday classic Santa Claus. Made in Mexico and dubbed into glorious English, Santa Claus tells the story of, well, Santa Claus, who lives in a big white castle above us in Geosynchronous Orbit and watches over us all in a way that would make the NSA jealous. It’s Christmas Eve, and on Earth poor little Lupita wishes for a doll. Santa hears her wish and prepares for his yearly visit, helped by the heavily medicated Merlin the Wizard and Santa’s unintentionally creepy mechanical reindeer.
But wait, who’s that trying to foil Santa’s plans and ruin Christmas? It’s the Devil of course, who sends his leotard-bedecked demon Pitch to turn the children against Santa and ruin Christmas. Pitch endlessly plots, and fails, to thwart Santa’s magical ride. The tension mounts – will Santa be able to foil Pitch and his minions, will he save Christmas and get poor Lupita her doll? The answer is Yes, of course, this is a Christmas movie, people! Come on!
eyelights: the riffs. the wacky production. Santa Claus’s demented base.
eyesores: the production’s lack of festive staging. Mike, Kevin and Bill’s self-promotion.
On Thursday, December 4, 2014, Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, former stars of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000‘, got together at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville for a special screening of ‘Santa Claus’, the 1959 Mexican Christmas non-classic. The picture, which was overdubbed and edited by an American producer and released in the United States the following year, was spoofed by the cast of ‘MST3K’ for Christmas Eve of 1993.
The RiffTrax soirée, which was filmed in front of a live audience and broadcast in cinemas across North America, consists of our trio propped up at their lecterns and commenting in their traditionally pop culture-savvy and sarcastic fashion while the film plays for the audience. They also opened up the evening with a special treat, a short film called “At Your Fingertips: Sugar”- after fending off an awkward moment between them when they hit the stage.
You see, Bill had misunderstood that they were all supposed to dress up as their favourite holiday characters for the occasion, but he was the only one to do it. After a few moments of finger-pointing, and after Bill gets the audience to boo his confrères for being poor sports (all in good fun, naturallement), he explained the inspiration for his “North Pole Guy”, not “Elf”, costume: the catalogue of Party City, capital of political correctness.
Then they turned in a hilarious commentary on “Sugar”, the latest in the nonsensical “At You Fingertips” series of bricolage shorts. As the title suggest, the focus this time is making utterly pointless things out of white sugar. The purpose of most of these unbelievably lame shapes is quite unclear, but one must imagine that they were intended to be decorative. Or maybe digestive: as Mike surmised, “Just grab a slice of instant diabetes, kids!”
Then came an unfortunate slice of peddling from the trio, as they told the audience about heir upcoming riffing projects, including some National Geographic episodes, and Bill’s graphic novel, “Super-Powered Revenge Christmas”. I guess they have to do what they have to do to put bread on the table, but it puts a damper on the proceedings, which were already slim pickings thus far. At least it led to learning of Bill’s improv style: “No, but…”!
Ha! (Of course, you have to have a basic knowledge of improv to get the joke…)
Eager to get to the main feature, the Riffers divested themselves of the frills that used to adorn their earlier shows, such as animated inserts, musical numbers or even fake commercials. This has become habitual of late and I really wish that they put more thought into the productions as it truly perks them up. A Christmas show would especially benefit from that, as traditional Christmas programming is often of the variety show… um… variety.
In any event, they delved right into ‘Santa Claus’, which tells the story of the night Lucifer sends Pitch, one of his demons, to hamper Santa’s efforts in bringing toys to all the good Mexican children. Pitch enlists the help of a few no-good children, but mostly tries to take the matters into his own hands, moving a chimney so that Santa can’t get into the house, tear a hole in his bag of dream powder (!), or run him up a tree with a vicious pitbull.
The picture consists mostly of Santa playing his organ (poorly, with overly fake enthusiasm) instead of getting to work, while children from around the world, trapped on his cloud, perform in stereotypical ways for everyone’s benefit. Or spying on the children of Mexico from his surveillance chamber filled with such weird and creepy devices that it led our riffers to rightfully comment that it “looks like a torture chamber designed by Dr. Seuss”!
We also follow the plight of poor little Lupita, who is from a really poor home and, thus, has never received a doll for Christmas. Watch her fight the urge to steal one from a street vendor. Oh, the tension. And we follow the plight of poor little Eraserhead as he longs for his wealthy parents, who are never around for him, even at Christmas. No problem! Santa will drug their drinks with a concoction that Merlin the Wizard has made for him.
Because, yes, Merlin is Santa’s assistant. So Santa has all the tools to drug and gas people to holiday cheer.
Strange. And eerie.
The picture is long drawn out, which is surprising because Santa’s got so much work to be done. But he spend most of his time loafing about or huffing and puffing his way out of his toy reindeer-led sleigh and up ladders; he’s so out of shape it’s a wonder that he doesn’t cave in from a heart attack. Or we watch Pitch act goofy, which is actually the highlight of the film due to José Luis Aguirre’s comic abilities – if you can ignore his costume.
Mike, Kevin and Bill are in top form here, throwing a bevy of terrific lines and observations at us. But they do flub a few lines along the way, which goes to show that not just anyone can do this sort of thing. Still, all told, ‘RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus’ is a hilarious way to spend 105 minutes. Granted, the picture itself is enough to make even the most sugar-fueled toddler drowsy, but our MCs for the evening make the evening a delirious good time.
It’s a great spin a Christmas non-classic.
Dates of viewings: December 1+3, 2016