CHRISTMAS CINEMA: Santa Claus vs. the Devil (1959)

Let’s get this out of the way. This is a movie made by maniacs who have nothing less than the goal of decimating your sanity. View this movie at your own peril.

René Cardona — who also brought us Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy — originally crafted this film, which was remixed for American audiences by K. Gordon Murray, known as the “King of the Kiddie Matinee.” Ever wondered why Santo was called Samson in the U.S. dialogue? You can thank Murray, who also provides the near-manic voiceover for this film.

On Christmas Eve, Santa is getting ready for his big night as he always does, by playing his organ while children all over the world sing, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa as he leaves his Toyland castle in space.

If you’re already wondering why anyone would change Santa’s basic character beats, well, buckle up. Have we got some Christmas magic for you.

In Hell, Satan tells Pitch, his main demon, to go to Earth and make kids hate Santa. Why? Who knows — we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise.

Pitch asks five kids to help him enrage Santa Claus. Four of them are complete assholes — three brothers who like to start shit and Billy, the son of rich but absent parents. They break some windows but Pitch fails to talk Lupita, a poor girl, into stealing the doll she wants. An angry Santa watches from space with the help of his magic telescope and children helpers. Remember that part of Santa’s songs?

Santa also has a device that allows him to watch the dreams of children, further creating a police state only dreamed of by elves on shelves and Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Lupita has a dream where adult sized dancing dolls demand that she learn how to steal.

Then, the three brothers break into Billy’s home and steal all of his gifts. Then, they have the temerity to write to Santa and tell him that they have been good all year, but his voice takes over their minds and informs them that he can see everything.

Let me see if I can process what happens next: Santa is able to get gifts to everyone in the world because of his most trusted henchman, Merlin the Wizard. No, not Ringo Starr from Son of Dracula. No, this friend of Saint Nick gives him sleep powder, a flower that allows him to disappear, a magic key that will open any door on Earth and mechanical reindeer. But oh no — the three evil boys are plotting to enslave Santa. Enslave Santa — that’s how dark this movie is ready to get.

Want to get really dark? One of Santa’s helpers, Pedro, is played by an actor named Cesáreo Quezadas, who was also known by the stage name Pulgarcito, thanks to appearing in the popular film of the same name. This would be like us calling Bela Lugosi Dracula for the rest of his life. He often played plucky orphans, but as he hit puberty, his acting career suffered, leading to him holding up a show store in 1971. After some time in jail, he got married and had four kids, but ended up leaving his wife for his secretary, Claudia, and having two kids with her. Those two boys, Gridley and Guillermo, found a video of their father having sex with their stepsister, Mariana. He’s still in jail today, over a decade later.

Remember Lupita? Well, she and her mom pray that she gets a baby doll, but she asks for two — one of which she will give to Baby Jesus, which is kind of like when you ask your parents for money so you can buy them a gift at the Santa shop at school and all they get is a piece of shit covered with glitter or a cheap screwdriver set that you wonder why they never use.

Santa just wants to get gifts to everyone on Earth, but Pitch keeps screwing with him. And Billy? His parents go out to eat and just leave him all alone. Santa helps out there and even has time to give the three bad kids coal after they try and steal his sleigh.

Pitch is finally lucky enough to empty all of Santa’s dream powder and then the jolly old man drops his magic flower and he’s fucked. A dog chases him up a tree and the devil’s majordomo calls the fire department to come — so everyone can see Santa and ruin his magic — but Merlin helps our hero escape and blast the demon with a fire hose.

Don’t worry about Lupita. She gets her doll as Santa goes back to his castle. Whew.

This movie won the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film at the 1959 San Francisco International Film Festival. I can only imagine that this was one of the early LSD experiments and not a film festival based on artistic merit.

This movie has so many insane ideas, it’s difficult to summarize them. From learning that demons primarily eat hot coals to the fact that every child that works for Santa must wear a racist costume that denotes their country of origin (all Japanese children wear kimonos, all Americans are cowboys), this is a movie brimming with barely concealed menace.

But here’s what’s really weird — even though Santa has made all of his children codified by country, none of them know anything about he countries they come from. What is happening?

This is a movie that explains how Santa can be everywhere at once: he is from the Fifth Dimension and as we all know from reading Grant Morrison comics, that is the dimension of imagination. Therefore, as a Fifth Dimension being, Santa is able to transcend the reality of our dimension and do things that would break our minds were we to contemplate them too long — just like I am doing when I write this. I am putting your brain in danger right now by forcing you to reason with the fact that the physical properties that ground us in the Third Dimension can be pushed beyond the infinite. Merry Christmas.

Santa Claus can also feel physical pain when his mechanical manifestations are hit with rocks. This makes even less sense. Why, in a world where Lucifer constantly is trying to murder him, would Santa put himself in such mortal peril?

This is a movie that raises more questions than it does answers. You ask, “Where does Santa come from,” knowing that he comes from the North Pole and are shocked to learn that everything you know — including the very way our universe and its laws are governed — is a lie. This is a movie made to keep children occupied, whether on TV or in the movie houses where it ran yearly for three decades, while parents try to get a merciful break. But a central point of the film is for parents to stop ignoring their children, so any child ignored in such a way will have to feel lost in the maelstrom of emotional pain that this movie wields like a scalpel.

This is what I get for watching Santa Claus vs. the Devil at 4 AM. Pure pain, questions that chatter at my mind and the slowly evolviknowledgedge that this motion picture could have only been created by the eldritch powers of the Ancient Ones who wait for us Behind the Wall of Sleep, where their madness will infect our souls and cause our children to eat their way from their wombs.

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