Today on the (Plot)opsy Podcast, I am spotlighting a particularly infamous IMDb Bottom 100 film as part of the 15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies: a 1959 Mexican production called “Santa Claus.” Despite the simple title, this is one of the strangest Christmas movies out there: the plot involves Satan, Merlin, some of the creepiest surveillance devices in cinema history, robotic reindeer, and Santa’s captive child workforce who are housed indefinitely in his space castle. I recommend seeking it out.
Be sure to visit my cohorts in the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies”:
Continuing with the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies”, today’s entry is on the 1996 Hulk Hogan vehicle “Santa With Muscles”. Get ready for some Santamania!
“Santa With Muscles” is one of a handful of attempts to turn Hulk Hogan into a legitimate crossover star. After his performance in “Rocky III”, Hulk starred in a string of unsuccessful movies. Much can be said of his films like “No Holds Barred” and “Suburban Commando”, but his movie career was undoubtedly more successful than his brief music career, which consisted of one hilarious album entitled “Hulk Rules”. I suggest looking it up on YouTube, it is pretty laughable.
The plot of Santa With Muscles centers around the egomaniac health mogul and millionaire Blake Thorne (played by Hulk Hogan), who, after becoming severely concussed during a run-in with police, wakes up believing himself to be Santa Claus. This leads to Thorne becoming a vigilante orphan advocate in his local community, all while a con man pretending to be his elf (Don Stark) tries to prevent him from re-discovering his identity as part of an elaborate attempt at bank fraud.
Another plot surfaces when a it is revealed that a local eccentric health-obsessive and germophobe (Ed Begley, Jr) is terrorizing an orphanage via his super-powered minions (their powers, of course, are not explained). Their actions prompt Thorne to repeatedly intervene on behalf of the orphanage, gaining him minor celebrity status as a peace-keeper along the way.
Among the orphanage residents is the now famous actress Mila Kunis, in one of her earliest film roles. Interestingly enough, co-star Don Stark would later play her father for many years on the hit sitcom “That 70’s Show”.The sleeveless Santa suit that Hogan wears for much of the movie is designed in-story by Mila Kunis’s character, Sarah. When asked about the design, she claims that it was inspired by a comic book, specifically “Mega Man #96”. Mega Man is a well known video game hero and one of the franchise faces of Capcom. While he has had a couple of comic book runs, none have made it to #98, and the blue robotic boy does not much resemble Santa Claus, nor does he use a utility belt or wear a red suit. That said, his creator, Dr Light, bears a significant similarity to the jolly saint nick. But, I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a real connection there.
The executive producer of “Santa With Muscles” is none other than Jordan Belfourt, a man now famous as “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Belfourt served as Executive Producer of six movies in 1996, including “Santa with Muscles” and another Hulk Hogan family feature called “Secret Agent Club”. Belfourt also became good friends with notorious B-movie director David DeCoteau during this brief fling with the movie business. DeCoteau later loosely adapted Belfourt’s tales from Wall Street into a homoerotic werewolf movie called “The Wolves of Wall Street”, a flick that predated Scorcese’s famous work by a solid decade.
At the beginning of “Santa With Muscles”, Hulk Hogan is playing a character clearly based heavily on himself, but he is inexplicably a complete dick to everyone around him. Why might that be? Well, this is more justified than you might think: it isn’t a Dickensian redemption tale for the sake of Christmas alone.
In July of 1996, Hulk Hogan made the shocking move to turn heel for the first time in his career: a term used to signify a “villain” in the pro wrestling community. Ironically, this turn to the dark side coincided with his adoption of the nickname “Hollywood”: I’m guessing he had higher aspirations for his film career than “3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain”. In any case Hulk continued on as a consistent villain in the WCW wrestling league for a number of years after this. The November 1996 release of “Santa With Muscles” places it in the midst of Hulk’s sinister turn, so it makes sense that he plays a callous and cold character as the story unfolds.
According to IMDb’s trivia section, the original author’s draft of “Santa with Muscles” was changed so extensively that he sued to have his name taken off of the film. I haven’t found any information to independently substantiate the rumor, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if this were true. The three credited writers on the film include one person with no other credits of any kind, a fellow who is only credited as an assortment of extras (he played a water slide attendant in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, apparently), and another person with a handful of credits solely as a casting assistant. It isn’t exactly a writing dream team.
“Santa With Muscles” director John Murlowski was also responsible for the other 1996 Hulk Hogan movie, “Secret Agent Club”. However, he is probably best known for helming the film “Cop Dog”: a kid’s movie in which the ghost of a dead dog possessed by a fallen cop leads a young child on a quest for revenge. It is a very strange film.
Among the accessory cast of “Santa With Muscles” are Clint Howard, who is the brother of famed director Ron Howard (and a stalwart B-movie character actor in his own right). He has featured in movies such as “The Ice Cream Man” and “Evilspeak”, not to mention a veritable drove of Uwe Boll movies. Also appearing is Garret Morris, best known as an inaugural cast member of NBC’s beloved comedy sketch program Saturday Night Live.
The climax of “Santa With Muscles” sees Hulk Hogan doing battle with Ed Begley Jr (clad, as always, in a hazmat suit) in an expansive cave below the orphanage. It is revealed that the building sits atop a mine filled with valuable explosive crystals, which is why Begley had been trying to expel the orphans. It is also inexplicably revealed that both men were raised in the orphanage as children, and at one point were best friends. In light of these bizarre and lazy revelations, the two men have a sword fight with the highly explosive crystals, which somehow doesn’t blow them both up into tiny meat chunks. The aftermath of the battle does ultimately see the orphanage explode, after which Thorne opens his mansion up as a new location for the children, completing his redemption.
On to the plotopsy of the film: what led to the failure of “Santa With Muscles”?
First off, it is just too damn cartoon-y. The villains have ridiculous unexplained superpowers, and chew their way through scenery throughout the film. Ed Begley Jr’s lead villain is played as such an over the top germophobe that the trees in front of his house are shown covered in plastic. That kind of thinking makes my brain want to implode.
Of course, centering a movie around Hulk Hogan isn’t such a great idea either. He may be a good showman, but he is a horrendous actor. Watching him stumble through lines in this movie is embarrassing, particularly during an interview sequence where he is supposed to be acting nervous. It takes an unfathomable void of talent to not be able to appear nervous and confused. Last but certainly not least, this script is absolutely abysmal. The plot is baffling and poorly paced, and the dialogue is awkward and stilted throughout the film. I am kind of curious what the original draft looked like, and how it managed to be mutated into the state that it ended up in.
All in all, I absolutely recommend giving Santa With Muscles a watch if you can find a copy of it. It is definitely a movie you have to see to believe, and it may be the worst entry in Hulk Hogan’s abysmal filmography. The pacing slows down significantly here and there, but there are generally enough confusing and outlandish moments to keep your eyebrows cocked and your jaw on the floor through the entire run time.
That’s all for today’s (Plot)opsy Podcast here at the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! I recommend checking out the rest of the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies”. Here’s what you will find this week:
So, make sure to check in with all of those good folks as part of the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies”! Also, make sure to check back here next week for the next (Plot)opsy Podcast on the infamous 1959 Mexican Christmas movie: “Santa Claus”
Today, as part of the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies” pod crawl, I will be talking about the B-movie holiday classic and IMDb Bottom 100 stalwart, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”.
To begin with, the setting of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is a bit peculiar. In this universe, Santa Claus is an established, real person: there is no particular mystery or mysticism associated with him. This is fairly bizarre for a Christmas movie, to say the least: most use the mystery surrounding him as part of the story. The movie even opens with Santa being casually interviewed on TV at the north pole (where he, of course, has a physical workshop in the near-uninhabitable tundra). This sequence also features the first appearance of the character Mrs. Claus on the big screen, as “SCCTM” predated “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” to the theaters by 3 weeks in 1964. Santa also strangely forgets the names of his reindeer during this scene, famously referring to “Blitzen” as “Nixon”. Keep in mind, at this point in time Nixon was only know as the former Vice President of the United States, and as the man who lost the Presidency to a Catholic.
Part of the charm of “SCCTM” comes from a horde of cheap effects used throughout the film: these include the kind-of animated introductory credits, a man in a polar bear suit that makes the bear fight in Lou Ferrigno’s “Hercules” look dignified, a cardboard killer robot named Torg (not to be confused with Torgo from “Manos: The Hands of Fate”), space ships of Ed Wood levels of quality, and martian costumes consisting of what appear to be spare television and vacuum cleaner parts. Last but not least, the Martians carry magic guns (capable of freezing or tickling targets) that are just recolored “Wham-O” air blasters. Personally, I can’t hold the fact that the production was frugal with effects too harshly against them, but the end result of all of these cost-saving decisions is pretty entertaining to see on screen.
A lot of fanfare has been made regarding the inaccuracy of the title of this movie. Santa does not do any fighting in the movie, and doesn’t claim Mars for the glory of the North Pole. The more accurate title is “Santa Claus and the Martian Civil War”: the conflict of the story comes from a split in martian society over whether the joy of Christmas should be assimilated into their lifestyle. The martian elder Chochem warns that the children of Mars will become rebellious if they are not exposed to yule-tide cheer, a controversial declaration which sparks the initial martian expedition to retrieve Santa in the first place, and plants the seeds of the eventual martian rebellion by Voldar. so if anything Santa is a catalyst to conflict, not a space conquistador.
Despite not featuring any real conquering, there is a climactic fight scene in the movie, in which toys are used by Santa Claus and the martian children to annoy and distract Voldar and the martian rebels until they are subdued by Kimar and his loyalist soldiers. It is a frenetically shot scene that needs to be seen to be believed, and is perhaps the most infamous sequence in the film.
The leader of the martian rebels, Voldar, is one of the most purely evil characters in the history of film. He not only convinces the martians to kidnap and interrogate a pair of human children, but he also attempts to murder Santa Claus and two kidnapped children on multiple occasions, including an incident in which he attempts to launch them into the void of space via an airlock. He is also established to be particularly bellicose and fond of war, at one point commenting on Mars’s past as a military society. Mars, of course, is the romanticized name for Greek god Ares, who is the god of war in both mythologies. He also has a legendarily villainous mustache, just in case it wasn’t clear to the audience that he would be the mutinous villain of the story.
It is worth noting that the Martian naming conventions in the script and by and large astoundingly lazy: four of the primary martian characters are named Kimar, Momar, Bomar, Girmar. standing for “King Martian”, “Mom Martian”, “Boy Martian”, and “Girl Martian”, respectively.
One of the most memorable parts of “SCCTM” is undeniably the theme song, Hooray for Santa (or Santy) Claus: it is absurdly catchy, and features some mean trumpet work to boot. I specifically recall finding the sheet music to this is my high school band’s archives, and despite my pleadings, we ultimately never performed it publicly. The song is arguably the best thing to come about as a result of this film, though you probably won’t hear it on a Christmas radio station.
Infamous actress Pia Zadora appears in this film as Girmar in her first on-screen role (she was 8 years old at the time). She is best known as a punching bag for movie critics in the 1980s, particularly for her Razzie nominated roles in “Butterfly” and “The Lonely Lady”. Bafflingly, she also received a Golden Globe for her performance in “Butterfly”, a decision that is mocked and criticized to this day
At the end of the movie, it is decided that one of the martians (Dropo, who provides much of the film’s comic relief) will take on all the duties of Santa Claus for Mars. It is never made clear as to why this wasn’t tried in the first place: the martians have a concept of what Santa does, and it is established that they have earth television programs that feature him prominently. Why wouldn’t they try to replicate Santa’s work first, instead of going through the trouble of apprehending Santa? Who knows?
The cult status of SCCTM is iconic among “so bad it is good movies” and Christmas movies alike. it particularly took off in popularity after it was featured in the show MST3K in the 1990s. The movie has since seen multiple adaptations to the stage, is often cited as one of the worst movies of all time in professional publications, has become a staple in the IMDb Bottom 100 ranking, inspired a spin-off novelization, and was even re-dubbed in Brazil as a drug comedy called “Santa and the Magic Powder”. It was re-riffed live by the Mike Nelson MST3K crew as part of a Rifftrax Live event in December of 2013, which was simulcast in theaters around the United States and Canada.
As to the Plotopsy of SCCTM, what went wrong with this production? As I previously mentioned, the defining aspect of the movie is frugality, bordering on frank cheapness. That said, there is an honest charm to this film that has turned it into the cult classic that it is, much of which is rooted in those same financial limitations of the production. So, when it comes down to it, the movie’s weakness is its strength, and it wouldn’t be what it is without it. The cheesy writing is also often criticized, but to a certain degree, that was unavoidable: after all, this was intended as a simple children’s film, so cheesy elements were going to seep in regardless. Director Nicholas Webster did have success directing television, so he certainly wasn’t incompetent behind a camera (though the failure of SCCTM pretty much killed his chances with features). There are even some shockingly half-decent shots to be found in SCCTM, so unlike many bad movies, it isn’t so much a failure on a technical level.
I can’t recommend this one highly enough, especially with the MST3k riffs. It is horrible and absolutely deserving of a place in the IMDb Bottom 100, but it is also an absolute blast. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already, it is readily available on YouTube.
You can catch up with the 15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies over with the Stinker Madness Podcast who just covered “Home Alone 3”, the If We Made It Podcast who just did “Ernest Saves Christmas”, the JT Movie Podcast, who took aim at “Jack Frost” this week (notably the creepy snowman one, not the Michael Keaton one), and Dark Corners of This Sick World on YouTube, who are featuring one of my personal holiday bad movie favorites this coming Monday, “Elves”: because nothing says Merry Christmas like a Nazi incest plot.
Make sure to tune in next week for my next entry in the 15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies, which will feature the Hulk Hogan vehicle and fellow IMDB bottom 100 member, “Santa with Muscles”
Episode 3 of the (Plot)opsy Podcast spotlights one of my favorite good-bad movies, 1986’s “Maximum Overdrive”. Stephen King took up the role of director for the first and last time in this cult classic about killer machines possessed by aliens…or a comet…or something. It features some of the most ridiculous deaths in mainstream cinema history, and is a must-see flick for bad movie fans. As it turns out, there are some interesting narratives tied up behind the scenes of this one as well. Enjoy!
The trailer for Maximum Overdrive oozes with hubris on the part of Stephen King, who introduces the film in much the same way that Alfred Hitchcock once did. King does this while simultaneously putting down the many well-regarded adaptations of his works by other film-makers in the past. I’m sure this trailer is one of the more embarrassing entries in the history of Stephen King.
On episode 2 of the (Plot)opsy Podcast, I decided to talk about something a little different. Instead of a movie, I decided to take a look at the aftermath of the collapse of BlockBuster Video, and the current state of the physical media market for movies. There is more to movie shops than just movies, after all: there is the movie shop culture to be considered.
You can check out episode 1 of the (Plot)opsy Podcast, on “Guardians of the Galaxy” and James Gunn, here.
Welcome to the first episode of Misan[trope]y’s (Plot)opsy Podcast! My name is Gordon Maples, writer of the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog and a somewhat obsessive film buff.
Here on the (Plot)opsy Podcast, you can hear yet another dude on the internet talk about movies. More specifically, I will be looking at the narratives behind movies: their cultural contexts, the startling personalities around them, and the curious production paths that led to their creation. I am going to focus on memorable films, both good and bad, new and old. I intend to be joined by guests in the future dissections, but today, on the pilot, you just have me. Welcome to the (Plot)opsy. Scrub up.
This first feature I am covering is the smash hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” by Troma alum and generally awesome weirdo James Gunn. Listen to the whole episode below: