It’s the Christmas season and amongst all the joy and laughter comes the utter strangeness that is the Christmas concept. Whether you’re talking about Jesus or Santa or whoever else, the whole season is a cultural mixing bowl of strange pop culture. That makes it all too fun to laugh at.
Throughout its many decades, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its many spinoffs have given us much to celebrate. So many bad movies have been pointed at and made to look even more foolish. Like all good TV shows, there would be the occasional Christmas episode. These Christmas-themed riffs are always fondly remembered by the fans and tend to be revisited every December.
But what’s the best? I’ve decided to rewatch all of them and rank them based on my own fair and just rating system pulled directly out of my ass. I’m covering all corners of the Riffverse for this: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike Nelson’s offshoot Rifftrax and Joel Hodgson’s Cinematic Titanic. I wish I could have included the Film Crew – the other offshoot created by the Rifftrax guys – but with only four episodes, nothing really fit with the season.
I’m also disqualifying any of the Rifftrax shorts releases as individual entries. Everything on the list has to be at a minimum of 20 minutes. As for the ratings, each entry will be graded on four things:
- WTF Factor: Sometimes the best fodder come from movies that are just so strange that you have just as much fun explaining them to others as you do watching them.
- Watchability: I enjoy a good bad movie, but sometimes a bad bad movie can be a bear to sit through no matter how funny the jokes are.
- Riff Quality and Extras: The movie may be a mess, but how funny are our guys giving it the business? Not to mention the stuff that isn’t part of the movie itself, like skits and such.
- Christmasness: You’re watching this because of Christmas, right? Well, how much does it really have to do with Christmas?
I wanted to go with a top 10 list here by including Space Mutiny to round it all out, but I decided against it. It didn’t feel right that it would rank so highly when the only reason it’s on the list is because one of the supporting characters looks a bit like Santa Claus. So let’s get going with the Top 9 Best Christmas Riffs!
9) NESTOR THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY (1977)
Rankin/Bass, the people behind such holiday classics as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Year Without Santa Claus, go in a more biblical direction by telling the story of Nestor, a donkey born with exceptionally long-ears. These ears end up getting him in trouble and make him the laughing stock of the animal kingdom. After the death of his mother, he’s greeted by a cherub who gives him an important mission to find Joseph and Mary, as he will be instrumental in the survival of their baby.
- WTF Factor: There’s an awkwardness to the special based on the desperation to reinvent the wheel on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The basic concept is incredibly similar, only it has none of the charm and fun that makes Rudolph such a holiday staple. There’s not much else to mention other than the truly bizarre ending. In the beginning, Nestor and his mother are taken care of by a really abusive donkey breeder named Olaf, who angrily throws them out into the cold, where Nestor’s mother dies. After Nestor’s journey to Bethlehem, the story ends with him returning home and all the animals – AND OLAF – are all happy to greet him, like they somehow heard news of Jesus being born over Twitter or something. 4
“All those of you who rubbed raw my soul with your bitter mocking laughter: THANK YOU! You truly are my friends!”
- Watchability: Despite being 25 minutes long, Nestor is rough to get through. Like I said, it’s Rudolph with none of the charm. Remember the beginning of Rudolph when the other reindeer make fun of him for his nose? Imagine that for about twenty minutes straight. Mix that with Nestor’s mother’s death and the whole thing is teeming with depression. Even worse is the soundtrack, made up of the same forgetful song played again and again with different lyrics. It isn’t even weird enough to be enjoyable. But hey, at least it’s short. 2
- Riff Quality and Extras: No extras here. Our only riffer is Mike, as this was really early on in Rifftrax’s catalogue. He’s occasionally joined by Disembaudio, but I’ve never been a fan of using that gimmick as a character. Mike has a lot of good barbs, usually towards the first half, but his casualness desperately needs someone more excitable to play off of. For the most part, it really slows down in the second half, but considering there’s mostly just the same scenes of animals mocking Nestor and the same song being played again, I really can’t blame him. 3
“Now, come on. Let me show you the rest.”
“No, really, I have to go, I…”
- Christmasness: I’m not a religious guy, but it does make me sigh when nearly every Christmas-themed movie or show refuses to drop the J-bomb. Crappy or not, at least we’re getting some kind of Christ-based Christmas special. Besides, it’s got a cameo by Santa and Rudolph at the end, so we’re hitting both Yule worlds. 10
Final score: 19
8) SANTA CLAUS AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett
Stranded in the sand of a Florida beach, Santa tries to deal with his partially-buried sleigh while under the burning heat of the sun. He summons some nearby children to help him, but despite their attempts at bringing in various animals to help pull the sleigh out, nothing seems to work. Feeling down, Santa decides to liken his situation to the story of Thumbelina. Inspired, the children go off and seek out the Ice Cream Bunny, the mascot of nearby Orlando theme park Pirates World.
- WTF Factor: Did any of that above paragraph make any sense to you? It’s even worse than that. The existence of this movie is pure insanity. Pure insanity. For instance, the movie is 82 minutes long and the part where Santa tells the story of Thumbelina is 49 minutes long. So yes, the entire Santa part of the movie is a half-hour framing device for a Thumbelina movie that they made years prior. Every single thing about Santa here is unsavory, such as his inane mumbling, lack of logical thinking and the grossest swamp-ass in celluloid history. All the costumes in the Thumbelina segment are nightmare fuel. The Ice Cream Bunny shows up with ten minutes left to go and he’s jaw-droppingly disturbing in everything he does. He almost runs over a dog at one point! Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are given a subplot for no reason! This movie, I swear… 10
“Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in 150-plus movies, Rifftrax has nothing to say…”
- Watchability: You really should see this movie at least once in your life, but that said, it’s severely unwatchable. I consider it to be the worst movie I have ever seen and that includes Manos: Hands of Fate and anything else Mystery Science Theater 3000 has introduced me to. It’s utterly bad on every level. The acting, the effects, the presentation, the SINGING. I can go on and on. As uncomfortable as the Santa/Ice Cream Bunny stuff is, it’s nothing compared to the outright dread and boredom that comes from the Thumbelina stuff. 1
- Riff Quality and Extras: No extras to speak of and the riffing depends on what aspect of the movie we’re watching. The Thumbelina stuff is so droll and dry that even the funnier lines fall flat. It’s like a huge waiting game for the whole thing to be over and the lack of anything happening causes for them to lose ammo pretty easily. Now, the Santa stuff is golden. It’s almost like they have too much ammo. They’re almost delighted at the horrors before them. Once the Ice Cream Bunny shows up, it reaches another level. The best part being Bill going into a deranged laugh whenever the mute Ice Cream Bunny is shown in close-up, silently bobbing back and forth. For repeated viewings, it might be best to just skip the Thumbelina stuff. It may be only slightly more than a third of the movie, but when it’s good, it’s good. 6
“GAH! She’s trying to set him on fire with her mind!”
- Christmasness: The plot is about Santa trying to unearth his SLIGHTLY-BURIED sleigh so he can get home in time for Christmas. The opening scene does involve some elves, so there is that. Honestly, there’s not much that really qualifies this as being a holiday film. As explained, most of it is about Thumbelina and the Santa parts are vaguely attached to anything Christmas. 3
Final Score: 20
7) THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (1978)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett
In-between the first two Star Wars movies, it was decided that they needed to release something new that would remind the public that Star Wars exists so that they’d continue buying the merchandise. That led to the Star Wars Holiday Special, aired on CBS in 1978. The two hour special brings back all the major actors from Episode 4 and uses them to tell the story of Chewbacca trying to get home to his family to celebrate Wookiee Life Day. It’s a perilous journey, filled with celebrity cameos, musical numbers, cartoon interludes and the empire hunting down any rebels they can find.
- WTF Factor: There’s a reason why before the internet, this was the most highly-bootlegged movie in history. It’s too weird to exist at times and being such a blight on one of the biggest movie franchises in history makes it more of a trainwreck. Doing entire segments about Chewbacca’s family maybe sounded like a good idea at first, but you’d get ten minute segments of nothing but roaring back and forth. Every musical number is a mindfuck, including Diahann Carroll as a virtual reality program trying to seduce Chewbacca’s father Itchy. Really, every segment on this special is its own unique mindfuck, from Bea Arthur singing lyrics over the Cantina theme to Mark Hamill wearing an excessive amount of makeup to cover his motorcycle accident scars to Boba Fett making his Star Wars debut in a wonky-but-cool French cartoon segment. 10
“Introducing Chewbacca’s family!”
“And many a scream-yourself-awake nightmares!”
- Watchability: If it wasn’t for the Rifftrax crew, I would never have been able to sit through this. A lot of it is completely unwatchable, most notably anything involving Harvey Korman. At least by being a variety show, there’s actual variety. The bad news is that each segment seems worse than the one that precedes it. 2
- Riff Quality and Extras: High marks all around. There’s a reason I keep going back to this one despite the utter badness of it all. There are a million jokes and references to be made about Star Wars in general and our three riffers never seem to run out of options. Add in some Bea Arthur and Art Carney appearances and it only fuels the output. Probably the best thing about it all is the commercials. Yes, the version of the special they watch still has all the commercials intact. Everything from Tobor the robot toy to a lady’s undergarments union. My personal favorite is when they see a commercial for upcoming CBS sitcom episodes with the ad being introduced by Schneider from One Day at a Time. Kevin exclaims, “GAH! Schneider! I thought I erased you from my memory!” Speaking of commercials, there are a handful of repeated spots about how the special will be back right after these messages and there’s a great one-liner response each and every time. 10
“Ladies and gentlemen, Chewbacca’s lifeless stare!”
- Christmasness: This one’s tough to call. When you get down to it, the special has very little to do with Christmas. Other than giving out gifts and being with family, there are no connections to any Christmas traditions and it was even shown in late November. Yet at the same time, it’s become known as a staple punchline for the holidays in general, kind of like Kwanzaa. I’ll be generous and give it a 3.
Final Score: 25
6) CHRISTMAS WITH RIFFTRAX FEATURING THE MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE (1964)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett
Mike, Bill and Kevin get together for some Christmas fun with the main course being the hour-long movie the Magic Christmas Tree. It tells the story of Mark, a husky and bossy kid who visits the house of a supposed witch, agrees to help find her cat, falls off a tree and wakes up to find that the old woman really IS a witch, but the nice kind. His reward is a magic ring that will help summon the Magic Christmas Tree on the night of Thanksgiving. This talking tree grants him three wishes, but the power very quickly goes to Mark’s head.
- WTF Factor: This movie is very crazy, but at an almost casual pace. Rather than being nuts from the very beginning, it gradually and at times subtly tosses in some increasingly weird shit. The ending reveals that much of the movie was a dream sequence (a two month long dream at that), which can explain away a lot. Such as why Mark’s family was doing their Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve in a convertible with the top down. Or how Mark uses his power to make it light on Christmas Eve night and nobody in public seems to be at all bothered by this. Then there’s the climactic scene of Mark hanging out in the mountains to hunt with his new gun where he’s cornered and almost made a slave by a greed-loving giant. The basic outline of the movie is a strong enough concept, but when put into action, it goes far into left field and never comes back. 9
“Oooooh, I’m full grown, all right!”
“Kids, if you ever hear someone say that in that voice, call the cops.”
- Watchability: The movie is only an hour long, but it feels twice as long. The problem is that it could have been told in about 12 minutes, but everything is needlessly drawn out. Stuff like Mark and his friends looking for a bench, spotting one and going to it to eat their lunch when they could have just as easily started the scene with them on the bench, eating their lunch. Mark is unlikeable, the Magic Christmas Tree is a sarcastic douche and the only ones who are bearable are Mark’s doofy parents. Everything in the first forty minutes comes off as either boring exposition or boring establishing shots and by the time we get to an actual plot, well… yeah, it’s just slightly more watchable. 4
- Riff Quality and Extras: The movie luckily moves in constant directions, so the guys have plenty of new things to rail on. Outside of maybe the witch, every character in this movie is ripe for jokes. The effeminate and sarcastic Magic Christmas Tree, the husky Mark, his dopey mother and father, the creepy Santa and whatever the hell that giant is. Previous to the movie, they watch a series of commercials for old toys without riffing, letting the products speak for themselves. There’s an animated short they watched called the Shanty Where Santa Lives that is both disturbing in the creepy sense and in the, “Wow, people were really racist back then,” sense.
There’s another short called the Joe DiMaggio Show, which is unique in how they play with it. It’s an incredibly thinly-veiled ad, less than two minutes, that acts as a TV show about baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, but really relays the story of a kid asking for a train for Christmas. Rather than talk over the movie to make fun of it mercilessly, the guys play into it and act astonished by the storytelling. It’s an amusing bit, much like the Santa cartoon, but keep in mind that the Magic Christmas Tree by itself is available on Hulu. You should support Rifftrax, but there might be better choices for you. 8
“His nose looks like an infected thumb!”
- Christmasness: Much of the riffing makes fun of how un-Christmas it is. It starts off in Halloween, spends some time in Thanksgiving and gets to Christmas Eve out of nowhere. Even when it is Christmas time, the shots make it pretty apparent that it really isn’t. Such as that aforementioned scene of Mark running around Christmas Eve night with his godlike powers. Sure, Santa appears at the end and there’s a talking Christmas tree, but the Christmas aspect seems easily forgettable and tacked on. 5
Final Score: 26
5) JACK FROST (1966)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 813 (1997)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett
In a hybrid of various fairy tales turned into a dubbed Russian film, we are shown the love story of Nastenka and Ivan. Nastenka is a beautiful young flower who is horribly abused by her step-mother and step-sister while her father is too frightened to defend her. Ivan is a boastful man who goes off to find himself and ends up insulting a mystical mushroom wizard, who transforms Ivan into a bear. This curse happens when Ivan meets Nastenka, who disapproves of Ivan’s ego, and he blames her for being a witch. Through learning to be a better person, Ivan undoes the curse and goes off to find Nastenka to apologize. Nastenka has been taken in by the kindly Jack Frost, but to find her, Ivan has to outwit the evil witch Baba Yaga.
- WTF Factor: You read what I just wrote, right? I had to scale it down to make it fit into one paragraph because this movie is delightfully insane. It’s really no crazier than your usual fairy tale, but seeing it all mixed together with wacky Russian over-actors (Baba Yaga, especially) and 1960′s special effects – decent as they may be at times – the thing is madness. Crow puts it the best when he sees Jack Frost trying to ice trees while singing to himself: “So the premise of the movie is that everyone is nuttier than all get-out, huh.” 9
“Oh, you’re such an idiot, you dunce, you nitwit, you donkey! You left your scepter in the house! Without it you can’t—”
“I enjoy watching people’s mental illness.”
- Watchability: The movie is paced like a glacier at times and there really isn’t so much of a plot as a bunch of stuff that happens, leading to a happy ending. That said, once you get past the Euro coat covering everything, there’s enough whimsy to keep it bearable. The badness is mostly in the delightful, “Haha, what the hell?” kind, so it goes down fairly easily. 7
- Riff Quality and Extras: The skits are okay with the highlights being the subplot of Bobo and Brain Guy being left alone and having to coexist. Riff-wise, this is one of the all-time best, in my opinion. The guys are completely on throughout and it’s almost like there’s a laugh every minute. No jokes get beaten into the ground and they don’t waste any motion on a movie filled with fodder for mockery. They completely destroy the actress playing Nastenka’s evil step-sister, likening her to Tom Petty and a host of other less-than-complimentary celebrities. Probably the biggest laugh comes at the end, when she starts screaming, turns around and quickly walks into a rather extreme close-up. The silhouettes of Mike and the Bots give an extreme jolt of horror and it takes them a moment to get a hold of themselves. 10
“Oh no! I’ve lost my hat!”
- Christmasness: At first I thought it was a stretch to put this on the list, but I’ve found that in Russia and surrounding countries, this has become a holiday standard and they’ve been playing it in December for decades. Jack Frost himself is a borderline Christmas figure, but despite being the title character, he only shows up about 2/3 into the movie. 3
Final Score: 29
4) SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 321 (1991)
Joel Hodgson, Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu
Mars is in turmoil! Children are forced to grow up with no aspect of joy other than occasionally getting to watch Earth TV programs. Seeing Santa Claus and the coming of Christmas causes a massive depression amongst all Martian kids that will soon cause a rebellion if not taken care of. Commander Kimar and his men (including the dopey Dropo) decide to go to Earth and kidnap Santa to bring the Christmas spirit to their world, bringing two Earth children with them for the ride. During all of this, one of Kimar’s lieutenants, Voldar, resents the whole mission and plans to have Santa and the two children killed for the betterment of Mars.
- WTF Factor: It’s certainly a goofball movie, as explained in its very title. Yet in a way, it’s kind of competent in giving you what you figure you’ll get: Santa Claus and 1960′s alien stuff in a family film setting. It’s almost straightforward. Not to say that there aren’t incredibly weird aspects to it. The Martians have a shoddy robot named Torg (which is actually pretty clever once I realized the reference) who is defeated immediately by Santa complimenting him on being such an amazing toy. But yeah, it’s goofy, but you know what you’re in for. 6
“The doll has a teddy bear’s head and the teddy bear has a doll’s head!”
“No problem, we’ll give them to dyslexic kids!”
- Watchability: While it’s unfortunate to have to watch one of these movies twice for this list, there are worse choices than Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. In fact, I sort of like the movie. Sure, the 1960′s atmosphere makes it beyond cheesy, especially when the world’s fakest polar bear shows up, but I feel that there’s a decent family film buried under all the hammy acting and bad special effects. I even like Dropo! I’ve always wanted to see this remade with Kyle Gass as Santa and Jack Black as Dropo. I mean, Hollywood has a tendency to remake good movies into bad ones. Try it with a bad one. What’s the worst that can happen? 10
- Riff Quality and Extras: Rewatching this one after so many years, I think a lot of why it’s so memorable comes from the movie itself and not too much from the jokes. There are some good laughs in there, but a lot of it is just calling stuff out without going much further. I think it shows that the show was still relatively early in its run and was only just beginning to hits its stride, especially with how needlessly long the host segments are. I don’t subscribe to any Joel vs. Mike debates, but if Joel has any weakness it’s that if a host segment goes too long, Joel’s subdued style makes it more apparent. That said, the episode features the classic Crow T. Robot song, “Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas” and the over-the-top reaction to a scene where Santa meets with some Martian kids and everyone awkwardly laughs for about a minute for no reason other than he being Santa Claus. So that’s gold. 6
“Dropo, you are the laziest man on Mars! Why are you sleeping during working hours?”
“Because I’m the laziest man on Mars!”
- Christmasness: It’s certainly a Christmas movie, but its overall Christmasness is diluted from being a “two worlds collide” concept. Only minutes are spent in the North Pole and the movie is more Martian than Santa. Hell, Santa’s a borderline supporting character here! Let’s give it an 8.
Final Score: 30
3) RIFFTRAX LIVE SHORTS-TRAVAGANZA
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Weird Al Yankovic
Broadcast across the country, Mike, Bill and Kevin proceed to do some live riffing of eight holiday (and not-so-holiday) shorts. In Christmas Toyshop, two children dream of Santa telling them where Christmas toys come from. A Visit to Santa has Santa grant the wish of two kids who want a tour of the North Pole. Christmas Rhapsody tells the tale of a depressed tree who finds worth when a family cuts him down and decorates him. Three Magic Words (featuring guest riffer Weird Al Yankovic) is a musical about three guys telling Mrs. Newlywed about the greatness of pork while portraying various roles. The Night Before Christmas is a black-and-white depiction of the famous poem, told with both live action and animation. A Christmas Dream has a girl’s forgotten doll come to life in her dream to charm back her affections. Parade of Aquatic Champions is a puff piece about a festival of sorts for various notable swimmers and divers. Then there’s the Max Fleisher Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is far shorter and far less memorable than the stop-motion animation special we all know and love.
“Interesting. I didn’t know that David Lynch made a Christmas film.”
- WTF Factor: Not all the shorts are out there, but when they are, they’re way out. Christmas Toyshop is pure nonsense in that Santa relates the story of a crazy animated short with no story and no point, featuring, as Bill puts it, “the be-hatted dog-faced spider from my nightmares”. A Visit to Santa sounds bland on paper, but there’s an utter creepiness to it all, not helped by the child actors speaking in tongues the entire time. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is also pretty unsavory, mainly with how there are no humans other than Santa while all the animals – including reindeer – get presents. Not to mention the really disturbing undertones.
A Christmas Dream takes the cake. In it, Santa’s ghost appears and makes the little girl dream what he wants. Her doll is creepy by default, but when it begins to move around with stop-motion animation, it becomes horrifying. Impressive, yes, but horrifying. 8
- Watchability: With the exception of Parade of Aquatic Champions and maybe the Night Before Christmas, all of these shorts go down easily. The problem, and this is really a personal thing, is that watching a huge string of shorts sometimes doesn’t feel right. There’s no true measurement of time like what comes with watching a movie, no matter how good or bad it is. It’s something off-putting I feel whenever I sit through the shorts-based DVDs. It’s a show made of great stuff, but doesn’t feel quite right as a whole. 7
- Riff Quality and Extras: Definite good marks here, albeit with some flaws. In the duller shorts, Bill will proceed to tell the same joke over and over again while Kevin’s obsession with singing “Poker Face” is at times cringe-inducing. I was excited about Weird Al’s appearance, but I can’t name a single memorable thing he did here. It helps that a lot of these were previously released on the Rifftrax site, meaning they were able to revise them with a nice shine. In-between shorts, the guys would do gift exchanges in the form of non-riffed commercials from yesterdecades. Two of these are filled with hilarious subtext covered in innocence while the other is a completely boring toy that the commercial tries SO HARD to make it feel exciting.
Outside of Mike’s occasional Al Pacino impression, the real star here is the live audience. There’s a moment near the end of Rudolph that’s so ridiculous that the whole place – and even the riffers – can’t stop laughing. Bill notes that they lost three jokes because of that laughing, but it was worth it. 8
“I’m emotionally confused by Mrs. Rudolph!”
- Christmasness: Of the eight shorts, two of them have nothing to do with Christmas. Granted, the pork-based one got away with it with its jaunty spirit and the fact that they never pointed it out. Parade of Aquatic Champions seemed to exist purely for the joke that it wasn’t Christmas-based and yet Bill half-assedly insisted it was. But hey, five of the other shorts had Santa and the other one was about a Christmas tree, so let’s round this up to an 8.
Total Score: 31
2) SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)
Cinematic Titanic (2008)
Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl and J. Elvis Weinstein
Yes, it’s the same movie. 17 years later, it’s revisited by Joel Hodgson’s riffing group Cinematic Titanic.
- WTF Factor: See above. 6
“That’s what you’re all becoming. ‘Martianmallows’. Soft! Weak!”
- Watchability: 10
- Riff Quality and Extras: Cinematic Titanic is low on extras outside of an intro and a break segment where Joel exchanges some gifts. What’s there is funny (especially Trace realizing what movie he’s in for and making a run for it) and doesn’t wear out its welcome. It’s also welcome to see that the entire movie is intact, wherein the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version cuts out various scenes for time. It feels dirty to like this one over the original, but you get a feel for why they gave it another go. Time has been kind to our riffers and with all the extra experience, they’re able to savage it better and crisper than before. Very, very few jokes are reused and the treatment of some characters and segments are vast improvements, such as the jokes against Dropo. The biggest contrast is the scene where the Martians visit Chochem the Maritan elder. Originally, Joel and the Bots ran out of jokes early on and went on to pretend to doze off at all the over-acted exposition. Here, the guys keep riffing strongly throughout the whole segment and make it one of the highlights. 9
“Santa Claus… you will never return to Earth.”
“We just got your blood test back.”
- Christmasness: 8
Final Score: 33
1) SANTA CLAUS (1959)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 521 (1993)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu
It’s Christmas time once again and Santa’s getting ready. In this Mexican movie for children, the concepts of Santa are reinterpreted quite a bit. Instead of the North Pole, he lives in space in a kingdom made of clouds (like Lando!). Instead of elves, he’s helped out by children from various nations. His best friend is Merlin the Magician. His reindeer are mechanical and if he isn’t back to his castle by sunrise, they’ll cease to be. While he is delivering presents to children around the world, he focuses on a handful in particular. One is a rich kid who doesn’t wish for material possessions, but the gift of his parents’ attention. There are three rotten kids who plan to lie to Santa and even discuss mugging him. Then there’s a little girl living in poverty who wishes for nothing more than a doll. During all of this, Santa is antagonized by Pitch, a demon sent by Lucifer to corrupt the innocent and make sure that Santa never completes his annual mission.
- WTF Factor: Oh, it’s certainly not on the level of Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny or Star Wars Holiday Special, but you can’t help but find it’s pretty high on the WTF scale, especially when it’s essentially Santa vs. Satan: The Movie. Santa Claus is already a wacky legend on its own, but the vision here goes a bit further. There are a million questions that go with those child helpers he has that I don’t even want to start or I’ll be at it for hours. The mechanical reindeer are exceptionally creepy, leading to another bit where one’s disturbing laughter leads to our riffers going into a nervous/hysterical laughing fit. While subtle, one of the strangest things about the movie is how the little girl Lupita regularly talks with her mother about how Santa doesn’t give gifts to poor children. It’s a movie-breaking plot point that’s based so much in reality that to delve into it even slightly distracts me because it’s all but coming into contact with the fourth wall. Did I mention that the villain of the movie is a devil in pantaloon shorts?
I was going to give this an 8, but then I just remembered that part where the three bad kids throw rocks through a window at an animatronic Santa and it cuts to a rock hitting the real Santa in the face… despite being in outer space. That’s worth an extra point. 9
“No! Don’t you EVER do that again!”
- Watchability: The movie doesn’t hold a narrative together very well, but there’s nothing outright offensive about it. Despite being a physical actor mixed with a dubbed English voiceover, the conjoined Santa here is probably the best performance of the character of all the movies on this list. He’s the right mix of whimsy without coming off as sleazy or drunk. Pitch is another guy whose performance is fun. The special effects are pretty decent for the 50′s, especially a cool shot of Pitch looking down off the edge of a rooftop by leaning his entire body forward like Michael Jackson. Even Mike and the Bots were kind of impressed by that. It’s a bad movie for sure, but it’s easy consumption. 8
- Riff Quality and Extras: The host skits are very strong in this episode, though I’m still not sure I get the bit where Mike and the Bots become a Christmas rock band called Santa Klaws to the delight of Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank. Their caroling performance of “Merry Christmas… if That’s Okay” is on par with Crow’s ode to Patrick Swayze. The guys are on fire throughout the movie and it helps that there are so many subplots and directions for them to go. It also helps that they’re into it instead of feeling outright tortured. It isn’t like with Dropo where they feel the need to joke about how unfunny they find him. They let the utter weirdness of everything speak for itself, such as Tom saying in a Santa voice, “Better get on the horn with God, since Satan’s involved now.” It’s also rather cute that the guys are so taken in by how adorable Lupita is that they never really lay into the kid. Though her waking up from a bad dream and one of them insisting it was about Nam got a huge laugh out of me. 10
“Ho ho ho! There’s a dollar in every one! My chain letter scam worked!”
- Christmasness: Regardless of how off the Mexican concept of Santa Claus is, it’s a movie about Santa who believes in Jesus and spends the entire movie either preparing for Christmas or delivering gifts on Christmas Eve. No singing Bea Arthur skits, no Martian subplots, no Thumbelina takeovers. It’s 100% Christmas here. 10
Final score: 37
If you disagree with the order, just repeat to yourself that it’s just a list and blah, blah, blah you know the rest. Really, they’re all worth watching at least once. Right now I’m waiting for the next Rifftrax Christmas special, which will include something called Santa’s Enchanted Village. I wonder what that’s like…
…and now I’m frightened beyond belief.