(from Brian Moran's SANTO STREET magazine)

Director Rene Cardona's SANTA CLAUS remains the devil's most famous Mexican film vehicle. The infamous K. Gordon Murray imported this unique children's opus for holiday releases and it made the Florida entrepreneur a mint over the years. Love it or hate it, you'll never forget it!

SANTA CLAUS has taken some major lumps from many scribes of late. Indeed, the movie's cheap visual effects, hysterically literal English-language narration and lapses in logic could well be viewed as liabilities by conventional standards. This is not a conventional movie, however. Like any fairy tale worth its salt, its chintziness and childish absurdity exist in a fascinating marriage with some truly dark, imaginative images.

Adults may wonder why the emissary of Satan confines himself to messing around with the heads of a few little kids (instead of, say, creating plagues or starting a nuclear war). Pitch's narrow focus probably seems a lot more logical (and immediate) to a child's disproportionate sense of importance; after all, what's more important to a five-year old, world salvation or a nifty toy under the tree?

From the outset, Cardona sets Christmas story cliches on their ear with a sleighful of eyepoppingly colorful (and weird) ele- ments. Santa's headquarters floats on a cloud above the North Pole like something out of an old FLASH GORODN serial.

The strangeness extends to the interiors of Santa's pad, with high-tech gear (computers, high-tech surveillance equipment, etc.) perched alongside magical butterflies and opium-like plants. Some of the most creative touches appear to be budgetarily imposed; rather than incur the expense and logistic agony of using real reindeer, for example, Cardona converts Santa's eight deer team into life-sized, wind-up toys! The bright color scheme (mostly cotton-candy red and fluffy white) and unrealistic, but wildly creative visuals add to SANTA CLAUS' distinctive feel.

The presence of a devil as the principal heavy in a kid's film lends a bizarre dimension to the proceedings. With his horns, red face and tights, Pitch fits most classic visual perceptions of a demon, but his ineptitude and mewling neuroses make him more comical than menacing. His introduction during a dark, loping dance with a circle of likeclad hellions is as close as he gets to being really scary.

SANTA CLAUS ultimately works on two levels. Taken at face value, the movie offers grown-ups some unintended chuckles. The decidedly indelicate (to put it mildly) touch of "English Director" Ken Smith ranges from the thuddingly literal (If a character picks up a rock, you can be sure that the eternally chipper narrator will chirp, "Look! He's picking up a rock!") to the lofty realm of what-the-hell-speak. When Santa states," I will use the powder that will make you dream that you are awake. Awaken while you're dreaming," to one restless child before slipping the tyke sleeping powder, it's hard not to wonder if Kris Kringle hasn't been dipping into his own stash of wacky dust.

Beneath the naively goofy exterior, however, lies a hotbed of complex paradox. Pitch may be a troublemaker, but at least he makes no pretenses about his nature. Santa, on the other hand, employs kids - not elves - in his workshop (does Child Protective Services know about this\ ), spies on the children of the earth with voyeuristic fervor, pushes narcotics on the small fry and favors a pervert's chuckle over a hearty," Ho Ho Ho!" If Saint Nick wasn't toting the toys, the choice between the forces of "darkness" and "light" might not seem so clear cut...