Since its inception, RiffTrax has regularly visited the crazy world of Christmas movies and shorts because when you get down to it, Christmas is a crazy time and Santa’s such a rich concept that it’s easy to go completely off the rails with him. Here’s a look at all the various Christmas-related movies they’ve watched. Luckily, all of them are available on-demand, so you can buy them and download the entire movie with the audio already synced up.
A handful of the shorts were featured in previous editions of RiffTrax Live, but are also available on their own. Then there’s the Christmas Shorts-stravaganza, which not only featured a bunch of Christmas-based short films, but also a film about serving pork and some kind of competitive swimming event. Weird Al was there too! At the show…not…not the swimming event.
Like when I discussed the 30 Most Insane RiffTrax Shorts, I’m going to give both the lucid explanation of what each short or movie is supposed to be in a sane, reasonable world and what we actually get.
“Now, come on. Let me show you the rest.”“No, really, I have to go, I…”
NESTOR THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY (1977)
The Idea: Remember how great the Rankin/Bass stop-motion version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was? It was such a classic that people watch every year as a holiday tradition. Expanding on that world, the same company released Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, figuring they’d spin another classic out of a more religious context. In it, Nestor undergoes some hardships due to the massive size of his ears, but is chosen to help Joseph and the pregnant Mary make it to Bethlehem.
The Output: You remember how Rudolph went, right? He was teased for a bit for being different, but that led to him discovering loveable, memorable characters and getting into fantastic adventures before proving his worth and showing that his so-called deformity was really his greatest strength. Okay, now imagine that exact story, only remove the loveable, memorable characters. Then take that part of the movie where he’s teased and stretch it so it makes up 95% of the story. Hell, just make the thing completely depressing. There. You have Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.
This is an earlier RiffTrax release, so the only one on it is Mike. Hearing one riffer can be a little off-putting, but it’s worth it to see such a terrible rewrite of Rudolph without any of the magic. Oh, and spoilers for a 40-year-old holiday special, but Nestor ends up becoming best buddies with the man who killed his mother and it’s never explained because it’s at the very end of the movie. I guess Jesus being born really packed a punch.
“Introducing Chewbacca’s family!”“And many scream-yourself-awake nightmares!”
STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (1978)
The Idea: In a time when Empire Strikes Back is far from release but the studios want to keep Star Wars in the public’s mind so they’ll keep buying their merchandise, it was decided to bring the cast in for a prime-time holiday special in the 70s. Based on Han Solo trying to get Chewbacca home to his family in time for Wookie Life Day, the special features everyone from Luke to Vader with special guest stars Art Carney and Bea Arthur. It also has an animated short that gives us the very first appearance of Boba Fett!
The Output: Whenever I try to explain the Star Wars Holiday Special to someone who has never seen it or even heard of it, I point out that George Lucas, known for being a pretty greedy guy, refused to make money off of it in any way. He would never release the Holiday Special in any format because he was that disgusted by it. I don’t blame him because if not for Mike, Kevin, and Bill, I would not have been able to sit through it myself.
Each segment appears to be more horrific than the last. We get huge stretches of time where Chewbacca’s family just kind of meanders around their household, growling at each other, with no subtitles. There are “comedy” and musical bits that are just a slog to sit through. One such bit appears to be Chewbacca’s father Itchy watching virtual reality porn. Not even kidding. Mark Hamill is covered in enough makeup to put the studio in the red from their cosmetics budget, Harrison Ford looks like he’d rather be doing anything else, Carrie Fisher is so drugged up, and Bea Arthur sings lyrics over the “Cantina Song.” It’s a glorious Hell.
As the cherry on top, the version they watch has all the 1970s commercials completely intact. One of which features Schneider from One Day at a Time!
“He always has loads of fun.”“Why, here he is in Dallas in 1963!”
A VISIT TO SANTA (1963)
The Idea: A couple of kids send a letter to Santa, asking to visit him at the North Pole before Christmas. Santa decides it’s a good idea and has them picked up and brought over in a magic helicopter. He shows Dick and Ann around his home and talks for a moment about how he spreads yuletide cheer through Thanksgiving parades. Then they ride around on a rocket and look at Santa’s prized train set.
The Output: It’s summed up perfectly when Kevin notes, “Interesting. I didn’t know that David Lynch made a Christmas film.” The whole production is very creepy, reminiscent of Manos: Hands of Fate’s cinematography. With all the many Santas that the RiffTrax guys have seen over the years, this one is probably the least jolly (that is, until A Song for Santa). He comes off as a deranged murder suspect trying to lay low with a disguise. In fact, everything about this short is suspect, like the elves, who are really just little kids in miniskirts.
Dick and Ann only have a few lines in the opening and thank God for that. We can understand maybe five percent of anything they have to say.
“Ah, good. Finally, on the silver screen, the be-top-hatted spider-dog of my nightmares. Unless…I’m just having another nightmare.”
CHRISTMAS TOYSHOP (1945)
The Idea: As two kids are put to bed on Christmas Eve, their father tries to set up the tree and all the gifts downstairs. He stumbles around and the ruckus makes them think – in their dreams – that Santa just fell down the chimney. Sharing the same dream, they go downstairs and greet Santa. The little girl asks about where the toys come from and Santa tells the story of a magical toy shop. From here, it becomes a cartoon about living toys having fun when the shop owner is gone.
The Output: The animated sequence is your usual old, black and white cartoon fare. A bunch of toys do stuff for several minutes, including a forgettable musical number, then a plot suddenly happens at the end. Here, it’s an evil spider showing up to try and kidnap a toy of Little Miss Muffet, causing the toy soldiers to come to her rescue. Somehow, the live-action segment is supposed to be a framing device and everything about the cartoon is being related by Santa. Why he’s telling them about a spider kidnapping a toy, I don’t know, but there you go.
This won’t be the last questionable piece of Santa Claus storytelling. We’ll get to that in a bit.
“Wow. I have literally never seen anything as small and of no account as this tree.”
CHRISTMAS RHAPSODY (1947)
The Idea: A lonely, tiny tree sits in the middle of the snowy forest, feeling itself worthless and meaningless. To its surprise, it’s taken in by a family and set up in their cabin. They decorate it for Christmas and give it the meaning it had been wanting for all this time.
The Output: You know, this one is almost decent, at least in concept. The basic Christmas moral buried in there is rather touching. Too bad the short has two things working against it. One, it’s really boring. Two, the tree is such a sad sack and won’t shut up about how much it sucks. It keeps explaining itself as being small and of no account, which will get your eyes rolling after the eighth time it repeats that.
There’s really nothing else to talk about here. Well, maybe the father’s creepy scalp.
“I need you tonight.”“WHOA!”
RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1948)
The Idea: No, not the Rankin/Bass cartoon we all know and love. This animated short is a completely different adaptation of the Rudolph song, predating the stop-motion special by decades. Rudolph is still made fun of for his nose and Santa needs his help due to a foggy night, but don’t expect to see his elf dentist buddy or the abominable snowman.
The Output: Other than the missing characters (which isn’t a criticism, since this came first and those guys weren’t mentioned in the song), the biggest difference in this telling is Rudolph’s status. The Rankin/Bass version made sense in that Santa had a bunch of reindeer living at the North Pole, so of course Santa would come across Rudolph. Here, Rudolph lives in a reindeer civilization. According to this short, animals live like humans around the globe in different sectors (ie. a rabbit-only town) and the only known human being is Santa Claus.
Oh, man. Maybe this is a sequel to Peace on Earth. Pretend you know what I’m talking about.
Another high spot is Rudolph’s mother, who is for some reason shown completely dressed, walking on her hind legs, and having almost human proportions. The riffers all find themselves sexually confused by this.
“Watch this!”“I saw Bam Margera do this on Jackass!”
A CHRISTMAS DREAM (1946)
The Idea: A little girl is happy to receive a few new toys on Christmas. So happy that she discards her older, rattier doll. As she goes to sleep that night, Santa decides to teach her a lesson about the value of one’s belongings by giving her a dream where her old doll comes to life to plead for her attention.
The Output: This is live-action and the doll is depicted with stop-motion animation. To this short’s credit, the animation is incredibly well done, especially for such an old film. It’s also really horrifying and the riffers don’t stop harping on that. The little girl is so excited when any sane person would be in a fear coma.
Also, Santa can make you dream whatever he wants. I didn’t know that. That’s disturbing and a far bigger threat than getting coal in your stocking. All he needs are elves in the background, playing jump rope.
“One, two…you better not shout… Three, four…you better not cry… Five, six…you better not pout… Seven, eight…I’m telling you why…”
“Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”“Well, Happy Christmas to the one household I visited! The rest of the planet can ram it for all I care!”
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1946)
The Idea: We all know the famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore. This is another adaptation of it, though without the bickering cartoon mice. Rather, we see Santa as he visits a home, delivers gifts, and flies off into the night.
The Output: This is one of the most reasonable of all the entries here because there isn’t much you can do to screw up that classic. The only questionable stuff is how rather than have any kind of special effects budget, shots of Santa flying off on his sleigh are done through animation and go back to live-action in close-ups. Otherwise, it’s fairly forgettable amongst the other freaky shorts and movies they watch.
Still, it is a dick move of Santa to give one kid a tiny toy shovel for Christmas. Who the hell would want that?
“Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in 150-plus movies, RiffTrax has nothing to say.”“Just this…enjoy.”
SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)
The Idea: Santa is stranded in the sands of Florida. His sleigh is partially buried in the sand and his reindeer have abandoned him. He calls over a group of children to help him get the sleigh out of the ground, but to no avail. Santa insists that they don’t give up and relates their situation to the story of Thumbelina (or Jack and the Beanstalk). Luckily, the kids know one magical creature who just might be able to help Santa and make sure Christmas is saved.
The Output: God, where do I even start with this? It’s hard to sit through, but this is one of the most must-see riffs. The Ice Cream Bunny is practically a mascot for RiffTrax (sorry, Disembaudio). It’s bad in every way. It’s an inconceivable mess. The Santa parts are embarrassing to watch and make you feel really uneasy in its disturbing, low-rent cheesiness. Then you’re rescued from it thanks to Santa telling the story of Thumbelina. By that I mean that they play a completely separate movie with a higher budget that has absolutely nothing to do with the Santa situation. This “flashback” is 50 minutes long and the entire movie is an hour and a half, so yeah. The Thumbelina stuff is also creepy to watch, if not boring at times, but it’s worth powering through.
Once we return to Santa, we’re finally introduced to the Ice Cream Bunny. Words cannot do this justice. It’s a guy in a terrible rabbit suit driving a fire truck filled with kids when the guy most certainly can’t see what he’s doing and almost runs over a dog. There’s this really unsavory feeling watching what’s supposed to be a delightful movie for children and Bill kills it by adding a horrifying, demented laugh whenever the Ice Cream Bunny is on screen.
RiffTrax has two different versions of the movie. One is the classic VOD released in 2010, where the movie takes a lengthy break to show us the stuff with Thumbelina. In 2015, they did a RiffTrax Live edition with a different print of the movie. In it, the Thumbelina stuff was replaced with Jack and the Beanstalk. Comparing the two is a no-brainer as Jack and the Beanstalk is far more entertaining on its own and is 70s as hell. Plus the RiffTrax Live version includes several bonkers shorts beforehand.
“The sequel to The Ice Cream Bunny’s Amos and Andy!”
SANTA CLAUS’ PUNCH AND JUDY (1948)
The Idea: Santa visits a large group of children (orphans?) and delivers their presents, but one of them asks for a Punch and Judy puppet show. Santa uses his magic to summon such a performance to the delight of the children.
The Output: Have you ever watched a Punch and Judy show? Yeah, nobody goes out of their way to see one. There’s nothing all that wrong with the kids, Santa, or the setup in this short. The focus is just on what I imagine to be a skilled exhibition of puppeteering that hasn’t aged well. Just a puppet beating his girlfriend with a stick, as well as various animals, and we get a break where two minstrel show puppets have a boxing match. So yeah, fun for children.
“He’s like some horrible Soviet Bloc animated version of Santa.”“His nose looks like an infected thumb!”
THE SHANTY WHERE SANTY CLAUS LIVES (1933)
The Idea: A poor little boy live alone and in the cold, doomed to freeze on Christmas Eve. Luckily, he’s discovered by Santa, who takes him away to his own home, where the kid sees all sorts of wonders.
The Output: First thing’s first, the Santa Claus in this movie is rather horrific, probably the scariest of all the Santas in all of these movies, which is impressive for a cartoon. Despite being the title character, he only gets about a minute of screen time anyway. The rest is either the kid being depressed and cold or the kid watching yet another old-timey cartoon scenario where the toys just kind of do stuff and sing for several minutes until something resembling a plot happens at the end. In this case, the tree accidentally catches on fire and the boy has to help put it out.
The most striking thing about this short is the never-ending parade of racism. Lot of uncomfortable toys lounging in the shanty where Santy Claus lives.
“Ooooooh, I’m full grown, all right!”“Kids, if you ever hear someone say that in that voice, call the cops.”
MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE (1964)
The Idea: A child befriends a witch around Halloween and is given a seed that will eventually sprout a magical Christmas tree. Not only does it talk, but it will also grant him three wishes! Unfortunately, the power goes to the boy’s head and his poor decisions put Christmas in some serious danger.
The Output: While it may not be the absolute best RiffTrax, it’s the best kind of bad movie for them to tackle. The movie is incredibly strange, but it gradually builds on it. In the beginning, it’s almost straightforward, but it gets more and more questionable as the minutes pass. For instance, there’s a scene where the main character’s family leaves to go Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve. The boy makes a wish to have ultimate power for a limited time (why a limited time? I don’t know) and uses his power to make it day and then goes around messing with people who are doing their usual daily routines, not at all aware that it’s supposed to be the night before Christmas.
By the end, we have a greed-loving giant living in the mountains showing up out of nowhere. What Christmas movie isn’t complete without a greed-loving giant living in the mountains showing up out of nowhere?
“And in the second place, ice cream break was over more than an hour ago!”“Ah, kids love it when furries have labor disputes.”
SANTA’S ENCHANTED VILLAGE (1964)
The Idea: As a sequel/extension of the Mexican Santa Claus movie (more on that later), we see a village where Santa’s various helpers get toys ready for the holiday season. Unfortunately, Stinky the Skunk would rather take extremely long breaks, much to the chagrin of his supervisor, the Ferocious Wolf.
The Output: By “sequel” I mainly mean that the guy who made this had the rights to the Santa Claus movie and would occasionally toss in clips from it. The original footage in this short (and the two that follow) are incredibly low-rent, mainly in the form of the mascot costume characters and their terrible voices. Most notable is how the Ferocious Wolf is accompanied by loud, obnoxious accordion noises whenever he walks around. Which is a lot.
One of the true highlights is when the Ferocious Wolf visits Santa’s office and rants about how Stinky the Skunk is such a bad employee. Santa’s reaction is to just sit there the entire time, nodding and laughing his ass off like a lunatic. Which reminds me, the Ferocious Wolf complaining about his ulcer is – I kid you not – his catchphrase.
“Hey! Right here at this moment, this officially became the craziest thing ever made by man.”“Seriously, Merry Christmas, everyone. Merry Christmas.”
SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS (1964)
The Idea: The Ferocious Wolf, Stinky the Skunk, and Puss’n Boots get in a big argument and Santa is none too pleased. Watching from space along with his good friend Merlin, Santa decides to go give his angry employees a visit and set them straight.
The Output: This installment of the Santa’s Village of Madness Trilogy is easily the least coherent. Seeing the costumed characters is complete bedlam and even the riffers give up in awe of the chaos. Not only is half of the footage of this short taken directly from Santa Claus, but a couple minutes are taken from Santa’s Enchanted Village! But hey, no angry accordion music this time, so that’s something.
“Whoa! He’s got a face like a squid’s anus!”
SANTA’S MAGIC KINGDOM (1966)
The Idea: Puss’n Boots is the head of security in Santa’s Village and he confronts a visitor. It turns out to be a princess on the run from a giant ogre that’s out to destroy Santa Claus and end Christmas! Puss needs to gather an army together to face this beast and save Christmas.
The Output: So this giant ogre? They never actually show him. Well, except for a shot of a lame dinosaur statue that we see for a second. I don’t know if that’s actually supposed to be the ogre. Whatever. Otherwise, the narrative is just another fever dream filmed with the tiniest budget. Merlin ends up being the one to challenge the big monster and what a fight it is! I think. They never actually show any of it. We just hear them off-screen while everyone else reacts. The elves couldn’t even do that right.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a third-string ballerina on painkillers.”
SANTA CLAUS AND THE FAIRY SNOW QUEEN (1951)
The Idea: A six-inch tall woman called the Snow Queen visits Santa on Christmas Eve, but is annoyed to see him sleeping in her presence. As a joke, she gives life to a handful of nearby toys. The various toys dance and laugh, but are reluctant to be given off to children as lifeless gifts. Not only have they taken to being alive, but they’ve also grown attached to each other. Whatever will Santa and the Snow Queen do?
The Output: This whole thing is incomprehensible and it doesn’t help that the Snow Queen has a really thick European accent that you can barely cut through. The real star of this short is the Candy Lion. See, while you have understandable, recognizable toys hanging around like a toy soldier, a ballerina, a ragdoll, a Jack-in-the-box, and so on, you also have the Candy Lion. Described as a half-mummified Chewbacca, the dead-eyed toy stands around in the background for the most part and gets one memorable line when he excitedly brags to Santa, “I can eat candy!”
The Jack-in-the-box is easily one of the more annoying characters in RiffTrax history, though. Goddamn that repeating freak. This is all hosted by Snoopy, a high-pitched “brownie” (which appears to be no different than an elf) who I’m not sure if I’m repulsed by or attracted to.
“My finger isn’t tired!”“Oh, God! What is he about to do?!”
SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)
The Idea: On Mars, children have become joyless and robotic due to the planet’s lack of fun and insistence on constant studying and good behavior. The only thing that brings them any happiness is watching Earth programs, such as news on this Santa Claus character. Afraid for the future of his planet, Kimar and his crew visit Earth to kidnap Santa (and eventually two children) and bring him to Mars so that he can spread joy to their world…whether he wants to or not!
The Output: While this movie may be on the IMDB bottom 100, I consider it a guilty pleasure. As I discussed when speaking with Kevin Murphy a little while back, I think at its core, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a great concept for a children’s movie. It has its own unique whimsy. Unfortunately, it’s hurt by bad, hammy acting and the kind of bad costuming and effects you’d expect from a movie like this.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the only movie to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Cinematic Titanic (the offshoot where the other MST3K cast members went off to), and RiffTrax, all with their own unique set of jokes. There’s a good reason for that. The movie is incredibly silly and ripe for mockery, yet at the same time completely and utterly watchable. The RiffTrax version features the movie in its entirety, rather than the abridged version from MST3K.
“Don’t you wish that your school bus looked like this?!”“Packed with bearded lunatics and flanked by grim clowns? No!”
FUN IN BALLOON LAND (1965)
The Idea: A little boy goes to sleep and dreams of a world of giant balloon people and other children to play with. After getting into a variety of adventures, he and a little girl watch a holiday parade filled with all sorts of balloon floats.
The Output: This 1960s nightmare is the perfect B-side to Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. The first third of it is complete and utter nonsense. This little boy would just wander around a warehouse, stumble upon some kind of big balloon statue, someone would voice said statue by shouting from across the room off-screen, and then it would move on to a completely unrelated scene. There is a group of ballerinas who show up to dance for absolutely no reason. At one point the boy is inexplicably walking around in only a gold lamé diaper and Kevin wonders, “Is this movie even legal?” The boy proceeds to hit on mermaids and plays hide-and-seek with a lobster thing.
Then it becomes old footage of a holiday parade that lasts about a half hour and has more clowns and majorettes than I have ever seen in one place at one time. It’s pretty dry, but the woman narrating it is completely insane and the RiffTrax crew show absolutely no mercy in painting her as some kind of drunk lunatic. She ends the movie with a “guessing game” where she keeps changing the rules every three seconds and you don’t even know what the hell is going on.
“Still going? If this was a game of Ski Free, the Abominable Snowman would have gobbled them up hours ago.”
ZLATEH THE GOAT (1973)
The Idea: A boy named Aaron reluctantly has to bring his family’s prized goat Zlateh to the butcher in order to sell her. During the journey, the weather takes a horrible turn and Aaron and Zlateh are forced to hide out under a pile of hay for several days. The two form a bond that allows them to survive the ordeal.
The Output: This Hanukkah story is absolutely miserable. Despite being just a short, it feels like it goes on forever and pads itself out with many shots of the kid having to drag the goat through the snow. And you know how I just said that they form a bond that allows Aaron to survive? Yeah, that’s from him drinking milk directly from Zlateh. It’s nasty.
“It’s fun to make things of sugar. And they are good to eat.”“WHAT?!” “Just grab a slice of instant diabetes, kids!”
AT YOUR FINGERTIPS: SUGAR AND SPICE (1970)
The Idea: The At Your Fingertips series is all about arts and crafts using stuff around the house. Here, we see how you can use sugar to create festive Christmas ornaments. Through creativity and hard work, you can make decorating a blast!
The Output: The At Your Fingertips series is all about spending way too much time on ugly and insane crap that really looks far from fun. This Christmas-related one is no different. Things come off as less festive and more gross and unpleasant. And that’s before the children start eating pure sugar. Ugh.
“If she’s already sleeping, we might be able to see her dreams.”“We’re in, children. Let’s get ready to begin our Christmas inception. I won’t lie to you: we might have to shoot our way out.”
SANTA CLAUS (1959)
The Idea: In a Mexican adaptation of the Santa Claus myth, we see the jolly one as he spends the night delivering presents. Some children get extra focus for the movie, including a little boy whose parents don’t seem to have time for him and a poor, little girl who only wants a doll to play with. As Santa tries to make right by them, he’s vexed by Pitch, a devil sent to ruin Christmas for everyone.
The Output: This is another MST3K double-dip, but for good reason. It’s delightfully insane. See, Santa is already a nutty concept, but we get into Drunk History territory here where the people behind the movie don’t quite get it and his mythology gets even stranger in translation. Did you know Santa is good friends with Merlin the Magician? Did you know that he has a burly blacksmith working for him? Or that Santa lives in space with little children from all around the world doing his bidding? Or that he regularly fights the minions of Satan?
The MST3K version might be better, but it is nice getting to see the full cut of the movie for once.
“Who and what are you?”“I am—““Meryl Streep. I am good in everything.”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1952)
The Idea: The Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol, otherwise known as Scrooge, is considered an outright classic. Perhaps the greatest telling of the Charles Dickens story of a hateful rich man realizing his own humanity thanks to being visited by ghosts. Here, we get to see the movie in its abridged form and get through it in minutes.
The Output: Listen, A Christmas Carol has a pretty solidified structure. Scrooge is a dick, his dead friend warns him, he gets led around by three other ghosts, and he comes out of it a better person. Abridging it simply does not work. Basically, Marley introduces him to the Ghost of Christmas Present and that’s enough to make a change. Bridget puts it best: “They edited the Dickens out of the movie!”
This short is part of Have a Mary Jo Christmas and a Bridget New Year, which is done by Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson instead of the usual riffers. It features some non-riff stuff in-between this and the following short…
“Man, I wish I hadn’t gone commando today…”
THE LITTLE LAMB (1955)
The Idea: During storytime, a group of children ask to hear a story about an animal while one girl wants to hear a story about Jesus. Their mother figures to cover both by telling the story of Jesus’ birth from the point of view of three shepherds. While two of them brave strong winds to save a lost, little lamb, an angel appears to them to tell them about the birth of Christ. They and their curmudgeonly associate go off to find the new king.
The Output: Honestly, this one isn’t all that bad, really. It’s a pretty solid production and the only part that really gets a rise out of Mary Jo and Bridget is when they warm baby Jesus’ body by laying the lamb next to him. It’s not the most memorable little short, but it’s fine for what it is.
Plus I’m always distracted by how much the guy playing Joseph looks like CM Punk. It’s downright uncanny in some shots.
“A real child’s actual tears! I know I’m ready for Christmas!”
I BELIEVE IN SANTA CLAUS (1984)
The idea: Simon is a bullied child whose parents have been kidnapped by African soldiers. Desperate to get them back, he and a friend sneak off from a school field trip and board a plane in hopes to find where Santa Claus lives. Alongside a Christmas Fairy (who looks an awful lot like Simon’s kindly teacher), Santa goes to Africa to rescue the captives. Meanwhile, the children are captured by an ogre.
The Output: Did any of that sound lucid? Because this French film is out there, man. It’s cute, but it also decides that being a kid’s movie means it doesn’t have to be logically coherent. You know, even though there’s an entire plot thread about African warlords kidnapping people. Kids like that stuff, right?
You know that, “I’m the captain now!” part of Captain Phillips? Imagine Tom Hanks replaced with Santa in that scene and you’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg of how bizarre this Christmas film is.
“Monkeys, you know, are very much like human beings in many ways. And sometimes they do the very same things that we do.”“Why, here’s a monkey Black Friday stampede!”
SANTA CLAUS’ STORY (1945)
The Idea: It begins with Twas the Night Before Christmas and ends with the, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” speech. In-between, Santa tells two children about how monkeys also celebrate Christmas and have their very own Monkey Santa Claus.
The Output: Monkey Santa Claus. Really.
This short is barely being held together by a narrative. They basically have a bunch of footage of monkeys and chimps doing stuff and since this includes 20 seconds of a chimp wearing a horrifying Santa Claus mask and costume, they decide that there’s a Monkey Christmas and write everything around that.
Somehow, this was the sanest thing shown at the RiffTrax Live for Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny.
“Bricks on his face. Sure! He’s a dragon.” “All dragons have bricks on their face.”
THE TALE OF THE CUSTARD DRAGON (1965)
The Idea: Ogden Nash’s poem for children comes to life. A little girl has a pet dog, cat, mouse, and dragon. The dragon, named Custard, is a bit of a coward and only wants to be let alone. But then on one Christmas Eve, when his friends are attacked by an evil pirate, Custard has to stand up and save their presents.
The Output: The poem is acted out via a handful of kids in little Halloween costumes, including Custard being a dragon with a brick facemask. The short takes place in somebody’s den and aesthetically, the whole thing is a weird mess. Custard also straight-up murders the pirate, which makes sense on the page, but feels a bit off the reservation when we see a child viciously attacking an adult in a lame costume.
“AAAAAHHHH! Hannibal Lecter’s Christmas trees!” “Good God, he’s keeping them alive!”
THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1975)
The Idea: This short tells us the story of three pine trees who are cut down and go through the process of becoming Christmas trees. This means being sold, being decorated, enduring Christmas, and, sadly, being discarded. Shown in live-action, the trees are portrayed by mimes in tree costumes and facepaint.
The Output: It’s cute, but also bewildering. With zero dialogue, we watch these three guys mug at each other while Christmas stuff happens around them. As strange as it is by default, it loses its mind in the final minutes when we see the trees thrown in the garbage as they start to die. Not only do the trees-with-faces die, but we get to see their trees-with-faces ghosts fly up into the sky.
Tree ghosts. Yup.
“GAH! His face looks like a series of horrible wounds!” “That just started healing.” “What are the dots..?!”
SANTA’S CHRISTMAS CIRCUS (1966)
The Idea: Hey, kids! It’s time for Whizzo the Clown! This local TV clown has a special show in store for everyone as he and his audience of kids play around and pretend to be circus performers! Then they check out some motorized Christmas-based decorations before getting ready for the main event: riding a magic carpet and visiting Santa himself!
The Output: This one’s best summed up right after the opening credits end. As Whizzo walks out and mumbles loudly like he’s having an episode, Mike laughingly wonders if they’ve gone too far, knowing that the three of them are about to sit through some rough shit. While Whizzo certainly has energy and some kind of charisma, he’s also the poster boy for why people are frightened of clowns without having to go the easy serial killer route. No, he’s a friendly and jokey clown, but he’s also completely horrifying to look at.
This low-budget affair not only features Whizzo’s catchphrase of, “Now I have that to worry about,” but also the catchphrase of one girl in the audience loudly coughing throughout the hour. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to sit through.
“Yeah… Celebrate the nativity… That’s what daddy likes…”
GIFTS FROM THE AIR (1937)
The Idea: A poor boy wanders through the snow, enduring Christmas Eve without food, family, or toys. He comes across a toy store where a dancing toy soldier annoys the store owner enough to have him thrown out. The boy takes the soldier in to his humble home and his good deed is rewarded as the toy soldier happens to know how to summon Santa Claus himself!
The Output: Dancing toy cartoons with poor kids is nothing new for RiffTrax, but this one is certainly unique enough to be a must-watch. The moment Santa delivers the toys to the little boy, it becomes complete and utter madness. It’s a bunch of bizarre toys who talk like what appears to be 1930s celebrities. Like there’s a goat that sings like Bing Crosby, so even though I know who Bing Crosby is, that doesn’t make the toy goat make any more sense.
The highlight is when a Santa Jack-in-the-box pops out and tells another toy something so indistinct that Mike notes, “‘How the hell are you, scramble puss? Smelly Christmas to you,’ is what I heard.”
“Well. This place looks cozy. I LIVE HERE NOW!”
SANTA CLAUS’ WORKSHOP (1930s)
The Idea: Once again, we get to see how Santa Claus performs his duties. From his home in the North Pole to the home of a nice middle-class family, we see Santa get letters from kids, fly on his sleigh, and deliver the presents themselves. We also get a look at the family in question, who celebrate the holidays via singing a lovely rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
The Output: It’s your usual fare on this one and not too much that sticks out. That’s not to say that it’s meant to be skipped, as Kevin singing “Pretty Woman” over “O Come All Ye Faithful” makes this worth the dollar.
The one part of the short that makes it seem off is the revelation towards the end that Santa doesn’t simply fly across the world to deliver presents in one go, but instead flies back and forth for every single household. I mean, Santa can only carry so many presents in that sack of his, right?
“And so, they started out together, not realizing they were being followed.”“Well, they were easy to track…thanks to a long trail of spunk.” “DAMN IT, KEVIN!” “(Sorry.)”
SPUNKY THE SNOWMAN (1958)
The Idea: When a group of children write a letter to Santa, it’s up to their newly-created snowman Spunky to deliver it to Santa himself. Spunky and the little dog Jeff go on a quest, only to be opposed by a fox, an owl, and a wolf. Each creature wants to steal that letter and bring it to Santa, figuring that they can then steal the gifts. Spunky and Jeff are soon aided by a bear, but can even he keep them safe?
The Output: The guy’s name is Spunky. You know exactly what kind of jokes you’re getting the second you see that title.
Otherwise, it’s an animated story that tries to be whimsical, but is really just nonsense. It takes a bunch of Christmas cliches like magic snowmen, letters to Santa, talking animals, and desire for Christmas trees and badly pastes it all together into a confusing package.
“When you’re not shaking that over our heads to make us work, you can hobble around on it and enjoy your sciatica!”“A zinger from TV’s Frank!”
BEYOND CHRISTMAS (1940)
The idea: Three old rich men feel lonely during Christmas night and one comes up with an idea of throwing wallets with $10 bills out onto the sidewalk and inviting anyone kind enough to return them to enjoy dinner with them. The gambit pays off and leads to a romance between a Texan with a golden voice and a schoolteacher. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes the old men and they have to help the couple out from beyond the grave.
The output: This movie (originally known as Beyond Tomorrow) is actually pretty damn good. It’s a little sluggish in the second half, but it’s original, has some likeable characters, and never really gets too stupid. Even Bridget and Mary Jo find themselves getting invested in what’s going on when they should be telling jokes. With them, it feels more like you’re watching a movie together rather than just watching them rip it apart.
Personally, I think it would make for a better Christmas movie if the first act took place during Thanksgiving and built towards an ending happening during Christmas. Might have made the supernatural and uplifting stuff pop more.
“Seriously, what the Hell is going on with the mitten tree?!”
CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS NEAR AND FAR (1955)
The idea: As some children prepare for a Christmas pageant, one asks their teacher about the origins of the Christmas tree. This leads to her explaining how children from different countries celebrate Christmas in varying ways.
The output: As we all know, different = funny. While some of the customs might be normal, it doesn’t help that most of them are depicted by children dressing up as foreigners while standing in front of a curtain. So it’s a Christmas pageant within a short about the attempt to rehearse a Christmas pageant. Crazy.
Through the short, we get to see a weird kid dancing around in an elf hat, a Christmas tree covered in mittens, and a thing about how kids in China do a big ceremony to celebrate the events of Christ’s birth.
“Whaddya know?! Armed and dangerous!”“None of my quips are funny but some…make very little sense!”
JACK FROST (1997)
The idea: Not to be confused with the Michael Keaton family film from the same time, Jack Frost deals with a serial killer who escapes captivity, only to be seemingly vaporized by a chemical spill. In actuality, he survives as living snow and uses his new form to attempt revenge on the police officer that arrested him in the first place. Even when the officer and his family know what they’re up against, they don’t even know if there’s a way to stop him.
The output: I remember renting this baby back in the late-90s and, hoo boy, it’s a lot worse than I remembered it being. As a horror villain, Jack Frost wants to be like Freddy or Chucky, where he kills his victims while belting out memorable one-liners. The problem is, everything he says falls flat or is complete nonsense. He constantly stumbles on his own attempts at charisma.
Despite taking place in a town in winter that’s supposed to support the existence of snowmen and sledding and the like, it’s obviously taking place in a hot and sunny area with weak attempts to hide it.
It’s still better than the sequel, which was one of those cringeworthy “intentionally bad” gems.
“Santa, I wrote you a new song!”“Oh, good! A song! That’ll get me hammered.”
A SONG FOR SANTA
The idea: A trio of lost boys find themselves in a church and sit down to enjoy the warmth and chorus. One child nods off from the music and finds himself in Santa’s domain, where he offers to create a new and original Christmas song to delight Santa and his angels.
The output: The first half is normal enough, despite little of interest happening. Right when the Santa stuff happens, things get weird and creepy. Instead of elves, Santa has little girls dressed as angels and disturbingly leers at them like there’s no good that can come out of whatever’s happening. The boy’s attempt to write Santa a new song goes nowhere, as he just sings him an old song with the justification that, “I didn’t know this song until now, so it must be new to you too.”
This is another one of those oddball shorts or movies where there’s a framing device that’s forgotten about. The boy never wakes up from his dream or anything. It just ends with him hanging out with creepy Santa and his underage harem.
“Spirit…tell me if Tiny Tim will live.””I see an empty chair in the chimney corner.”“Oh, so he not only lives, he walks?!” “No!” “It’s a Christmas miracle!” “No, no!”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1959)
The idea: I explained Christmas Carol earlier. Luckily, we finally have a version that’s the full story and not abridged like what Bridget and Mary Jo watched.
The output: This one’s by Coronet Films, meaning it’s old as hell and feels cheap. To its credit, despite running at just over 20 minutes, it tells the complete story without feeling rushed. It just feels a bit under budget, what with the limited quality in costumes and several sets being some props on a fog-filled sound stage.
Still, it’s A Christmas Carol and you have to go out of your way to do a bad job with that. This one’s still fairly watchable, even if the riffs are well-deserved.
“This isn’t so much A Miracle on 34th Street as it is A Horse Who Took a Dump on 34th Street.”
SANTA’S SUMMER HOUSE (2012)
The idea: A group of travelers get lost in a fog and end up at the doorstep of a kindly couple who allow them to stay in their mansion for a couple days. Little do these visitors realize that their hosts are none other than Santa Claus and his wife! The two try to use their wisdom and magic to improve the lives of these visitors and mend their relationships.
The output: This piece of shit is written and directed by the same guys who gave us A Talking Cat!?! It even takes place in the same house. At least with Talking Cat!?! there were two separate houses used. Here, it’s just the one.
It’s a hell of a lineup of actors. Mrs. Claus starred in RiffTrax target Honor and Glory. The egomaniac scientist guy in this movie is the JCVD knockoff from MST3K’s Future War. Santa himself is played by Robert Mitchum’s son. Even though he isn’t all that overweight and doesn’t have a beard, he’s still identified as looking a lot like Santa.
The movie is just bad dialogue said by bad actors, occasionally broken up by wipe edits featuring Christmas Clip-Art. It never reaches Talking Cat!?! levels of batshit, but it’s still stupid as a pile of rocks.
“They’re buying a brother?!”
CHARLIE’S CHRISTMAS SECRET (1984)
The idea: A young Seth Green plays Charlie, who feels that he’s outgrown Christmas. The commercialism does nothing for him and makes him feel hollow. At first, his instincts are vindicated when he comes across various others – a bitter, old woman, a poor single mother, and a scheming homeless man – but soon he realizes the meaning of Christmas by putting their needs first.
The output: Again, this one is halfway decent. All in all, it tells a really sweet story. It just happens to have a few awkward aspects to it. The whole thing has subtitles and they almost never match what’s actually being said, instead going for the simplest way of conveying whatever thoughts. Like instead of saying, “No thank you, I’m not hungry right now,” it would just say, “No.”
The most questionable part of this special, and something that I’m glad is called out by the riffers, is that Charlie apparently has to buy his own Christmas gifts. Part of the plot is that he has his eye on a stereo and instead of asking Santa for it or having his parents buy it for him, he has to save up the money from his paper route, get the stereo, and then have his mother wrap it and place it under the tree.
What the Hell?
“No. No way. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus. You’re just someone in a Santa suit.””That’s why YOU never get anything for Christmas!”“Also, ’cause you made Feeders!”
FEEDERS 2: SLAY BELLS (1998)
The Idea: Previously, aliens invaded and feasted on a handful of confused and horrified Earthlings. Now a second UFO has arrived to conquer again, this time with its aliens creeping around and causing havoc through a suburban town. As one family gets ready for Christmas, they gradually come to realize how doomed they truly are.
The Output: RiffTrax was kind of slick on this one. On Halloween of 2019, they put out a riff for an utterly terrible low-budget piece of garbage called Feeders, which is about a bunch of laughable alien puppets invading Earth and killing some of the ugliest people to ever show up on film. Then, just a couple months later, they released a riff on its Christmas-themed sequel.
While I do suggest watching the first one, you won’t be too lost if you don’t. A survivor from the first movie goes about summarizing the first movie’s events in a series of loose framing devices that aren’t directly connected to the rest of the movie. It is pretty funny on its own, though, because a character who died in the first movie and is featured prominently in the flashbacks is played by the very same guy who is the protagonist of this movie.
Not only does the climax take place on Christmas Eve, but Santa gets involved! Santa, who for some reason sounds like Homsar from Homestar Runner, is attacked by aliens (who look even worse than in the first movie) and proceeds to be the secret weapon in saving the world. He’s up there with the over-the-top boss character and the silliest-looking dead cat special effect in reasons why you should watch this one.