The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Friday, April 1, 2011

Into the Abyss: My Ten Worst Movies List Part 2

Into The Abyss: My Ten Worst Movies List Part 2

6. The Creeping Terror, 1964. Director: Vic Savage
Sometimes a really absurd menace is enough to make a film a laughing-stock all by itself. One of the movies I considered for this list was Rene Cardoza’s The Brainiac, with its skull-emptying, prehensile-tongued, needle-nosed latex-headed fiend, whose melon inflates and deflates as the actor inside breathes; his hairy hands have two suckered fingers which bend in the most rubbery way imaginable. But...

When the monster’s not onscreen, the movie’s not really that’s not good, mind you, but it's got professional actors, and German Robles is creepy (even if he looks kinda like my friend Sam), and there are some actual production values.

Another film I considered briefly (and dismissed) was The Giant Claw, a fifties SF flick about a huge anti-matter bird from another dimension. The avian in question is a marionette that looks like a reject from the Lonely Goatherd number in Sound of Music. All of the miniature work is equally inept---the puppet destroys what appears to be a Lionel train-set at one point, but...

The non-FX sequences just aren’t screamingly bad, as I recall. I rather liked the idea of a giant anti-matter bird from another dimension....I don’t believe there had been any anti-matter in a movie up till that point.

But Vic Savage’s Creeping Terror has a monster that makes the Brainiac and the Giant Claw seem like serious matters. I don’t think there’s another movie monster that's even remotely so ridiculous. The Terror is this huge clumsy mess that’s just barely mobile, and it's very hard to figure out what the basic idea was. At least the Claw looked like a bird, albeit a most unwisely stylized one. The Terror is just puzzling, albeit in a very funny way.

Moreover, the film has other delights to offer the fan of grade-z schlock. The photography is out of focus and completely bleached, and about eighty percent of the soundtrack got lost...the occasional bit of dialogue remains, or is dubbed back in, but mostly we have to contend with a narrator who really runs off at the mouth. At least in Beast of Yucca Flats, the cryptic and ironic voiceovers are kept to a minimum...very little gets explained, because there's nothing to explain. There seems to have been a lot more to CP's screenplay, and the narrator does his best to recreate it.

Sterling Silliphant’s no-talent brother Allan wrote the thing...apparently while director Vic Savage was raising the necessary cash, he threw Allan’s last name about pretty liberally, and some backers coughed up their funds believing the author of In the Heat of the Night was involved. Now that I think of it, the film does have a very Heat of the Night kind of vibe...perhaps there's some truth to the rumor (started by me just now) that Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier were inside the monster costume.

The idiocy kicks off with stock footage of a missile launch run in reverse...the rocket doesn’t look anything like the object that we see on the ground later on. A monster emerges and starts eating people. Some viewers have called it “a big walking carpet.” One described it as looking like a cross between a Chinese Dragon puppet and the Pope. I would’ve said a cross between an omelette and the Pope. It's this long sprawly draggy thing with a mitery towering protrusion at one end, and it hauls itself painfully along with these two paddelly-flippery feet directly under the Pope also shows a rubbery ring-shaped mouth when it rears back and eats someone.

Cops and soldiers check out the alien ship, crawling in through a narrow space (that the Terror couldn't possibly have crept out of) beneath a flat blank wall. Inside, there’s a panel of very terrestrial-looking gauges and dials, rather like what you might see in a power-plant...hard to imagine what the creature would be doing with such stuff. And oh yes, there’s a back-up Terror, strapped in an alcove or something. The military post a guard.

Meanwhile, the escaped Terror's out getting people. It gets a kid and his grandpa while they’re fishing, then sneaks up on a cute mom who’s just stuck a rectal thermomenter in her feverish baby’s butt. “Poor baby, let me take your temperature,” she says, then goes out to hang the wash and is I recall, poor baby's left with the thermometer in his heinie. After that, the monster assails some youths who are having “a hootenanny," one of them assailing the monster right back with his guitar, which doesn’t make much of a weapon. I'm glad to report the monster gets the proto-hippy asshole.

In the film’s most memorable sequence, the Terror sneaks into a high school gym where a swarm of hepcats are doing the Twist. Now, unlike in most awful cheapies, this movie has a hotty playing single female part...there’s a startlingly good-looking twistette in shiny lame pants, for example. Moreover, when the monster starts eating all the girls, we get a ton of upskirt shots that are mighty damn arresting...invariably, the monster has trouble sucking the girls in past their shapely round asses, and it snarfles and nobbles and gruntles on those at length, until finally we cut away, and suddenly the women’s feet are vanishing in the hellish maw.

The monster then goes after some folks at a lover’s lane...and gets them. Then it returns to the ship for the big climax. It very nearly eats a Scientific Expert, but he crawls away from it, and a cop slams a car into it and kills it. The Expert opines that that the Terrors are actually robots, designed to eat things and analyze them, and transmit the info back to a home planet. Even though a transmission seems to have taken place, he  tells us not to worry, because the other planet might be zillions of lightyears away. That’s not a bad piece of SF...the idea that the monsters analyze the things they eat isn’t too bad either. But everything else is most exquisitely risible. Nigel Kneale’s best script ever couldn't have overcome a visual like the flippery papal carpet, and those Quatermass movies, good as they were, had some pretty bum FX.

Richard Edlund, who would go on to work for ILM and do the FX for Ghostbusters and Predator, designed the titles for this masterpiece, by the way.

7. The Magic Christmas Tree, 1964, Director: Richard C. Parrish

By the time you get to the bottom of this list, you’ll notice that there are three atrocious Christmas movies on it. This isn’t a coincidence. There was, for a while there, a whole subgenre of crummy yuletide matinee flicks, inspired by the success of Rene Cardoza’s Santa Claus, a Mexican movie imported into the U.S. by the redoubtable K. Gordon Murray. But Cardoza’s oddly unsettling St. Nick Versus Satan goround was a superproduction compared to the imitations, whose purveyors were clearly operating—very profitably—under the assumption that children are so stupid that they’ll sit still for anything.

The most famous film of this sort was, I guess, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which was released by Joseph E. Levine (who distributed some good movies like Zulu) and actually starred some real actors, even though it was bottom of the barrel by Hollywood standards. It figured prominently on The Golden Turkeys list, but it was nowhere near as horrendous, as completely non, as some of the abominations that followed, such as Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, and Santa’s Christmas Elf Named Calvin....but before we dare those stygian depths, we’d better practice on something that’s no quite so daunting...

Namely, The Magic Christmas Tree.

Tim Burton seems to have seen’s this weird amalgam of Halloween and Christmas, rather like, well, Nightmare Before Christmas, and it does feature the idea of an imprisoned Santa Claus. The stuff at the end where the world’s going nuts because Santa isn’t around seems to have inspired similar material in Nightmare. But why anything from a movie like MCT would have gotten stuck in Burton’s mind is beyond me.

Movie commences on an unwholesome note, with a witch, her familiar Lucifer, and a magic spell which brings oral-anal sex immediately to mind, probably not accidently. Mark, a bulbous-butted kid, investigates “The old Finch Place,” and is set upon by Mrs. Finch, a hag who insists that the he rescue her black pussy from a tree...Mark falls out of the tree and bonks his head.

Up till now, everything’s been in black and white, but once he wakes up, the film switches to color, a la Wizard of Oz. This, however, merely serves to remind us that we're not watching that, and rub our noses in the fact that bad color is way worse than none at all. The color in MCT is runny and puky and nauseating, like what you'd see on a fast-food billboard on Route Thirteen in Delaware that dates back to the Triassic, and was probably never appetizing to begin with.

Mrs. Finch is revealed to be a some sort of “good” witch, even though they’re trying to make her look like Margaret Hamilton, and she rewards Mark for his services by giving him a horrible cheap little plastic ring, with a seed in a secret compartment. If he plants the seed under a Thanksgiving turkey’s wishbone and says the magic words “Rimbum Carynum Po!” something swell will come up by Christmas, supposedly.

He obeys the instructions...a scrawny tree rises from his back lawn. His crewcutted uber-aryan looking dad tries repeatedly to start a lawnmower as wacky sounds effects plunk and tweetle. Finally the mower starts, and dad pretends to be dragged all over the back yard by it as a tortoise named Ichabod eats plants. Spotting the tree, dad tries to hack it down with an axe, but all of his blows are absorbed by a clearly visible metal rod...he gives up.

That night, Mark goes out and finds out that the tree can talk. Sounding even swishier than Paul Marco, it tells him to rimbum some more, he obliges, and it disappears from the back yard and reappears in the living-room. The other members of the family don’t like it, but once it sprouts a zillion ornaments and strands of tinsel, they relent, although the decorated tree is quite a dispiriting sight, looking rather like toxic waste running down the side of a rock.

Mark learns that it will give him wishes...charming little fellow that he is, he immediately opts for omnipotence, and the trees grants him “an Hour of Power.” We’re immediately reminded of that Twilight Zone episode about the little kid with Godlike abilities, but Mark doesn’t do anything cool like removing people’s mouths or putting their heads on jack-in-the-boxes. He goes out, pointing his all-powerful finger and intervening maliciously in the affairs of folks who haven't done him any harm, causing a truck to get away from the poor black dude that’s parked it, forcing people to shove pies in each other’s kissers, and making comedy firemen in whiteface drive around sorta fast in their firetruck.

But this isn’t enough for Mark...he goes home and demands to have Santa Claus placed under his exclusive control! The tree obliges, and Santa is sucked from the North Pole and imprisoned in a chair. An even more depressing visual than the Tree, he’s this shapeless bloated dude who looks as though he might just be an old woman, slumped and squished into the seat as though some invisible supernatural agency is pressing a giant  thumb down on his head. If this is what Santa looks like, you’re glad that there isn’t one.

The mess in the chair is alarmed at being teleported and imprisoned, but the tree comforts him most fruitily, saying, “It’th jutht a magic thpell.” Santa resigns himself to sit some more, but he never does seem to do anything for Mark, who suddenly finds himself out in some woods. There he runs afoul of a flabby giant (there sure are a lot of fatties in these flicks!) who says, “You’re my little boy now!” tucks Mark under his armpit, and carts him deeper into the forest. There the giant asks him if he’d like some cake, or “that mountain of toys,” although no toy mountain has been mentioned up till that point. Then he inflicts a montage of world events on the kid, who sees just what a disaster he's created by removing Santa from circulation. Repenting, Mark gets back home and rimbums Santa from his seat...Santa forgives him, saying that he’s “for giving.” Then Santa and the Christmas tree disappear.

Things return to black and white, and Mark’s back at Mrs. Finch’s place. She gives him some cookies, and he wanders off, sadder but wiser. However, he’s soon revitalized by a final glimpse of the Christmas Tree...looking up at a clifftop, he sees some perfectly ordinary evergreens, none of them looking anything like the tree we’ve come to love, and a different but equally lispy and fey magic-tree-voice informs him that, “Yeth Lad, it’th me..and remember, thairth a little bit of magic in every Christmath tree.”

This movie was released five separate times, all over the country...the last time was in 1980. They don’t seem to have the full movie over at Youtube, but there are quite a few bits of it online, including some trailers. You can, of course, get it on VHS, and for all I know, it’s out on DVD. For a while, I was toying with the idea of doing a little special called Christmas in Hell, in which I would’ve played the Devil, trying to spoil Christmas with movies like this, with the aid of my friend Nick Prata dressed as an elf and saying nothing, looking very mean. I would’ve started with clips from the perfectly dreadful Frederick March TV Christmas Carol from the 1950's, then gone on to Cardoza’s Santa Claus, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny...but this would’ve required a budget of least fifty dollars or so, and I never could get anyone to put up the cash...


If only Samurai Cat had left me rolling in dough.


8. The Beast of Yucca Flats, 1961, Director: Anthony Cardoza

This film stars Ed Wood regular Tor Johnson, but it’s vastly worse than anything Ed ever did, hands down. Like The Creeping Terror, it has a lot of sound issues, but at least with CP, they had a soundtrack, originally, even though they lost it...Beast was obviously shot without sound, right from the gitgo. There’s narration, and sound effects include gunshots and a loud clock ticking at the very beginning...but when it comes to voices, the person who’s speaking is always off-camera, and you see shots of whoever’s listening. Also, unlike Creeping Terror, Beast doesn’t have a slew of pretty girls. It’s extremely pretentious too, although maybe not so much as Wizard of Gore.

The movie begins with a not particularly attractive woman taking a shower while that really boisterous clock does its thing. I’m told there's a print where you get to see the girl’s breasts, but there was none of that in the Youtube version I just watched. She gets out of the shower, and is strangled by a pair of hands. Then, apparently, she’s violated post-mortem...startling stuff for 1961, (heck, right-winger that I am, I still think necrophilia is a no-no), but the handling of the scene is so slack that you just wind up going “meh.” None of this has anything to do with anything that follows, by the way. Some theorize that it’s actually a flash-forward to one of Tor’s killings, but I think it’s just a gratuitous bit tossed in by a clueless sleazeball director.

Afterwards, we’re introduced to Dr. Joseph Javorski (Johnson), an Iron Curtain defector who’s arrived in the US with a bunch of Russian moonshot documents. He lands in a plane in a place that I guess is supposed to be somewhere near Yucca Flats (the location seems to be a particularly unscenic area of California), but the editor cuts away just as Tor’s opening the door, because it's plain that Tor had a great deal of trouble dragging his enormous bulk out of the cabin. This whole door-Tor thing will become a regular motif...he can’t get out of a car later on, and the editor cuts away might recall that scene in Plan Nine when he tries to rise from his grave, and starts to experience some difficulty.

Anyway, once he’s extricated (by God knows what method), he’s immediately set upon by KGB agents! There’s a gunfight and a car chase, as the narrator asks, “Flag on the Moon, how did it get there?” Tor drives right into a nuclear test range, and the KGB guys follow...everybody gets out of their cars...the bomb is detonated and the Russkis drop dead, but Tor, reduced “to nothing,” (that must’ve been some bomb) wanders further into the waste, “caught in the wheels of progress,” taking his shirt off, face burned, mind consumed by a burning lust to kill.

His first two victims are a couple who’ve parked by the side of the road...the man goes out and gets killed by Tor, leaving the woman sitting in the front of the car. Amazingly, she doesn’t even notice when Greenland-sized Tor gets into the back (the tail of the car must’ve been jammed into the bedrock), and she just sits there as hands reach over the seat and throttle her. She isn’t quite dead though...and Tor carries her off to his mountain cave, which (we learn later) you can only reach by climbing a steep cliff that he could never have lugged himself up. But the sheer rock face disappears whenever it might be an issue, so you can relax.

The boyfriend’s dead body is discovered, and the “Desert Patrol” is called in. The cops or whatever they are make their way up to the cave, find the woman...they try to carry her down, but she croaks. One of the guys immediately takes to the air with a high-powered rifle, assuming that anyone he spots on the ground will be the murderer. As it just so happens, some kids have wandered away from their parents...the dad is out looking for them...the cop in the plane starts shooting at him, and in a scene clearly inspired by the cropduster bit in North By Northwest, the poor dad runs around for a while, and then, “caught in the wheels of justice,” gets potted, then gets back up like nothing’s happened. Having shot someone, the cop parachutes out of his plane into the desert, never mind accompanying his ride back to the airstrip.

The two boys run afoul of Tor, who gives chase, even though he wouldn’t be able to catch up to the Canadian Shield. The kids find themselves up in his cave, and hide as he stumbles in and goes to sleep...once he’s unconscious, they slip by, but wake him up, and Tor follows them...the cops intervene, roll around amorously on the ground with him, then shoot him. The boys are reunited with their parents. Not quite dead, Tor is approached by a rabbit, who finds him inexplicably lickworthy...he fondles it with a huge porky mitt, then expires.

Suspiciously, another rabbit shows up in our next might not have been expecting to encounter so many bunnies on this trip. But there are more bunnies in the Challenger Deep than are dreamt of in your philosophy, and so, without further ado...

9. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, 1972, Directors: Barry Mahon and R Winer.

This thing almost killed my wife Kate.

No wait, backup, can’t start there.

When I was a student at the University of Delaware, I saw a trailer for this ostensible movie, and was astounded that something so completely lacking in...well, anything could get theatrical rentals. The trailer packed more cinematic ineptitude into three minutes than just about any ten full-length bad movies you could name. It was all about Santa’s sleigh being stuck in the sand way down in Florida, and how kids had to bring farm animals to try and tow it out. Explaining this was this witchy-sounding old woman who ended by telling us: “See...Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny...Santa and the ice Cream Bunny...Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny...”

I never did take in the matinee, although that adline got completely stuck in my head. Kate and I sojourned for four years at Notre Dame, then returned to Newark...gradually I forgot about the trailer. But then, some time in the mid-eighties, I was with my friend Sam at a little video parlor, and he noticed that they had the movie. The girl behind the counter tried to warn me off, saying: “It’s just the worst,” and telling me how everyone who rented it complained bitterly, with the exception of one guy who held onto it because he thought it was so funny. Well, I took my chances anyway, bolstered by the knowledge that that the tape distributor felt compelled to lie about the thing on the box and say it was an animated film...such a lack of confidence in the product was a very good sign.

I wasn't disappointed. In fact, the movie surpassed all expectations. It started off incredibly funny, and just built and built...when the titular bunny showed up, Kate started laughing uncontrollably, and when I went up stairs after a bit, she was in bed practically honking her lungs out. It took some while for her to come down off it, seriously.

Movie was made as a promo for a cheesy Florida theme park named Pirate’s World. They had this kiddy theater, you see, that did fairy-tale adaptations, and one was Thumbelina. Veteran Sunshine State cheapo director Barry Mahon was brought in to do a film version, although it didn’t turn out too well; some braintrust decided to change it into a Christmas movie by adding the Santa stuff as a wraparound framing device. But that didn’t work either...all the yuletide material wound up at the beginning, the film becoming a kind of double feature, although there was no mention of Thumbelina when the movie was released.

Not sure who directed what. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Barry Mahon directed the whole thing...have no idea who “R. Winer” might be, but Mahon was a semi-famous interesting guy who flew with the RAF during WWII, downed a number of German planes and was shot down himself, winding up in a POW camp. If you’ve ever seen The Great Escape, the Steve McQueen “Cooler King” character was based on him. In short, he was a niftier guy than you or me. But he sure did stink as a director. He specialized in horror stuff (with axe-chopped bodies!) kiddy movies, and nudie epics. On the IMDB he has dozens and dozens of titles.

As the credits roll on his next-to-worst movie, we see that Santa is played  by Jay Clark (who was actually in the original True Grit), that the film is somehow “by” R. Winer, and that the “kids” are supplied by Ruth Foreman’s Pied Piper Playhouse. Dressed as Christmas elves, the “kids” are singing a tuneless song that goes, “tra-la-la-la, Santa isn’t here,” as they make toys, one of them pounding on a stuffed monkey with a mallet. Presently an elf (who appears as an ordinary kid later on) goes to the door and looks out. Santa still hasn't arrived...there's nothing outside but stock footage of grazing caribou. We see the elf's cruel disappointment...and a whole host of things leap right out at the viewer. The exterior of Santa's workshop is two-by-four stud framework, such as one might see in an unfinished garage. Next to the doorframe, you have a section of corrugated cardboard insulation with the outside paper peeled off, so that the interior ridges are exposed, and someone has plainly been dragging their fingernails down those. Moreover, the shot's so tight that you can clearly make out the staples that have been driven through the cardboard into the wall. This completely establishes the tone for everything that follows....complete, utter contempt for those little blighters in the audience.

So where is Santa, you ask? Well, as a senescent lady narrator informs us, he's stuck in the sand in his sleigh, way down in Florida. He crash landed, you see, and it got too hot for his reindeer, so they went back to the North Pole and left him, and he's been sitting and sweating in the sun ever since. "What a predicament," as the narratress says...she says "predicament" a whole whole lot. No matter that his sleigh is a flimsy one-seat thing that he could surely drag out of the sand by himself. Santa is a catastrophic moron. He alternates between singing a witless song that goes, "Oh woe is me, oh woe is me, who will set old Santa free?" and trying to dig himself out of the sand while sitting in the sleigh. Ultimately he falls into a stupor, and telepathically contacts a bunch of kids in a local housing of them owns Rebel the Dog, whose asshole we get a delightful blue-black shiny freeze-frame of.

The kids and Rebel go rushing off to the sleigh, passing a lake where "Huck and Tom," paddling around on a leaky raft, decide to see what the hubbub's about. While the two Twain refugees maneuver themselves to shore, a little panicky raccoon goes batshit all over them, at one point nearly sinking his teeth into "Tom's" face....all this to a hideous kazoo rendering of Old Man River.

The housing-development kids arrive at the sleigh while Huck and Tom watch from the bushes "to see what'll happen." Santa, sometimes wearing sunglasses, sometimes not, tells the children about his predicament, and they decide to go out and get animals to pull him out of the sand. There's a guy in a gorilla suit who makes no headway, as Santa stands helpfully in the sleigh and bends over, hands on knees, and bring sheep, a pig, and a horse, no matter that there's nothing to hitch them to the sleigh with, and most of the time the animals aren't even pointed the right way. Santa tells the kid with the sheep to "turn him around, turn him around," bringing to mind all sorts of lonely-shepherd amour...finally, Kris Kringle dismounts from the sleigh to help, whereupon we see that he's got a giant black stain on his butt, obviously soaked up from sitting on the badly-dyed leather upholstery...

But nothing works! Nothing works! Santa despairs, then most hypocritically, gathers the children round to tell them the story of Thumbelina, who "escaped from her kidnappers" and "never gave up." Obviously, this was where they were going to stick the Thumbelina film, but didn't, and we just cut back to Santa, who says, "There you see, children, Thumbelina never gave must believe! You must always believe!"

Still, he can't think of anything, and the problem is turned over to Rebel the Dog, quite understandably...after all, as the ugly little girl who owns him tells us, "He can do anything, and he can do really good tricks too." This sets up the thunderous climax, in which Rebel runs off to fetch "The Ice Cream Bunny," who we're supposed to know something about, although we really can't place him. Maybe, originally, he was supposed to be the Easter Bunny, which would, perhaps, explain his great friendship with Santa,, he's the Ice Cream Bunny now, whoever that is. Perhaps some secular impulse moved our auteurs to rename him.

Whatever. As Santa sits and sweats in the sun some more, the Bunny approaches on his vintage fire engine, driving endlessly through Pirate's World...look for the scene where this one guy gets caught on camera and runs and hides next to a building. For some reason, even though we left all the kids back at the sleigh, they're all on the firetruck now, singing Santa's song about who will set him free, the kids' lip-movements incredibly out of sync with the shitty ditty. Sequence seems to have been overdubbed repeatedly.

Finally, Rebel locates the firetruck, and nearly gets run over...the man in the bunny costume can't see too well (he appears to be looking out through the tiny mouth) and only spots him at the last moment, jamming on the brakes. The huge bunny-head nearly falls off, the guy inside reaching up desperately to hold it on...all these kids at the back of the truck just fall off. Martin Scorsese never got so much into a single take.

In a masterful shot from under Santa's no-doubt aromatic armpit, we see the firetruck approach the sleigh and stop. Of the Bunny, the narratress says, "That character looked mighty familiar...could it be...?" And Santa cries, "It is! My old friend the Ice Cream Bunny!" and he leaps down and rushes to greet him, whereupon we get out first really good look at the Bunny, who's just a nightmare, even worse than Santa in Magic Christmas Tree, with floppy fungusy feet, and dead black eyes, one of which just blinks halfway down and sticks, as through he's had a stroke. The Bunny does a little dance, and we get some hellish closeups of those terrible pedal extremities. Santa gets on the truck, and he and the Bunny head off to the North Pole as the kids stand around wondering why he left his sleigh behind...after all, he insisted on staying with it before. But, "Like magic!" it just disappears, and we're informed that when he gets back to the boreal realm, "There waiting for him, is his sleigh!"

I've seen this thing a zillion really puts everything into perspective. Here you are thinking that you’re a total screw-up, but then you put Santa on and realize what genuine screwing up is. My friend Nick has watched it even more than me, and my brother-in-law Charlie has wallowed in it even more than Nick...he used to watch it every single friggin' day until his VHS tape wore out. And you know what? Every time you lower yourself into it, it gets worse. You notice some flaw you never noticed before, catch some remnant of fucked-up overdubbed sound...the movie's absolutely inexhaustible. I gave a copy to an editor named Pat LoBrutto, and he was floored, declaring the flick to be the definitive proof that the laws of aesthetics are true...after all, with Santa, you see what results when you contravene all of them. Just in case you think I'm exaggerating, you can download this thing online, or watch it on Youtube. But just think about my poor wife and her near-fatal coughing fit.

You might not be so lucky.

10. Santa's Christmas Elf Named Calvin, 1971, Director, Barry Mahon
Okay, we're finally hitting bottom here. There's nothing down here but muck, frozen methane, whale carcasses, and Santa's Christmas Elf. This phenomenon is so lacking in any cinematic qualities that it's not even listed on the IMDB. Santa’s Christmas Elf kinda bears the same relation to real movies that that viruses do to actual living piggy-backs on the system, but has nothing to offer other than its own perpetuation, for us viewers, that is. Given that it couldn’t have cost more than a few hundred bucks, it must’ve been one of the most profitable movies ever.

On the back of the VHS box, we’re told that it's for “very young children,” the sort who couldn’t crawl away, I guess; the blurb goes on to describe the film as “an unusual enchanting delight, brimming with the joy and magic of Christmas.” Well, it’s unusual all right. The only way you could get anything more null and void would be to turn off the picture and just listen to the sound, or better yet, just turn off your TV entirely. Incredibly, like Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, which was made the next year, and Magic Christmas Tree, Santa’s Christmas Elf received a number of releases; as of 1994 it was, according to Mahon (in a interview by Frank Henonlotter), still running! During the same interview, Mahon made the chillingly plausible claim that he shot the movie in and hour and a half, although he also went on to say that it was the first computer-generated film, because he mixed the images on a computer. I don’t know what he’s talking about (in 1971, what kind of computer could he have been using?), but I can also imagine that he was a deeply confused human being.

Here’s the deal regarding this unwatchable exercise...after a title sequence involving some of the crummiest Christmas art ever, we get a series of barely-focused color stills depicting Rankin-bass type puppets, minus the stop motion. There are some vocal characterizations, and that old lady from Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny supplies some narration, but that’s it.

Story has Calvin screwing up at the North Pole...he can’t concentrate on his job. Santa upbraids him...Calvin sneaks aboard Santa’s sleigh, and gets captured by a little girl named Kim, before a couple of other kids put him on a remote-controlled toy airplane. Acting out of sheer caritas (can’t think of any other reason for Santa to care about hopeless motionless Calvin,) Santa puts on his spy sunglasses and trenchcoat, and sallies forth to save him. Imagine seventy minutes of that. Think of being a poor kid in Dec. 1972, abandoned by your mom at a dank theater in Kalamazoo Michigan full of scores of of other squirmy little tykes, and all there is to divert the lot of you is the non-story I just described. Hate to think how you’d turn out. Wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you wound up making things like Wizard of Gore, just to get your revenge on reality, and maybe, just maybe, reality would deserve it.

Not thinking straight here. Oops, the oxygen gauge seems to have stuck...doubt we’ll make it back to the surface...will death be even more of a nullity than Santa’s Christmas Elf Named Calvin? Will I suffocate in the Challenger Deep, only to wake up on stage as Montag the Magician, and have to bellow  stuff about Appearance and Reality, then cut my own fake head off? Can you prove it won’t happen?

I ree-sign.


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