K Gordon Murray’s very own trilogy of Christmas shorts, filmed in holiday amusement parks across the usa (50’s-60s era).
AND HIS HELPERS
This jaw-dropper featurette is one of K. Gordon Murrays’s most shocking cheats, and as such, one of his crowning victories in the cutthroat world of the ’60’s kiddie matinee.
Not only is SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS padded mercilessly with scratchy footage from Murray’s super-hit SANTA CLAUS, and surrounded by abysmal, filmed-in-the-US silent footage worthy of bad home movies, this short film was actually released theatrically as a feature!
Shown in most markets on a double bill with the perversely brilliant feature THE QUEEN’S SWORDSMAN, the ads for SANTA promised “See Merlin disclose the mystery of the 5th dimension!” As usual, occult reference abounds as Murray makes promises he couldn’t possibly keep.
SANTA does have a creepy, disorienting quality, though, and appears to be taking place on various dimensional planes, ending up on a grandiose bachanal of sexist toys: Stinky the Skunk, awash in a sea of headless dolls and shiny toy guns.
As in much Murray product, myriad occult overtones denigrate the mystical to trash-culture level.
Another curiosity of this fraudulent dud are the horrifyingly underfed plush suits for Stinky and Wolfie and Puss, mangy rip-offs of the already-crummy Mexican versions. Does it seem it odd that Murray would create these doppelganger costumes, instead of trying to rent the original Mexican costumes for the two hours it took to shoot the US footage?
“Stinky the Skunk”
“el Lobo Feroz”…
SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS is a dreary, bizarre, scary thing, a surefire cult film legend, and one of the great cinematic rip-offs of the 20th century.
* SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS was first released during the busy Thanksgiving weekend of 1964, competing with such heavyweights as MARY POPPINS and SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS. With its co-feature, THE QUEEN’S SWORDSMAN, SANTA… did boffo boxoffice, assuring Murray that his Santa Claus franchise still had plenty of life in it; later the same year, he re-released the original SANTA CLAUS, which also did admirably.
* This bizarre kiddy ripoffella was the prototype for two other Murray featurettes, SANTA’S MAGIC KINGDOM and SANTA’S ENCHANTED VILLAGE, both original productions of a highly unusual nature. Although HELPERS uses Mexican footage to pad its length, the other two used entirely original footage.
* This wild featurette, and its cousins, utilized Murray’s newly-created suits for the Ferocious Wolf, Stinky the Skunk, and Puss ‘n Boots characters, based loosely on their Mexican counterparts. The US suits, however, were even cheaper and mangier than the Mexi-suits, which were quite “expressionist” themselves.
* At least three different cuts of SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS have surfaced, running appx. 1 reel, 2 reels, and 3 reels. One might surmise that Murray used the different versions in different campaigns, according to the length of the co-feature.
* As in the original SANTA CLAUS, it states clearly here that Santa Claus can be seen by all the children of the world at once due to “The Fifth Dimension”, a meaningless pseudo-scientific explanation. Thus, Murray brought myth and superstition into the age of Science. Yet at other times, Merlin declares that “the Fifth Dimension” can make all of the children of the world “Disappear”. Other than cosmic misanthropy, what would be the purpose of this exercise?
SANTA’S MAGIC KINGDOM
This holiday featurette is one of the most amazing pieces of celluloid ever assembled.
Not only does it shamelessly exploit the name and theme of Murray’s real Christmas movie, SANTA CLAUS, while offering a cheap-jack imitation, but it features location scenes filmed at real-life Santa’s Villages across the USA, thus offering us rare glimpses of these obscure tourist traps, now departed, from an era long gone.
And unlike the thematically similar but structurally disparate SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS, this creepy, unreal film consists of all-new footage, making it one of a very few original productions that Murray manifested. In fact, as this film and its cousin, SANTA’S ENCHANTED VILLAGE, were both released during the 1966 holiday season, these sublime shorts beat the legendary SHANTY TRAMP as Murray’s first original productions.
And what productions they are! Filmed on the quick, shot silent and overdubbed like a foreign film, using local talent for the characters, these weird and primitive films look like a strange cross between cheap drama, home movies, and promotional film. Indeed, with these films as well as the original SANTA CLAUS, Murray successfully presented the Christmas holiday as a tourist phenomenon and marketing bonanza, superceding its previous roles as religious landmark and cultural tradition.
SANTA’S MAGIC KINGDOM features nondescript promotional footage from several Santa’s Villages, and, embedded within, a strange and compelling little mini-drama, in which Santa and Merlin and the beautiful Princess defeat an unseen Ogre. (Actually, we do see “him” briefly, if we are to believe a virtually subliminal insert shot of a statue of a grimacing dinosaur, presumably a prop at one of the villages.) But primarily, we hear only the Ogre’s voice (the same ogre-voice as in PUSS ‘N BOOTS), and see a shaky camera pointing at some trees blowing in the wind.
This absurd cheat is strangely effective, and leads to one of the most ambiguous, occlusive climaxes ever captured on film, which is comprised almost entirely of reaction shots. At the end of the film we aren’t sure if we’ve been witness to a brazen rip-off, or surreal high art! (Being fans, we choose the latter.)
As in SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS, this great flick features the cheesy US costumes of Stinky the Skunk, the Ferocious Wolf and Puss ‘n Boots. Although Stinky and the Wolf both make an appearance, they are relegated to innocent bystander status. Only Puss gets any dialogue.
(c1966), Color, 13 minutes
Presented by K. Gordon Murray
Produced by K. Gordon Murray
Directed by Manuel San Fernando
Screenplay: Manuel San Fernando
Story: K. Gordon Murray
Cinematography: Gene Cropper
2nd Unit Camera: Charles Ray
Editing: J.R. Remy
Sound editing: Chalres Guanci
Production Manager: Leonard Simons
Title Design: Gil Miret
Thanks: Santa’s Village, Dundee, Ill., Santa’s Village, Santa Cruz, Cal., Santa’s Village, Sky Forest, Cal.
Cast: Santa Claus, Ferocious Wolf, Stinky the Skunk, Puss n’ Boots
SANTA’S ENCHANTED VILLAGE is the third and final installment in Murray’s quaint and bizarre “Santaland” trilogy, a most amazing and unusual work, and one might say a milestone in cinema primitivism.
Although all three featurettes have much to recommend them, all great examples of crude high art, SANTA’S ENCHANTED VILLAGE must be considered the trilogy’s true masterpiece.
What makes this strange and beautiful film stand out above its already outstanding cousins is that this one shows some real attempts at ACTING, as amateur thespians try vainly but sincerely to bring to life the simplistic mini-plot. In this way, VILLAGE is even more psychotronic than SANTA’S MAGIC KINGDOM.
For instance, there are some delicious scenes with the sexy/goofy “Pixies” we grew to love and covet in SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS and KINGDOM. In VILLAGE, these tourist-trap sirens are featured quite prominently. In HELPERS, the Pixies were gossamer phantoms, seen primarily in dark relief. In KINGDOM, they were fleeting, scurrying glimpses of small-town fecundity.
In VILLAGE, the Pixies are shown in their full, gushing, giggling glory, prancing about in their horrible green uniforms and felt hats. Just imagine these theme park employees, naive little home-town girls all, being asked by a “big” movie producer to be in a real, live motion picture! They must have run home to tell their mommies: “Hey mom! I’m gonna be a movie star!”
There are some incredible insert shots here, featuring the Pixies giggling at the Wolf’s angry outbursts, which showcase the worst in acting but the best in precious, overwrought amateurism caught for posterity, like local dinner theatre captured in glaring Agfa-color closeup.
Other scenes show Merlin in rare form, molesting his beard while he stares, pop-eyed, at the Pixies. An older woman, who we suppose is playing Mrs. Santa Claus, stares angrily at the laughing kids in the puppet theatre, looking like she’s about to slap them. We can’t tell if she’s acting badly, or just pissed at being caught on camera.
Santa himself, again likely the resident icon from the Santa’s Village used for location shooting, laughs so awkwardly and spookily, he looks truly demented in his several closeups. A closeup of Santa laughing at his happy Pixies is so forced and eerie, it looks like it could pass for a Christmas card from Charles Starkweather!
In fact, there are LOTS of rare, delicious close-ups in this movie, of virtually everyone.
And VILLAGE features the Ferocious Wolf and Stinky the Skunk in more scenes than in the other two films. One might even say that there is more of Murray’s bizarre and expressionist US costumes for the two Mexican fairy tale icons than we ever cared to see. But for fans, this is sweet precious Wolf/Skunk heaven!
There are even several gruesome closeups of both animals, Stinky baring his grizzly teeth and Wolfie flopping around his ridiculously impotent red tongue.
This great obscurity has the home-movie look of its cousins, and begins with the expected travelogue sequences, as we take a tedious but thorough look at all the buildings in Santa’s Village. This section is padded with several shaky shots that appear to be outtakes and reel ends.
There are some primitive attempts at camera tricks, such as time-lapse photography and fast-motion scenes.
There is also a repeat of the creepy toy-making montage first used in 1964’s SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS. In this strange and disturbing sequence, we see close-ups of the young Pixies’ lovely hands (with nail polish!) stroking and fondling gleaming toy rifles, alternating with shots of other disembodied hands trying to put the head back onto a “Nurse doll”; it keeps popping off, a sequence that somehow insinuates violence towards women. And all of this to weird horror-movie music on the blaring soundtrack!
The final shot of the film, as Santa discovers the Wolf goofing off at the movie theatre, starts off with a close-up of the Wolf waving his paws at the puppets. We pan upwards to the back of the puppet theatre, which is shrouded in darkness. Suddenly, several floodlights come on, illuminating this portion of the building, in a transitional bit of footage that was surely intended to be discarded. Santa now opens the theatre door, peeks in, and laugh, his face washed out by the harsh lighting. This astounding shot can’t even be called a first take; it’s more like a captured technical rehearsal!
The soundtrack to VILLAGE is quite eclectic, stealing the opening and closing themes to Murray’s great THE QUEEN’S SWORDSMAN, but adding some original “music” that consists primarily of some blush-worthy, two-note accordion riffs and sketchy, casual percussion. And of course, there is repeated use of the public domain xylophone-based “Jingle Bells” that haunts all of Murray’s Santaland product.
The plot, although insular, is quite profound. The Ferocious Wolf of the Little Red Riding Hood tales, turns out to be the industrious one of the pair, whereas his life partner, Stinky the Skunk, is a friggin’ bum! The Wolf even complains to Santa that he’s an authority figure in name only!
Of course, in the end, the Wolf gives up, and becomes a no-good conformist consumer of pop culture like everyone else. So much for the tradition of excellence in craftsmanship! This little moral is more telling and more accurate for its period, than Murray & Company could have ever imagined.
The featured puppet show is indecipherable, and cut so choppily that it is impossible to follow, but something is clearly going on, because there is an odd closeup at one point of two kiddies doing the “Home Alone” shock-take over one of the puppet show bits. It makes us wonder what we missed!
As are the other two “Santaland” featurettes, VILLAGE is a Murray vanity piece: he gives himself credit FIVE times in these short films!
SANTA’S ENCHANTED VILLAGE is breathtaking time-capsule primitivism, an impossible curio of an innocent time, the desperate artifact of a most cynical mind.
DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case, wrapped in plastic!