By Rob Craig,

SANTA CLAUS is an extraordinary film, likely the most perverse, absurd, complex and subversive movie ever made expressly for children. There are simply too many bizarre happenings going on to be safely absorbed by any self-respecting '1960's tot. One wonders whether history will paint K. Gordon Murray as a devil or a saviour. One might think of him as no worse than Disney, bringing to cinematic life time-worn, cliche fairy tales and hoary cultural myths. But where Disney shined them up like an apple, Murray beat them to death with extreme prejudice.

Perhaps this is a plus, forcing society to examine and reevaluate the fairy tales and holiday icons it feeds to its children. But the consistently sinister quality in almost all of Murray's product, an enervating sense of spiritual malaise and malevolent occult manipulation, haunts all of his films to this day, and at the time of their original heyday, led one theatre-chain owner to reportedly dub the Florida producer, "Disney from Hell."

One paranoid theory suggests that Murray was in fact engaged in a deliberate effort to corrupt the youth of America, by the overt and covert insertion of occult reference into children's cinema. Though the methods would be largely subliminal, the effects would be eventually evident, and it is curious to note how interest in the occult skyrocketed in the mid-to-late 1960's, just when Murray's reign as shadow-Disney was waning.

One must not forget, when one counters that relatively few children probably went to any given Murray movie, that virtually every child saw (numerous times most likely) the TV spots for the films, which were plastered all over TV-creation in Murray's saturation advertising campaigns.

Aside from invoking an intense sense of paranoia, the child viewer is hit with myriad references to a creepy connection between technology and the occult (a theme that oddly pops up in much postwar kiddie-cinema.) And it is obvious that both the Mexican film-makers and Murray are trying to expand the S. Claus myth to where he is, essentially, a cross between God, Jesus and the elder gods of Greek mythology.

Regardless, SANTA CLAUS, Murray's first import and mass-marketing genius-stroke, was his crowning achievement, and let loose the floodgates of inferior, infernal product for kiddies for decades to come. Murray was the first (before Disney followed) to rent out films on a strictly "weekends-only" matinee policy, as even the Disney films were shown both at night and day at neighborhood theatres. And, like the snake-oil salesman of yore, Murray and his latest absurdity would be in (and out) of town in three days, long before word-of-mouth could get around as to how awful and diabolical the movie was, or even worse, how traumatic. At any rate, Murray's U.S. release of SANTA CLAUS was a huge hit in it's first release in October 1960, and in it's subsequent rerelease every three years thereafter, well into the stoned mid- 1970's.

As diabolical as SANTA CLAUS is, this movie would have been even weirder if Murray hadn't snipped out the coolest shot from the original Mexican version: A long line of hooded, chained lost souls walking towards the gates of Hell, wailing and gnashing of teeth... SANTA CLAUS was a huge success in its first release in 1960, and in major rereleases in 1964, 1967, 1970 and 1974. By the time I saw this infernal classic on the big screen, in 1974, the print was so red it looked like the inferno itself, and so choppy it sounded like it had been turned back into a foreign film. In short, it was incoherent, but it still ran through the projector, which was apparently Murray's criterion for releasing a film. When the SC prints finally deteriorated so badly that they couldn't be shown intact, the crafty Murray would snip out passable segments and splice them into one of his creepy featurettes, like SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS, or into one of his cost-saving "anthologies" (MOTHER GOOSE' BIRTHDAY PARTY, THE BROTHERS GRIMM STORYBOOK FAIR, SANTA'S FANTASY FAIR), which were just receptacles for odd reels of several "fairy tale" movies that had completely fallen apart. This assessment of Murray's cost-saving strategy is given credence by the fact that no two prints of these featurettes/anthologies are exactly the same.