Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1113
Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Holiday movies are, of course, a genre unto themselves. But within that genre is a (now, alas, extinct) subgenre which I like to call “Drop-Off” movies. The idea was this: you load the kids up into the wood-paneled station wagon, drive to the mall, plop them in front of the movie theatre for two hours and do all of the Christmas shopping at once. Cheap, low-budget schlock the likes of Santa Claus (1959) and the notorious Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), slapped together to keep juvenile bums on seats while Mom runs to the Korvette’s were a mainstay of the postwar holiday season. Of such ilk is this week’s experiment, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966).
Cold opening has the SOL crew in a merry mood and forgetting the words to Good King Wenceslas. On the moon, there’s an argument about whether anyone in this age of Netflix is actually watching it during the holidays. To the invention exchange: Jonah presents the “Re-gifter”: basically a variation of the nesting boxes illusion. Moon 13’s contribution is Humbug FM: a radio that filters out seasonal music and replaces it with godawful atrocious din. Er, different godawful atrocious din.
So, this movie: it’s an Italian import (quite a surprising number of “Drop-off” films were redubbed imports, actually) in which a fellow by the name of Phineas T. Prune buys the North Pole and threatens to evict Santa & co unless they come up with some rent toot suite. Santa, distraught, goes to Sam Whipple, Attorney at Law, who once promised to help Santa out should he ever need anything. They hit on the scheme of getting Santa a job…as a department store Santa. Go figure. Unfortunately, Prune catches wind of this and, in a move of supreme dickishness, buys up the department store. Anyway, it all works out in the end, and it turns out Phineas is a grump because he never got that sailboat he wanted as a kid. And not, as you might think, because he has to go around being called Phineas T. Prune. I mean, that would do it for me.
The first host segment has the SOL crew deconstructing the traditional toys that you always get in these kinds of movies. Your tin soldiers, your rocking horse, your wooden train set. Year in, year out. LEGO? Transformers? Those neat collectible dolls you put on a base and play video games with? Not in Santa’s workshop! The verdict? Skip the toys and be naughty.
The second host segment has Jonah & the bots discussing the creepy and unsettling toys that are found in the store in the movie. They take several of the more egregious examples in turn, and try to come up with non-horrible explanation for each. Also, they manage to work in a Firesign Theatre reference–one that’s appeared on the show before, in fact. Unfortunately, they wind up freaking themselves out and retreat back to the theatre.
In the third segment, we get a visit from…you guessed it, Santa himself. Santa, portrayed by Joel Hodgson, is busy getting ready for his big night, and dealing with Whipple, who his still hanging around. In the riffing, they’ve been going with this whole idea of Whipple being an adult baby, and this winds up being carried into the host segment as well. Frankly, I found this whole bit not particularly funny and in fact rather off-putting, so to see them carry it on here did not improve matters. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I could have done without it.
Post movie, and it’s a syrupy montage, with gifts flying in all directions. The SOL crew all get sweaters with each other’s monogrammed initials. Max gives Kinga a painting of her, which she immediately throws away (but then secretly fishes out later). Max gets a first aid kit of his very own. Everybody waves, and goes off to watch some Rankin-Bass.
So, another hackneyed holiday film enters the MST3K canon. Possibly not destined for the legendary heights of, say, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, but uniquely painful in its own right. It does a great job of hitting all the bog-standard holiday cliches, right down to the saccharine-drenched happy ending. The awkward humor, the extremely uneven songs, the whole thing coming together in a sort of cinematic marshmallow fluff. But don’t weep for the demise of the drop-off film: even now, as we speak, dozens of cheap CGI cartoons are being prepared for the Christmas market. Who knows, maybe one day the SOL crew will be exposed to the glory that is Cartoon Elf Sparkle Meets Christmas The Horse. If they ever do, we all win.
What do you think, sirs?
Kelly Luck doesn’t get godawful Hanukah movies to sit through. She can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.