Thursday, December 24, 2015

Worst Xmas Movie Ever: SANTA CLAUS (VS. THE DEVIL) (1959/60)

Still from SANTA CLAUS (VS. THE DEVIL) (1959/60)

Actually, it's only the 79th worst movie of all time (IMDb). But . . . a serious family film about Santa Claus that includes Lucifer, a demon from Hell, Merlin the Magician, and the Roman god Vulcan in the same storyline and which also has science fiction elements? Cheese. Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Background and Credits

SANTA CLAUS (VS. THE DEVIL) is a 1959 Mexican fantasy movie that was written by René Cardona and Adolfo Torres Portillo and directed by Cardona. American producer K. Gordon Murray bought the foreign rights to the film. Thereafter, he hired director Ken Smith (himself, under an assumed name) to dub it in English and edit it for a 1960 U.S. release. The result was (quite inexplicably) somewhat of a critical and commercial success, according to Wikipedia:
The film was considered to be a financial success over several holiday-season theatrical releases in the 1960s and 1970s. Broadcast of the film also became a holiday tradition at several U.S. television stations. The film garnered at least one award, winning the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1959.

Story Summary

Still from SANTA CLAUS (VS. THE DEVIL) (1959/60)
Pitch tries to convince Lupita, a poor girl, to steal the doll she wants for Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, Lucifer sends his top demon, Pitch (José Luis Aguirre 'Trotsky'), from Hell to Earth to destroy Santa Claus (José Elías Moreno) and make all the children of the world do evil. Of course, Santa knows what Pitch is up to, but can't do anything about it until nightfall. It seems that Santa, like Cinderella, can go out only during certain hours. For Santa, it's sundown on Christmas Eve to sunrise on Christmas Day. At dusk, he travels from his Toyland Castle space station (in geosynchronous orbit over the North Pole) to Earth. Santa must escape from three evil boys who try to enslave him, then prevent Pitch from stopping his delivery of toys to the children of Mexico City. Will he succeed with magical help from Merlin (Armando Arriola) and Vulcan (Ángel Di Stefani)? Or will Pitch be able to expose Santa as a fraud as the world watches?


SANTA CLAUS (VS. THE DEVIL) is unintentionally hilarious, especially in its dialogue. The voiceover narration (by K. Gordon Murray as Ken Smith) is so corny and preachy that it's almost pure cheese, especially when combined with the musical score. Pitch, the "demon," is about as evil as your most devilish friend from elementary school. Ironically, Santa's laugh is almost malevolent at times. Speaking of evil, the "badness" of the three boys who kidnap Santa is shown in part by having them wear leather jackets. What juvenile delinquents! And don't miss the nightmare ballet of the evil dolls.

Still from SANTA CLAUS (VS. THE DEVIL) (1959/60)
One of Santa's high-tech snooping gadgets . . . or is it something else?

The film also raises a few eyebrows. As Mysterious Universe points out, Santa's "bizarre Toyland castle . . . [is] full of various frankly obscene looking devices" (paging Dr. Freud . . . ). Santa's home is also filled with children rather than elves. As the film's summary on its Internet Archive page notes, Santa "avoids child labor laws by keeping his slaves in an orbital castle over the North Pole." Santa's helpers are supposedly representative of all the world's children, but they are actually a bit less diverse than that. Ethnic and racial group representations appear stereotypical when viewed from a 21st century perspective, although they were probably progressive for 1959 (except for the presentation of the African children).

In all fairness, the film does offer a valid illustration of the contrasting living conditions of poor and rich kids. There is genuine drama in the story of Lupita (Lupita Quezadas) and her parents, who can't afford to give her anything for Christmas. This movie, however, is not a Marxist critique. According to one reviewer, its original function might have been to introduce the children of Mexico to the Santa Claus concept, which was not a part of Mexican Christmas traditions at the time that this film was made. From this viewpoint, the movie encourages children to expect toys and other presents on Christmas morning. If anything, it's consumerist propaganda. After all, Pitch is played by an actor nicknamed "Trotsky".


Overall, SANTA CLAUS (VS. THE DEVIL) is so bad that it's good. I'd love to see what a hardcore horror director like Rob Zombie or Eli Roth would do in a remake of this stinker. Since Rob and Eli are too smart to do that, you'll have to settle for the MST3K parody. If you're up to it, you can watch the full film on YouTube (see below). If you want your very own copy, download it free from the Internet Archive -- it's in the public domain!

TFK's Rating (on IMDb): 2 out of 10 stars

Disclosure: TFK viewed this film on YouTube and wrote this review based on personal selection. No review request was involved in this choice.