Schlock-ing Around the Christmas Tree: 'Santa Claus vs. the Devil'
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. A time for peace and togetherness. A time to put aside all of our differences in the name of brotherly love. It’s also the time of year when studios will pump out an endless supply of Christmas specials to meet a seasonal niche market, and most other Christmas specials follow the same, cookie-cutter, formula. This is not the case for the 1959 Mexican-made Christmas movie, “Santa Claus,” or as it is sometimes affectionately called, “Santa Claus vs. the Devil.”
Santa, from his floating castle in space, can see and hear all of the children of Earth. The children, from every country, love and sing their praises to Santa Claus for being the embodiment of good that he is. Meanwhile, in hell, the Devil plans to turn the children against Santa by having them do evil things. Santa can only watch as Pitch, the Devil’s chief demon, whispers into the ears of children.
A poor Mexican girl named Lupita is encouraged to steal a doll. She resists Pitch’s instructions but receives a nightmare dream sequence from him with life-sized dolls, all encouraging her to steal. She remains pure, so Pitch makes an attempt to stop Santa’s progression by meddling with his sleigh and equipment. Through the whirlwind sequence of events, Santa succeeds in delivering all of the presents before the sun rises and sees that Pitch receives his comeuppance.
“Santa Claus” is weighed down significantly by its strange visuals, unusual concept and low production value. The story is often interrupted in favor of showing an overly long musical number or a disturbing dream sequence. The reindeer were made from plaster, and it’s clear that this movie did not have to budget to meet the scope and size of what the film wanted to be.
This movie is also one of the more unique and original Santa Claus stories available. It’s easy enough to write a Santa Claus story that simply goes through the checklist of Christmas movie tropes, but instead this film chose to be different. Santa doesn’t live in the North Pole; he lives in a castle in space. In his castle, Merlin the Magician gives him magical sleeping powder and a disappearing flower, and Vulcan, the Roman God of the Forge, creates a key so Santa can enter any house he wishes. The movie is unique to the point of contention with Santa Claus purists, but it takes imagination and heart to create something that dares to deviate so far from tradition.
Santa in this film is the same as any other movie Santa. He is kind and jolly, cares about the children and will do all in his power to make sure that his job is completed before the children wake up on Christmas morning. Pitch, as a character, borrows some influence from the Grinch school of Christmas villainy. His costume is that of the stereotypical devil character, all red with horns and a tail. He wants to stop Christmas by making the children commit evil, or by denying them the holiday altogether. He wants nothing more than to see Santa fail and his attempts vary wildly from the beginning of the film to the end.
This movie seems to exist in a form of Christmas limbo. It’s not well-known enough to fall into the place of tradition with the Rankin/Bass animated specials, but it’s not bad enough to be shown every year – like “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” It has found minor notoriety from being riffed by the cast of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” and many consider it to be a cult classic. If you’re looking for a laugh and you need something different to watch this holiday season, then “Santa Claus vs. the Devil” may be right for you.