Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
The Christmas Season is well known for its holiday music and movies, but there is a dark side to the trend of luring kids into matinees to bear witness to forced holiday cheer. For every MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), there is a SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964). For every IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), there’s a corresponding SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984). Actually, there are probably more dreadful Christmas movies than good ones. Somewhere far below the schlocky entertainment offered by the likes of serial-killer turned snowman JACK FROST (1997), the Mexican drugged-out inanities of SANTA CLAUS (1959), or the hell on earth that is JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996), there is the cesspool entitled SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972/1970 – I’ll explain the date mix-up later). I’ve watched hundreds of Christmas movies over the years, but this one is the true low point, lacking anything even closely resembling entertainment or Christmas cheer. It is a gut-punch to all that is beautiful and holy. It is the first Christmas movie made for children that seems designed to suck any happiness from every starry-eyed child in the world.
You think I am exaggerating? Super glue your eyelids open and turn this baby on.
Behind the credits, kids dressed as elves in outfits made by the producer’s grandma sing an unintelligible song. The only words I can make out are “la-la-la-la-la.” They pet toys, while the credits announce “Thumbelina Insert by B Mahon!” One elf looks outside for Santa and spots stock nature footage of a herd of moose grazing in a summer field! What season is this? A female narrator who sounds like Truman Capote on downers informs us that Santa’s sleigh is stuck in the sand on a beach in Florida. It was so hot, the reindeer have all gone away, and Santa sits in the sleigh, sweats a lot, and waves his hat in front of his face. Sure enough, a too-skinny Santa sits in his sleigh looking around and perspiring, then sings a song through dubbing, “Woe is me…who will give me a helping hand…and get my sleigh out of the sand?” Yep, that half inch of sand is really keeping him trapped and preventing lift-off.
Random kids are shown doing things like skipping rope, playing with dogs, wrestling like gay Greeks, and jumping off the garage roof wearing a parachute. Then, Santa falls instantly asleep, as if his meds just kicked in. The racially diverse group of children, resembling a Benetton ad from the late 1980s, hears an echoing Santa voice calling them and run to the sleigh. Even Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (and their pet raccoon on a string) steer their raft to the beach to a kazoo band playing Old Man River from the musical SHOW BOAT.
The kids rush off to find something to pull the sleigh from the half inch of sand, leaving Santa alone to sweat again for another couple of long minutes. Santa, instead of being proactive, just sits in the sleigh bemoaning his predicament. This guy gets around the world in one night delivering millions of toys? I doubt he could get to the cupboard for the Doritos.
Eventually, the kids return with various animals to help pull the sleigh out of the sand. First, a little girl brings a man in an ape suit, but the sleigh is stuck too tightly. Then, two kids bring a mule, then a screaming pig, a terrified sheep, a brown cow, and a horse. Then, Santa bitches for several more minutes about how he has to get out of the sand so he doesn’t disappoint the children all over the world, but he does nothing to actually escape!
The kids return, so Santa decides to tell the kids a story, and so begins Barry Mahon’s 1970, filmed at Pirate’s World Amusement Park film, THUMBELINA. A hippie-chick with terrifying eyebrows wanders the amusement park while a whole new set of credits play again (is Santa relaying the credits to the kids in his story?). Eventually the mini-skirted chick ends up in a room full of dioramas portraying the tale of Thumbelina, a girl no larger than a clothespin, all narrated by a disembodied voice over a PA system. A single lonely woman goes to a witch to have a child and is rewarded with a freakishly miniscule daughter. The tiny girl leaves her spinster-Mom’s home to get married to a horny frog. She escapes, lives with a woman in a mole costume and eventually falls in love with a rich old mole. They all resemble a relatively restrained furry convention. And, yes, everyone sings a lot of dull songs on semi-professional sets. To be honest, although THUMBELINA is pretty bad, it’s a typical kiddie matinee from the 1960s—no better or worse than most. These things were churned out with ridiculously low budgets and actors from local amateur theater troupes all over the world. Other examples of this odd sub-genre include THE MAGIC LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE, 1967 (directed by the Wizard of Gore himself, H.G. Lewis!), THE PRINCESS AND THE SWINEHERD, 1968, and LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND TOM THUMB VS. THE MONSTERS, 1965, which I would love to see! So, if you remember after the hour of Thumbelina, yes, Santa is STILL telling this story to the children on the beach!
As bad as the Thumbelina segment is, it’s like CITIZEN KANE (1941) compared to the Santa segments . . . where we are again, watching Santa sweat while the kids watch him. Nobody seems very motivated to get Santa back to the North Pole. Oh, to return to the cut-rate flower power hippie musical from Pirate’s World. The one directed by Barry Mahon, yes THAT Barry Mahon, who directed PAGAN ISLAND (1961), FANNY HILL MEETS DR. EROTICO (1969), A GOOD TIME WITH A BAD GIRL (1967), THE GIRL WITH THE MAGIC BOX (1965), and THE DIARY OF KNOCKERS MCCALLA (1969). He was the obvious choice to helm a kid’s feature based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale! It does, however, explain the strange erotic tension between Thumbelina and Mr. Digger, the mole.
Back to Santa in the sand. . .
The kids suddenly run away, as if learning Santa Claus was a sex offender…or an algebra teacher. Santa strips off his coat and belt, and an antique fire truck (helpfully pushed by a visible production assistant) driven by a guy in a cheap white rabbit suit arrives, and all the kids are piled up in back. It’s a vision of horror as the fire truck is shoved through Pirate’s World and down to the beach. I’m starting to see why this film was made—it’s a 90 minute advertisement for a pathetic amusement park! Yes, this could be the best WTF! moment ever in a children’s production. And it goes on forever! For. Ev. Er. Santa exclaims, “Why my old friend the ice cream bunny!” The hell-spawn rabbit, which had to terrify children everywhere, gives Santa a ride in his fire truck. Then, Santa teleports the sleigh back to the North Pole. What? Why didn’t he just do that at the beginning instead of complaining for what seemed like days about being stranded? Plus, why is this an ice cream bunny? There isn’t a scoop of ice cream to be seen!
Full of padding (including an entire film from two years previous), SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY is easily the worst Christmas movie ever made. From the terrible direction, the lousy acting and dubbing, the bad songs, and the freaky sexy vibe between tiny hippie chicks and earth-burrowing mammals, to the ridiculous ending and scary/evil rabbit suit, this is a movie that can honestly only be enjoyed under the influence of controlled substances or while RiffTrax pokes fun at it. There has never been another movie like this one. Thank God!
I give SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY one closed-down amusement park out of four.
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl