Merry Christmas! I’ve got one more present for you to unwrap, and it’s a doozy! It’s the Mexican fantasy film SANTA CLAUS, brought to you by K. Gordon Murray, the enterprising film distributor who made a career out of unleashing South-of-the-Border lensed luchadore and children’s flicks on American audiences. SANTA CLAUS made oodles of money for good ol’ K. Gordon, and he rereleased it every few years to bank oodles more!
In this version of the Kris Kringle legend, Santa Claus lives in a castle up in the clouds above the North Pole, and has enlisted children from all over the world to work at Toyland, where they make all the toys for good girls & boys (can you say “slave labor”?). Santa inadvertently summons up The Devil Himself (here called Mr. Pitch), who does his best (worst?) to get kids to misbehave and piss off Jolly Ol’ St. Nick. Santa’s all-seeing Eye of Agamotto (er, that’s Cosmic Telescope… sorry, wrong movie!) helps him see the mischief Pitch’s trying to spread around, so Santa’s good buddy Merlin the Wizard concocts some Magic Powder to put the kids to sleep on Christmas Eve, and a Magic Flower that renders him invisible. But Pitch is up to his old tricks, cutting a hole in Santa’s bag that dumps his magic stuff, and the Jolly One winds up treed by a vicious dog just as daylight is approaching. Can Merlin save Christmas? Of course he can!
I know he’s supposed to be jolly, but Santa’s manical laughter throughout the film makes it seem like he’s had too much Tequila-spiked eggnog and Acapulco Gold (and speaking of mind-altering substances, little Lupita’s dream about the Dancing Dolls comes off more like an LSD-fueled nightmare!). The movie’s so nonsensical, it makes SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS look like Academy Award material! Yet it’s got a charm of it’s own, and you’ll find yourself laughing as manically as Santa himself while watching 1959’s SANTA CLAUS:
And remember, as Santa says during the film, “A dream is a wish that the heart makes” (hmmm… seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before…)
Boris Karloff frightened the nation in 1931’s FRANKENSTEIN , and continued to terrify audiences for over three decades. In 1968, at the age of 81 and suffering from emphysema and crippling arthritis, Boris signed on to do four low-budget horror films for a Mexican production company. Unable to travel, Karloff’s scenes were shot in Hollywood by Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS). These films had a limited release here in the U.S. in 1971, two years after Karloff’s death, then went straight to late night TV.
THE SNAKE PEOPLE is probably the best of the quartet (which admittedly isn’t saying much!), featuring some bizarre imagery, flesh-eating zombies, voodoo rituals, human sacrifice, and other cool stuff! Karloff looks ill (and he was), but still manages to command every scene he’s in. Enjoy a last visit with the King of Horror, Boris Karloff, in THE SNAKE PEOPLE!:
Today, we celebrate the birth of a true horror legend, the great Bela Lugosi!
Bela Lugosi helped usher in the horror era in 1931’s DRACULA , but nine years later, the Hungarian actor was taking whatever roles he could get. I’ve told you before how much I love THE DEVIL BAT (just click on this link to find out!), an entertaining little fright flick despite its rock-bottom production values and some really bad writing. Only Bela Lugosi could make a film like this work, and he does so brilliantly! Grab some popcorn, put your feet up, and enjoy horror’s first icon Bela Lugosi in THE DEVIL BAT!:
1933’s THE VAMPIRE BAT isn’t a Universal Horror movie, but it sure comes damn close! This independent feature from Majestic Pictures contains a number of Universal Horror stars, including Lionel Atwill , Melvyn Douglas (THE OLD DARK HOUSE ), Lionel Belmore (FRANKENSTEIN ), and a positively Renfield-like performance from the great Dwight Frye – not to mention KING KONG’s main squeeze Fay Wray as our heroine! Majestic also rented some of the standing sets from FRANKENSTEIN and THE OLD DARK HOUSE to film on, giving the film a real Universal feel.
The screenplay by Edward T. Lowe (who wrote Lon Chaney’s 1923 HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and the later horror entry HOUSE OF DRACULA) concerns the village of Kleinschloss up in arms over a series of gruesome murders that point to the presence of a vampire in their midst, with Frye’s simple-minded Herman the chief suspect. Turns out the killings are not really supernatural but that old devil, mad science, with Atwill’s Dr. von Neimann needing human blood for his deranged experiments! Directed by Frank L. Strayer (1932’s THE MONSTER WALKS), enjoy today’s classic fright fest, THE VAMPIRE BAT!:
Who was the First Universal Monster? Was it Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula? Lon Chaney Sr. as The Hunchback? No – it was King Baggot in the dual role of Robert Louis Stevenson’s immortal DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE way back in 1913! Baggot, considered the first Hollywood “superstar”, essayed the part in this two-reel effort, and was directed by Herbert Brenon, whose silent resume includes a pair of Betty Bronson vehicles (PETER PAN and A KISS FOR CINDERELLA), DANCING MOTHERS with Clara Bow, and Chaney’s LAUGH, CLOWN, LAUGH. I hope you enjoy this slice of Hollywood Horror History as the all-but-forgotten King Baggot stars in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE:
THE WEE MEN is a wee bit o’blarney about Leprechauns, one of Paramount Picture’s Noveltoons series. It’s the story of Paddy, just turned 121 years old, and entrusted with the important task of leaving new shoes on doorsteps for St. Patrick’s Day… until the Greediest Man Alive captures him and demands to be taken to that fabled pot o’gold! Directed by former Disney animator Bill Tytla, enjoy THE WEE MEN (and yes, it’s in the Public Domain!):
Tonight is Hollywood’s big night, the 90th annual Academy Awards presentation. In Oscar’s honor, I’d like to present the Best Short winner for the 1932-33 season, SO THIS IS HARRIS. Crooner/bandleader Phil Harris stars as himself in this Pre-Code classic, along with comic actor Walter Catlett as a homebrew making husband jealous of his wife’s infatuation with the singer. Mark Sandrich, later the director of four Fred Astaire /Ginger Rogers romps, uses some innovative techniques, including the kaleidoscopic opening and neat swipes, to create a fast-paced, fun little outing. And wait til you get a load of the “Singing in the Shower” number – now THAT’S Pre-Code! Also featuring perennial Laurel & Hardy nemesis James Finlayson (“D’oh!”), enjoy SO THIS IS HARRIS, and happy Oscar viewing!: