It’s a happy horror holiday as we get another Joe Bob Briggs Christmas special on Shudder with Joe Bob Saves Christmas. This night has everything! Killer Santas! Home invasions! Charity auctions! QVC-stylings! It makes for a nice, full night of heartwarming horror fun. Between Dial Code Santa Claus, Christmas Evil, and heartwarming auctions, there is something worth stuffing into every mutant’s stocking.
On another note, however, I may have gone a bit overboard with Christmas puns during the live tweets throughout the night…
Dial Code Santa Claus
Opening Rant: “Shut the fuck up.”
My experience with Christmas horror films has been fairly limited and because of this, 1989’s Dial Code Santa Claus (also known as 3615 code Père Noël, Game Over, and a billion other titles) was not on my radar. It turns out that I have been missing out. This French holiday horror film is such an odd but wonderful movie.
The movie follows perhaps the bougiest child protagonist since Richie Rich who, eager to contact Santa Claus, uses the internet to reach out to who he thinks is Saint Nick, only to get the attention of a disturbed Santa Claus wannabe who sets his deadly sights on this child and begins a fairly low-key murder spree. The film is an odd sort of artifact for horror fans and has some striking similarities to the holiday classic Home Alone. Both films climax with a home invasion, and while Home Alone‘s is far less lethal, Dial Code Santa Claus does not shy away from deadly consequences and disturbing revelations. The revelation of the state of mind of the pseudo-Santa Claus upon gaining the upper hand in this Christmas battle is absolutely terrifying.
It’s a gorgeously shot movie and the craftsmanship is readily apparent. René Manzor’s stylish approach to the material creates such a wonderfully messed up story that explores growing up in the absolute worst way possible during the Christmas holiday. Manzor still mostly works in French cinema, but as Joe Bob Briggs reveals during the host segments (in between hawking wares) that he directed some installments of various series such as The Red Shoe Diaries and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. At times earnest, horrific, and that special sort of late-1980s cheesy, Dial Code Santa Claus is a holiday horror film that deserves to be seen and is a perfect sort of film for the spotlight of The Last Drive-In.
As for the inter-film shenanigans we come to expect from The Last Drive-In, the coronavirus is still wreaking havoc with the production dynamics of the show. I felt that it hurt the last Halloween special, feeling oddly isolated and melancholy, but this time around the gimmick does a lot of work to keep the proceedings light, funny, and also allowed for friends of the Drive-In to leave behind holiday wishes. For this special, the team does a sort of QVC-cum-horror network experience, complete with requisite graphics and title cards. It’s a lot different from the usual experience but in a way that fits the tone of the night, particularly given the film selections.
Throughout the night 18 different auctions were dropped on a special website and the proceeds of the bids which climbed throughout the night were designated for four distinct charities. These charities were very much right in the wheelhouse of hosts Joe Bob and Darcy, including The Trevor Project, The National Women’s Law Center, The Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and the Organization for Autism Research. One of the highlights throughout the night was seeing the bids climb both on social media and the occasional reference on show to the impressive numbers. Bidding continues until the 22nd of December, so if you are interested in some incredible swag for good causes, be sure to take a look.
As far as the first half of the night goes, one couldn’t ask for a better holiday horror film; Dial Code Santa Claus was funny, thrilling, incredibly French, and had a requisite out-of-place Bonnie Tyler sad music montage. Joe Bob Briggs gave the film three stars, but I’d argue he scored it a little low. It is easily worth an extra half-star for the wide-eyed beard-flocking sequence alone. The movie is a great Christmas experience, surely nothing could be better… You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. The second film of the night is even better than the first. But don’t let that detract from the pure, unadulterated joy of Dial Code Santa Claus. I give the movie the four Cthulhu treatment.(4 / 5)
Best Line: “I don’t like your face.” – One perceptive little girl
Opening Rant: Crystal chakras or some insanity in the desert.
The second film of the night, also a new experience for me, was my favorite: Christmas Evil. A film adored by John Waters is always a great sign. Released in 1980 on the heels of Halloween and Friday the 13th, one would expect the film to be just another sort of holiday-themed slasher copycat, but this is far from. Lewis Jackson’s film is relatively tame in violence, skewing more psychological than a slasher, but the film benefits all the more from the approach, crafting an ultimately heartbreaking chronicle of a man drifting further into madness over the holidays.
The film is a b-movie at heart, however, and for however subtle and nuanced it can be, it also delights in the absolute insanity of creating a Christmas-themed horror story. It delivers on multiple levels. The movie follows a man, Harry, who has grown up traumatized by a childhood witnessing of his parents engaged in sexual acts while his father is dressed as Santa Claus. As an adult, Harry has grown obsessed with Christmas, decorating his home with various seasonal decorations and knick-knacks and working at a toy factory. At home, he engages in dressing as Santa and taking on the requisite duties of observing and recording the local children, documenting their behavior in his book.
Harry, put upon by his coworkers and his frustrated younger brother, begins to spiral and believes himself to be Santa Claus, acting oddly but harmlessly, donating stolen toys from the factory to the local children’s hospital. This doesn’t last long, however, and soon Harry’s actions turn to murder and the film’s final act echoes the horror classic Frankenstein in several surprising ways. The film is a bit slow, however, and lacks a certain visual punch, but that’s no dealbreaker.
The film is ultimately a sad story about a broken man who truly needs help and doesn’t get it. It’s actually fairly fitting for a movie set in a season of high suicides and melancholy. This is also the more interesting when paired with a trans allegory, as Joe Bob reveals was theorized by John Waters. Given the time the film was made, the theory slides into place; it would be hard to do a trans movie, but burying the message in a movie about a man who thinks he is Santa Claus is a bit easier to swallow. General audiences didn’t really respond to the film though, so much of this discourse feels newer and in a way a little more timely. It all clicks, however, and whether or not it was intended, is worth discussing further given today’s trans community discourse.
As for the rest of the festivities throughout the night, however, one of the great treats of the host segments was the video Christmas cards featuring Drive-In favorite guests and Silver Bolo winners. Whereas the recent Halloween special felt more isolated, there was a certain level of togetherness presented in this special’s festivities, and those video Christmas cards went a long way towards that. The more live nature of the bidding on the auction also helped out quite a bit, really letting viewers feel like they were a part of something in the now.
While it was a great night for holiday horror, the standout of the films is most certainly Christmas Evil, both as a sort of holiday horror classic, but also on a more intellectual level. Sometimes the Last Drive-In pokes fun at the more scholarly side of the film world in the pursuit of blood, breasts, and beasts, but sometimes Santa Joe Bob gives unto us good little children a little something to chew on for a while, even awarding it that coveted four stars; Christmas Evil gives me just the sort of film I want to gnaw on for a bit. Happy holidays indeed! Definitely the full five Cthulhu sort of film I adore.(5 / 5)
Best Line: “But now I want you to remember to stay good boys & girls. Respect your mothers & fathers and do what they tell you. Obey your teachers and learn a whooooole lot! Now if you do this, I’ll make sure you get good presents from me eeeevery year. Ha ha ha… but if you’re bad boys & girls, your name goes in the ‘Bad Boys & Girls’ book, and I’ll bring you something… horrible.” – “Santa” Harry
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, we begin with the official Drive-In totals, courtesy of the Shudder twitter account:
As for my own totals? Here is what I have:
- 1 Yuki sighting
- 1 Dead dog
- 2 Bad Santas
- 3 holiday themes
- 3 alternate titles
- 3 instances of holiday aardvarking
- 18 auction items
- 25k eBay monthly earning limit
- 23 minutes of exposition
- Globe Crushing
- Overly French holiday traditions
- Child endangerment
- Open-eyed beard flocking
- Christmas terrorism
- Terror train
- Suspiciously rich family
- Mansplaining QVC
- Child slapping
- Child spooking
- Eye gouging
- Santa transitioning
- Catholic Joking
- Gratuitously elaborate handshaking
- Gratuitous Frankensteinesque torch pursuit
- Gratuitous “Hogzilla” chanting
- Gratuitous Bonnie Tyler sad Christmas sequence
- Minitel Fu
- Video Christmas Card Fu
- Silver Bolo Award: Geeks Who Eat
In a world beset by a plague, nothing can be business as usual, and the Last Drive-In is no exception. The show continues to be fun, but after the relative disappointment I felt from the Halloween special, I was concerned that coronavirus was going to take yet another toll on a show I love. I am pleased that is not the case with Joe Bob Saves Christmas. The show found a great gimmick this time around that worked in the necessary COVID 19 restrictions while also delivering on a sense of community that is more vital than ever.
It’s good to be a mutant.(5 / 5)
Well, that’s it for The Last Drive-In until the start of the new season, or another special. What comes first? It doesn’t really matter… we’ll still be covering it and doing our live-tweet sessions here at Haunted MTL.
… the drive-in will never die.