Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas 2018: December 24th

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Alexander and Ilya Salkind helped bring 1978’s “Superman” to the big screen and then quickly fucked it up. While the campy misfires of “Superman III” and “Supergirl” did not exactly end the series, the Salkinds figured they had squeezed all the blood from that particular property. So the super-producers, on the look-out for more exploitable content, moved onto an even more globally beloved and recognized character: Santa Claus! Initially offered to John Carpenter of all people, “Supergirl’s” Jeannot Szwarc would ultimately get the job. Though the film went out of its way to replicate “Superman’s” formula in a Yuletide context, “Santa Claus: The Movie” would flop hard in 1985. Since then, the film has supposedly developed a cult following.

In the frozen North, a friendly old man named Claus makes toys that he delivers to the village’s children on Christmas. After him, his wife, and his reindeer freeze to death in a blizzard, they are gathered by the magical little people. The elves provide Claus with the resources to deliver toys to all the world’s children. Santa Claus goes about his business for centuries. In the 1980s, an elf named Patch leaves the North Pole for Manhattan. He quickly falls in with disgraced toy company BZ Toys, whose evil CEO exploits the elf’s talents. Santa, a homeless boy, and a poor little rich girl team up to save Christmas.

“Santa Claus: The Movie” begins with an interesting proposition. It endeavors to provide a definitive origin for the mythical figure of Santa Claus. However, its answers are less than satisfying. Instead of exploring the historical Saint Nicholas or delving into Santa’s pagan roots, it just makes shit up. It seems the elves have been awaiting Claus’ arrival, for reasons never specified. His powers are explained as magic and left at that. Weirdly, this film’s world takes Santa’s existence at face value, blaming him for defective toys later on. The sloppy origin is another symptom of the film’s messiness. The story has four protagonists and is riddled with holes.

Like many Christmas films, “Santa Claus: The Movie” denounces corporate greed and ruthless capitalism while being a product of those beliefs. The film is very childish, so it’s portrayal of a corrupt business is ridiculous. B.Z. is so cartoonishly evil, he fills teddy bears with broken glass and rusty nails. The motivation of unchecked greed, how big business has co-opted the season of giving and made it about money, is only briefly touched upon. Patch, who assumes protagonist status for a third of the film, is never held accountable for his role in the villain’s scheme. Moreover, Santa and B.Z. never actually cross paths. The film’s big hero, representing pure altruism, and its bad guy, representing total greed, do not meet. The film’s conflict - and its message - is totally limp.

Another problem facing “Santa Claus: The Movie” is its uneven cast. David Huddleston is certainly jolly enough to play Santa and does well in the early scenes. However, once the conflict arises, Huddleston becomes moody and overly forlorn. Dudley Moore might seem perfectly cast as an elf but he puts little heart into the role of Patch. Especially once he’s riding around in a flying car, Moore’s disinterest is obvious. Christian Fitzpatrick and Carrie Kei Heim are fairly broad as the adorable moppets that Santa befriends. (Santa seems very blasé about keeping his existence a secret.) That leaves us with John Lithgow as B.Z. Lithgow reaches for the rafters, overacting to gloriously campy heights. Lithgow’s sweaty, screaming performance is absolutely the highlight of the film.

I will say this much about “Santa Claus.” It’s got really nice production design. Santa’s workshop looks fantastic. There’s all sorts of old-timey mechanisms moving about. Everything is delightfully colorful. The commercial set Patch ends up on is gaudy in the right way. Some of the film’s special effects could be better though. While the animatronic reindeer are expressive, the flying sequences are pretty hokey. Santa’s sleigh and Patch’s flying car move stiffly and unconvincingly through the air. The Superman flying scenes looked way better than this. Still, it’s evident some real money was poured into this production.

I can recall seeing about half of “Santa Claus: The Movie” as a kid. I was over at a relative’s house around Christmas and they had HBO. Back then, I found the film rather mean-spirited. After all, this is a Santa movie that begins with Mr. and Mrs. Claus freezing to death. B.Z.’s deadly toys did not strike me as satirical but grotesque. Despite this impression, I have sometimes wondered how the movie ended. Well, now I know. “Santa Claus: The Movie” is definitely a dud, though I do prefer it over “The Santa Clause.” If only because I’ll take a hammy John Lithgow over a grunting Tim Allen any day of the week. [5/10]

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter's Tale

I reviewed the first episode of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” back in October. I liked it alright but had no idea when, if ever, I'd get back to the show. When it was announced that the series would be doing a Christmas special, I quickly caught up with the show. I love spooky holiday entertainment too much to let this one pass me by. And I'm glad I did, as “A Midwinter's Tale” is not a stand-alone special. It directly follows up on the events of the season one finale. Namely, Sabrina admitting to her friends that she's a witch, her breaking up with boyfriend Harvey, discovering her mortal mom's soul is trapped in limbo, and Aunt Zelda adopting a newborn baby.

Since Sabrina and her family are Satanic witches, they don't celebrate Christmas. Instead, they celebrate Yule, burning a special log in the fire place that keeps out evil spirits. During the holiday, Sabrina performs a séance to contact her mom's spirit. This ends up inviting the spirit of Gryla and her Yule Lads – a child-hoarding witch and her mischievous offspring from Icelandic mythology – into the house. The Spellman has to protect Leticia, the infant addition to their family, from the kid-obsessed spirit. Meanwhile, Sabrina's friend Suzi, while working as an elf for the mall Santa, is abducted by another yuletide demon.

I was honestly hoping “A Midwinter's Tale” would be creepier. The show produced some surprisingly spooky moments, like the Harrowing in episode four or some of the nightmare sequences in episode five. A snow-covered town at night can be so creepy. Yet “A Midwinter's Tale” mostly goes for comedy. Gryla, a horrifying giantess that eats children in the original myths, is rendered here as a civilized if deathly woman. The Yule Lads are portrayed as giggling poltergeist, instead of the weird dwarves they were originally. (Disappointingly, the Yule Cat – a giant feline that also eats kids – is absent altogether.) Much of the humor comes from the contrasting the witches' satanic behavior with the holly jolly surrounding, such as their unique interpretation of “A Christmas Carol.” As is typical of the show, the Spellmans responds to the weird events with a deadpan pragmatism.

“A Midwinter's Tale” definitely earns a lot of points for digging deep into Christmas lore. Even if its take on Gryla and the Yule Lads aren't as interesting as the originals, it's neat to see them mentioned at all. The more well known Krampus does show up, under his Styrian name of Bartel. He's the antagonist in Suzi's subplot, threatening to turn the teen into a lifeless mannequin. St. Lucia is also briefly discussed, for yet more obscure seasonal tradition. “A Midwinter's Tale” is a decent episode of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” about ranking in the middle of what was an overall decent first season. [7/10]

No comments: