For the second straight year, Rifftrax is taking a second look at a cheesy Christmas movie. This time, it’s the 1959 Mexican movie, Santa Claus, featuring Santa, a cute young girl who wants a doll, Merlin, a fan with an ear, and everyone’s favorite mischievous devil, Pitch. It will be shown in hundreds of movie theaters nationwide on December 4th.
Whedonopolis talked to Bill Corbett, who played Crow on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during the Sci-Fi Channel days, and has been a regular with Rifftrax since 2006. Even though it’s been 21 years since Santa Claus was riffed on MST3K, he said it was too good to pass up because the movie is so eccentric.
“It basically has Santa in a floating satellite out in space with these weird contraptions that he listens to the world on, like a big extendable ear and giant lips that relay his messages back and forth. It is just so weird,” he says. “There’s a limited amount of good weird but, sort of, accessible Christmas movies for us, and we just wanted another crack at this one.”
He thinks it’s a cult classic because of MST3K, and how it’s strange having Santa battle a pesky devil who wants kids to steal and be bad. Some fans think Pitch, played by dancer Jose Luis Aguirre, steals the movie with his antics. “It’s kind of cool in some ways. It’s like, at least, they tried to stylize it. In other ways, it’s just sort of silly,” Corbett says. “He does this little move over the couch every time, this little graceful Martha Graham-like leap over the couch, like ‘all right, we get it, you can dance.’”
Here’s part of the original version of the movie, which is in Spanish. Pitch’s dancing is at 3:53.
Corbett says he enjoys riffing on movies with Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy for a couple of reasons. “You sort of have this event or this cultural thing that’s going on, and you get to just sort of weave a bunch of jokes and humor around them,” he says. “It makes for something that I know people enjoy. You have to kind of choose your targets carefully to some degree. “The other part”, he continued, “is just finding out about all these movies. I mean there’s a curation aspect of it that I’ve actually come to like. Some of the old shorts that we do are from the middle of the 20th century. Theoretically, they’re educational shorts but they are really, from this point in history, they’re little windows on what America was thinking about at the time. I get an objective kick out of that, even before making jokes about them.”
He says doing live shows are a bit more enjoyable than doing the regular offerings. ‘It really is great to get out in front of an audience and actually hear the laughs, and let the audience participate a little bit and kind of tell you what they think is funny and maybe not so funny in moments,” he says, “and the little bit of improvisation that it leads to just because you have to keep light on your feet.”
Bill still keeps tabs with some of his former MST castmates. Mary Jo Pehl, who was Pearl Forrester, just returned to Minneapolis, while Trace Beaulieu, who was Dr. Clayton Forrester, has been there for a couple of years. Bill even says he had a Xmas party last year that was a mini-MST reunion.
Rifftrax will release its first Thanksgiving offering, Fun in Balloonland, on Monday, November 24th. It’s a film about a kid who dreams he’s in Balloonland, which is actually a warehouse in the Philadelphia area that houses balloon floats for the annual Thanksgiving parade. He gets to pretend he’s a cowboy, and later in Neptune’s Kingdom. The link has the first five minutes of the movie, and it is as strange as it looks.
Corbett says these type of holiday shorts and movies, from “A Visit to Santa” to “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny” have their own charm. “It’s not like making, say, Transformers or something where there’s a huge pile of money, and they’re just out to make more of it,” he says. “These are just sort of homegrown little things, so I can’t get too cynical about them.”
This year’s live shows, Godzilla and Anaconda, were funded by Kickstarter, but Corbett says there’s no firm plans to do it next year. “What might be more likely is we just get smaller titles and sort of do crowdfunding,” he says, “just targeted crowdfunding, like this is something a number of people have requested. If we can make that, almost as a pre-sale, then we’ll do it. We’re still figuring it out.”
If there is a movie he’d like to riff on, it’s Billy Jack, which he calls a weird combination of a social justice parable and kung fu and biker movies. He said he loved it as a kid in the 70s, but “a couple of years ago I revisited it just on a lark, and realized it’s really a terrible movie. So I kind of want my revenge on it for making me think that it was meaningful and good back when I was a kid.”
Rifftrax will also mock Nat Geo shows with its second Total Riff-Off on December 16th. It was announced during the showing of Anaconda a few weeks ago, including a clip of Man v. Monster with Richard Terry. Corbett says the response from the first TRO last April was great, and Terry has been a good sport about being a Rifftrax target.
“He’s kind of plugged it, and just been really good-hearted about it,” he says. “But there’s something about the format of him trying to chase down a monster, and basically turns out to be something, both in Demon Bat and this one coming up, is something that everybody has known about for a long time. There’s really no mystery about what this creature’s going to be except the mystery that’s built into the story. It has a sort of charlatan aspect to it, I don’t think he would object to us saying, that is built into the structure of how it’s done. It’s pretty funny to us.”
The special will also look at weird animal behavior, like a bear cub or a deer invading a house, and an elephant mom doing something odd to her newborn calf.
Corbett also has another holiday offering, a comic book called Super-Powered Revenge Christmas. It’s about a comic book writer who changes holiday icons including Santa, the Grinch, Scrooge and Rudolph into super-heroes in a real war over the holiday. He was asked if it could be a possible holiday blockbuster, and he said it might. “It was popular as a little stage play, it was popular as a comic book.” he says. “It would have to be translated right with somebody who is pretty smart and savvy, but I know those people are out there.”
Besides, who wouldn’t be intrigued with jolly old St. Nick reborn as the Red Avenger, or Scrooge as the head of an anti-Christmas organization?
Tickets for Rifftrax Live: Santa Claus on December 4th are available at the Fathom Events website.