Sunday, November 7, 2021

Santa's Fairy Tales: Vol. 1 (1964, 1987)

... aka: Santa's Fairy Tales: Volume One

Directed by:
"Manuel San Fernando" (prolly K. Gordon Murray)

This 1987 VHS release from United American Video Corp., which probably sold a zillion copies around Christmastime in the late 80s, is the perfect embodiment of what scam art distributors would regularly release to hapless consumers back in the day. I can imagine many unsuspecting parents picking this up for their kids, popping it in when they got home and being irate at making their kids suffer through promotional videos for an incredibly lame looking and outdated theme park. Even worse, instead of getting the heartwarming family fun they'd anticipated, their little ones ended up traumatized for life! Containing two 1960s short subjects (Santa's Enchanted Village and Santa's Magic Kingdom) and with a running time falling well short of the claimed 30 minutes, these two mini-films were nothing more than PR for Santa's Village amusement parks. At one time there were a handful of these parks scattered around the U.S. in places like Santa Cruz and Skyforest, California and East Dundee, Illinois. By 1977, after Santa's Village Corporation filed for bankruptcy, some of these parks closed for good while others remained open, though under new ownership and with new names and new attractions. The location in Skyforest (near Lake Arrowhead) became Skypark at Santa's Village, while the Dundee location currently operates at Santa's Village AZoosment Park.

You may be wondering why something like this would even be covered here. Well, let's hear from a few unsatisfied former child customers via the Youtube comments section...

  • "So creepy." - dan Hamakua
  • "My brother and I used to have this on a VHS...we were just talking about it. It always creeped us both out." - Life Unpaged
  • "When I was 4 my mom rented a VHS tape from some church. It had this damn thing on it instead of the Christmas cartoons we were expecting. I dreamed night after night that the skunk thing was in my basement and had me cornered, speaking in its nasally squeaks. Years of trying to make my parents remember the tape followed. Only my brother shared the same fear so I knew it was real in some way. I stumbled upon this 3 days ago and showed the rest of my family. My mom instantly knew what it was, but said she blocked it from her memory "so she didn't have to think about it anymore." - Santa's Ashes
  • "I'm horrified" - ?Mystery Nyan?
  • "Glad to know the title of this. Now my therapist will stop thinking I'm insane." - awfulsails

Both of these shorts were directed by one "Manuel San Fernando," who I'm pretty sure is actually one K. Gordon Murray. Murray was best known for cheaply acquiring the rights to Mexican movies like SANTA CLAUS (1959) and LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND THE MONSTERS (1962), dubbing and re-editing them and then releasing them as children's matinee features. Murray also handled more adult-oriented sci-fi and horror films from South of the border, but his family movies are most remembered due to the fact they typically horrified the children who viewed them. However, Murray was also involved in a few of this own productions, which is where these shorts came from. As a 13-year-old teen delinquent once said on The Maury Show, "It's all about the fast money, baby!" and Murray apparently made a fortune doing what he did.

Santa's Enchanted Village opens with recycled footage from the 1959 Santa Claus showing us Santa's magical outer space kingdom. Thanks to Merlin the Magician's discovery of the "5th Dimension," Santa is able to be countless places at once (like at every Santa's Village in the U.S., of course!) and also has many different homes (like every Satan's Village across the U.S.!). His village has all of the necessities, like a reindeer barn, a toy workshop filled with slave laborers (the boys are "elves" and the girls are "pixies"), a "chapel of the good shepherd" (?!) and even a (much too small!) North Pole despite not being like, ya know, anywhere near the North Pole.

Mistaking the pole for ice cream, Stinky the Skunk starts licking it and gets his ass chewed out by Puss 'N Boots. He then goes to his toy workshop job and leaves again, which infuriates his boss, The Ferocious Wolf, who then grumbles incomprehensibly and goes after him. That culminates with the wolf beating the skunk with a tree branch (!) in front of a bunch of children at a puppet theater (!) Santa Claus is shown several times, robotically laughing in an incredibly disturbing manner at the various events. The combination of tuneless accordion music, fog-enshrouded buildings shot at Dutch angles, giant mushrooms (!) everywhere and nightmarish-looking characters really does turn this into a creepy experience.

Next up is Santa's Magic Kingdom, which starts with Santa giving us a tour of his village as he takes his sleigh and reindeer hostages into the dark recesses of an ice cave, and then cuts to Merlin the Magician taking over the tour cause he can do it quicker using the - you guessed it! - "5th Dimension." The horrifying sights that follow include a 6-foot-rabbit riding a train that looks about a 10 mph gust of wind away from falling right off the tracks, manic depressive whistles and a slumped-over, dead-eyed jack-in-the-box. We also gets to see the Easter Bunny's home, a post office, a gingerbread house and a toy factory, all accompanied by stolen horror movie music (?) Unlike the previous short, this one attempts something of a plot after awhile.

Puss 'N Boots, chief of the theme park security, has received reports of an ogre who's about to attack the village. As a princess rushes off to warn Santa, Puss encounters the ogre, who looks less like an ogre and more like a plaster dinosaur head. The "ogre" then threatens "Where are you Santa Claus? I am looking for you! And when I find you, I am going to destroy you and your villages!" Merlin then must do battle with the "ogre" which takes place entirely off-screen and then we're treated to the cast singing along to some operatic vocal that never once matches their lip movements. Eegads. It's very rare that I watch something that has no redeeming qualities whatsoever but I'm really struggling here!

The same company also released "Santa's Fairy Tales: Volume Two," which features two more ancient shorts again "presented by" Jeffrey C. Hogue. The first is Murray's Santa Claus and His Helpers, which was yet another Santa's Village promo video featuring the same characters and shot at the same time. It, and the other two, were edited by future hardcore porno director Jack Remy. The other is The Magic Snowman, a re-title of the 1944 German short Der Schneemann (aka Christmas in July), which is at least a proper piece of animation.


Kulay dugo ang gabi (1964)

... aka: Blood Drinkers, The
... aka: Blood Is the Color of Night
... aka: Color of Night
... aka: Night Was Bloody, The
... aka: Vampire People

Directed by:
Gerardo de Leon

An amazing crew that consists of two sunglass-sporting vampires, an old woman, a dwarf, a hunchback and a bat familiar named Basra take a carriage out to an old country home. There, they pull out a coffin, remove the fairly-well-preserved corpse of Katrina (Amalia Fuentes in a blonde wig) and hook it up to some weird electronic centrifuge / transfusion machine. The young dead girl briefly wakes up, but just as quickly dies again. The bald, whip-wielding male vampire, Dr. Marco (Ronald Remy), then tells his followers they immediately need to locate Katrina's sister because she'll be needed for a heart transplant! This memorable little opening sequence is made all the more unique due to the fact it's not full color and it's not black-and-white. It's mostly tinted blue, but then suddenly switches to red the moment Katrina revives, before switching back to blue whenever she dies again. If you assume this is a weird, pseudo-arty, intentional stylistic choice from the director, you'd be both right AND wrong. And there's a good explanation behind all that...

Back in the day, the Filipino film industry wasn't exactly swimming in cash and color film stock was expensive, so this "first color horror picture produced in the Philippines" (as the poster puts it) had to cut some corners to get where it needed to go. While a lot of it was indeed shot with actual color film stock, the rest was filmed in black-and-white and then tinted various colors. While this may have been an issue of budget necessity, de Leon deserves at least a little credit for coming up with ways to make the abrupt switch in the film's look actually make some sense. However, this doesn't always carry on after this initial sequence.

We next meet Katrina's twin sister, Charito (also Fuentes, with her natural brunette hair), who's apparently the biggest catch in all the village as she's being serenaded by four different guys when we first meet her. Marco and the others watch from afar and plot to kidnap her but are talked out of it by the old woman - Marissa (Mary Walter) - who turns out to be both Katrina and Charito's mother. However, Marissa had no hand in raising Charito. Instead, she gave her to an otherwise childless couple; Elias (Paquito Salcedo) and Losela (Felisa Salcedo), when she was just an infant and then relocated to another country to raise Katrina.

The hunchback and Marco attack a young lady walking through the woods as it switches from green to full color to violet to orange all within the same sequence! They drain her blood and give it to Katrina who, again, is only temporarily revived. The victim's body is discover nude and discarded in a field, which puts the villagers on high alert. Marissa then lures Charito's adoptive parents to their death and reveals herself to be the girl's real mother; insisting she come and stay with her. Charito passes on her offer at first and returns home, using the spare room to put up village visitor Victor de la Cruz (Eddie Fernandez), his sister Rhona (Eva Montes) and their mother Mawra instead. Everyone becomes involved when Charito's parents return from the grave as vampires and have to be staked by a priest's scar-faced, crippled assistant.

Charito finally relents on staying with her "auntie" / mother in her mansion home. There, she's introduced to the rest of the gang, including Dr. Marco and his "assistant" / blood donor / lover Tanya (Celia Rodriguez). They beat the snot out of Victor when he visits and then kick him out, so he goes to the police (who are of no help) and then the priest (Andres Benitez). Having a crisis of conscience, Marissa finally comes clean to her daughter about what Marco's plans for her entail. She's able to escape the home but is put under the spell of Basra the bat before leaving, who becomes her "master" and can bring her back there at any time.

You can almost entirely dismiss the "plot" here. Well, what little there is of it and what still makes any sense after what the English distributors did to it. It's mostly just your usual bloodsucker stuff with heavy doses of Catholic mumbo jumbo ("Satan will be with us always on this Earth. His power can be stopped only if we take to heart and believe in the power of Jesus!") and absolutely awful English dubbing. Prolific Filipino character actor Vic Diaz was even drafted to narrate the English-version and try to make sense of it. The vampire's minions add a little flavor to the proceedings but it's not quite enough to overcome the endless narrative issues, wonky editing and general incoherence on display. To my knowledge, the original Filipino / Tagalog language version is not available to view and may no longer even still exist so I have no clue what differences there may be between the two versions.

Where this excels, even if by accident at times, is that it's visually fascinating from start to finish. The great moody lighting, combined with fog, shadow and tinting, creates images unlike anything else you're likely to see and many of the shots are truly outstanding in their beauty. On those terms alone, this is a must see for those who place high importance on aesthetics. Though I'm the type who prefers visuals accompanied by a decent script and I didn't get that here, the look of this movie was strong enough to keep me entranced even as the plot was flailing about like drunken fish.

This has another unexpected ace up its sleeve. With his bald head and ruddy skin, Remy may not be everybody's ideal of a dashing vampire count, but he puts a good deal of emotion and heart into the role and is quite effective as the romantic vampire desperately trying to resurrect his love. This does cause another narrative issue, though: We're much more invested in a positive outcome for him than we are for the safety of our (bland) "heroes"! Remy receives some good support from a few of the other actors, especially Walter and Rodriguez. Cirio H. Santiago was the producer.

This was nominated for five FAMAS Awards (the Filipino Oscar equivalent), including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, with only Rodriguez winning in the latter category. Could you even imagine the uptight U. S. Oscars nominating a film featuring a dwarf and a hunchback kung fu fighting and a mesmeric bat-on-a-string in ANY category, let alone as Best Picture of the year?

Like most other early Filipino genre films that actually are still around, this managed to survive to present day because it was a U. S. co-production. It was first released theatrically in America by Hemisphere Pictures in 1966; sometimes paired with the Poe adaptation The Black Cat. It was then re-titled Vampire People and re-released in 1971 by Independent-International Pictures, who threw it on the bottom half of a double bill with Al Adamson's Brain of Blood. There have been a number of physical releases, including an early VHS from Something Weird, a DVD release from Image and a Blu-ray release from Severin.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...