EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on December 24, 2020.
Happy holidays, everyone. To help celebrate, this is the first of two very horrifying holiday options for you to watch. Despite Santa being in the title of this movie, he only briefly appears, but that isn’t why we watched this movie. No, we’re here because this is another film in the career of Herschell Gordon Lewis that we had to check off.
Yes, parents that dropped their kids off at the theater for an all-day matinee in 1967 probably had no idea that just a few years earlier, the man they are trusting with the psyches of their children made Blood Feast.
So how did this even happen? Well, producer J. Edwin Baker was also a spook-show performer known as Dr. Silkini — his act was The Asylum of Horrors — and he hired Lewis to make a movie for his friend magician Roy Huston.
Huston plays Merlin, making this the second baffling holiday movie* I’ve seen where Santa joins forces with King Arthur’s closest confidant. I have no idea why this is a thing, to be perfectly honest.
The film starts with Santa Claus chilling out on the day after Christmas by reading some Mother Goose, which puts him to sleep. This section is tacked on, of course, to the original film so that they could get more money out of it. It’s also so shoddily made that we can audibly hear Lewis yell cut.
As for the movie itself, Old King Cole calls Merlin, a rag doll who is legally never referred to as Raggedy Anne (or Annabelle, for that matter), Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty, Mother Goose and a ghost who they originally called Casper before an audio edit saved the production from a lawsuit onto the stage for singing, something resembling dancing and the kind of magic tricks that you could have bought from a mail order store to bore your friends with.
Do you remember — if you’re a jerk like me — how much you hated up with people school assemblies? This is just like being stuck at one of those, with Lewis just plopping his cameras down and shooting whatever happened on stage.
There’s so much hand work and goofy acting tics and a witch that gets set on fire and not Raggedy Ann is just horrifying and the real magic trick is that somehow the hour running time of this feels like a hundred years. But hey, it’s Christmas and I have pledged to watch everything the Godfather of Gore ever did, so if you’re going to hit the highs of She-Devils on Wheels and Two Thousand Maniacs! then you’re going to suffer the valleys on the journey.
*The other is, of course, the Mexican mind melter known as Santa Claus.