The Magic Christmas Tree (1964)

Much like The Wizard of Oz, The Magic Christmas Tree thinks that reality is in black and white while dreams are in color. Both films have a witch. Both movies have wishes. But only one of them had a budget. And only one of them is a classic beloved by families for generations.

Sorry Richard C. Parish. Your one and done directorial effort isn’t getting a 4K re-release this year.

In the black and white real world, three boys are walking home from school on Halloween. One of them, Mark, helps a witch get her cat Lucifer out of a tree. The moment someone told me I had to climb a tree to save a demonic cat, I would honestly be out of there, but Mark instead falls out of the tree and gets knocked out.

When he wakes up, the witch gives him a magic ring, as well as some magic seeds that need planted. On Thanksgiving, while everyone else is sleeping off the turkey, Mark is combining the wishbone of a turkey with the magic seeds and the magic words and the magic ring to grow the magic Christmas tree. His turtle Ichabod just watches in terror as Mark engages in a rite of eroto-comatose lucidity.

This tree that grows is unkillable, even when Mark’s dad cuts the grass in the middle of November. I guess we should assume that they live in California. Also — Mark’s dad is played by the director and his dialogue appears to appear as if by magic. In fact, this entire film appers dubbed even when it isn’t.

While Ichabod the turtle eats the grass, dad has a wacky grass cutting session that ends up with the mower in flames and him acting drunk. The way he talks to his wife, you can only assume how he really treats her. This film cuts deeply into the dark underbelly of post-war America. The dream is dead. The power mower is in flames. The Christmas tree is alive.

That’s right. On Christmas Eve, the Magic Tree comes to life and can talk. It grants Mark three wishes. The Magic Christmas Tree also speaks with all the snark and pomp of Charles Nelson Reilly. Seriously, it’s as if the tree has seen it all and is bored with this charade. He’s merely indulging Mark.

Now, Mark’s a smart kid, so he wishes for an hour of absolute power, which he promptly is corrupted by absolutely. That said, he’s not that smart, because why wish for only an hour? Just wish for absolute power. Don’t put any limits on it, Mark. And don’t talk to trees.

What does Mark do with all that power? He makes flowers appear and disappear. Mark has obviously not gone through puberty, because if I had magic power in 1964, I would use the entire hour with Barbara Steele. Or Mamie Van Doren. Or Bardeau. Ah, you get the picture, even if Mark doesn’t.

Instead, he makes people run all over the place and throw pies in one another’s faces, but the camera is so far away you may wonder exactly what’s happening. It’s all kind of like Benny Hill but terrifying instead of madcap. Firemen get pies in their faces while their antique engines careen out of control. Happy holidays, La Verne, California. Hope you survive the experience.

Yes, the same town where the wedding scene in The Graduate was shot (and Wayne’s World 2) is subject to the Magic Christmas Tree gifting Mark with the power to be a complete jerk.

Mark’s second wish is to have Santa Claus all to himself. He couldn’t think of any other wishes. I mean, you have any power in the world and you can’t think of a wish?

Santa really seems like he’s senile. He also seems like he can’t stand up from the chair he’s stuck in.

This wish causes every other child in the world to grow very sad, so Mark uses his third wish to send Santa back to the children. That’s because he gets sent to a pocket dimension where his selfishness leads him to meet the very personification of Greed. The giant man yells, “You are my little boy!” and offers him a mountain of cake and toys to stay.

Greed is played by Pittsburgh native Robert “Big Buck” Maffei, who uses his 7’1″ frame to his advantage, playing monsters and aliens in a ton of television shows and movies, including a creature (actually a Taurus II anthropoid) in “The Galileo Seven” episode of Star Trek and the giant cyclops on Lost In Space. His last movie appearance was in Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams.

Mark gives Santa back to the children. But of course, it was all a dream. A horrible, horrible dream. Maybe Mark learned something. Maybe we all did.

The bastards at Goodtimes released this on VHS in 1992, pairing it with Rene Cardona’s Santa Claus. I can’t imagine a more horrifying double feature ever — the battle of Santa and Patch directed by the man who brought you Night of the Bloody Apes paired with this film that feels like it was shot on one of those Price Is Right Showcase Showdown sets with all of the lights turned out.

You can watch this for free on The Internet Archive and Tubi. I would advise you to avoid it and ensure that your Christmas Day isn’t filled with relentless horror.

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