Santa Claus, the Movie (review)

Holiday Horror

If you’d like to really scare a child out of the Christmas spirit, plop her down in front of Santa Claus, the Movie. Just be sure to set aside sufficient funds for a lifetime of therapy afterward. Truly, this is perhaps the mind-numbingest, most incoherent, most amoral Christmas movie I’ve ever seen, and that’s including Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Not only is the so-called story a disjointed mess — there are at least three different movies jammed in here — but this disgusting film turns Santa into an idiotic, heartless bastard.

Ever wonder where Santa came from, and how it’s possible he’s been around so long? Santa Claus, the Movie will tell you. It seems that in a faux medieval land — one that’s happy and clean and apparently disease free — there was a woodcutter who liked to make toys for children. Returning home one snowy Christmas Eve, Mr. Claus (David Huddleston: Joe’s Apartment) and the missus (Judy Cornwell) and the two reindeer pulling their sleigh froze to death in a sudden storm. Nice way to start a children’s flick, huh? But magic starlight reanimates them, and elves in green felt shanghai them to a Brigadoon-like North Pole HQ. “This is your home now,” they titter evilly to the undead Santa, and so he’s stuck there forever, amongst the barracks full of elves and sweatshops full of toys, which the immortal elves have been making in anticipation of Santa’s eventual arrival.
See, this ancient elf (Burgess Meredith: Rocky) tells Claus that he is “the chosen one,” that a prophecy foretold his coming. In this way, Santa Claus, the Movie is just like The Matrix, only instead of cool and exciting it’s bizarro and satanically corrupt. More mysterious and unanswered is the question of how an elf can become ancient when he’s supposed to be immortal — or has poor old Burgess Meredith been shuffling and moaning his way around since the beginning of time?

Santa — who is wooden as his toys — is not one whit disturbed by the prospect of an eternal, unrelenting hell of catering to spoiled children around the world. “Ho ho ho,” you can practically hear him say, “I’m undead! Might as well make the best of it.” He relishes the fact that, as the centuries zoom by, increasing literacy means more kids can ask Santa for gifts. Clueless by nature, he’s prone to saying things like, one Christmas Eve, “Tonight there’s not a child alive who’s not bursting with joy and happiness,” apparently oblivious to all the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and other non-Christian children he won’t be visiting. The question of the poor kids who invariably are forgotten by the Fat Guy is pushed aside as well — though I imagine that Mrs. Claus, who lobbied for the exclusion of bad children at Christmastime, perhaps attached a rider to her bill disenfranchising the poor, too.

Or maybe Santa is just an inhumanely callous monster — perfectly understandable, given that he is, in fact, undead. By the time we reach the present day, and the second movie- within- the- movie, Santa has met Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick), a homeless street urchin who has to beg food off kind strangers. Santa takes Joe hot-rodding in his sleigh as a special treat to cheer the kid up… but does Claus — who, remember, has magic — give the kid a home, parents, or even a warm winter coat, all the better to survive those icy nights spent sleeping on the sidewalk? Does he even give the kid a crappy wooden toy? Nope. He just leaves Joe to fend for himself until the next Christmas Eve, when Santa promises to return. Whooping freaking do, and thanks a bunch, Santa.

The third movie here involves an elf named Patch, played with horrifying apathy by Dudley Moore, who defects to work for toymaker B.Z., played with horrifying scene-chewingness by John Lithgow (Don Quixote, Cliffhanger). Upon medical advice, I’m not allowed to talk about this subplot at all, since my medication cannot be upped any further. Suffice to say that in the annals of pestilent filmmaking, this ranks right up there with the complete works of Michael Bay.

Santa Claus, the Movie was written by David and Leslie Newman and directed by Jeannot Szwarc. Shame on you. Shame on you for thinking we needed to experience the nightmare of Santa dieting after that “bowl full of jelly” crack from Clement Moore. Shame on you for allowing to be uttered such lines as “It gives me a real feeling of elf-confidence.” Shame on you for naming elves such things as Goober, Boog, and Honka. Shame on the cast. Shame on the people who did the on-set catering. Shame on the whomever thought we needed both a widescreen and a pan-and-scan version of the DVD.

You must see this movie if only to boggle at the depths of bizarre-itude that film can reach. Not only is there not a single drop of Christmas magic to be found here, Santa Claus, the Movie actually perverts the spirit of the holiday into something creepy, itchy, and miserable.

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