Holiday Horrors: Candy Claus

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year—with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

We’re starting Holiday Horrors off with a bang this year, folks, because I believe I may have found the worst Christmas special ever.

I don’t take such an accusation lightly, believe me. I’ve seen more than my share of Christmas specials, and as I scour my brain for comparisons, I can’t think of one that plumbs the depths of the human spirit any more than the special I share with you today. In fact, I debated sharing this with the world at all, because I thought it might be the Hadron Supercollider of Christmas specials—a show so extraordinary, it could unleash forces that would destroy the earth itself.

I haven’t seen many slasher movies or horror films or Human Centipede, but I can’t imagine any of those things could make me feel worse than I did after I watched Candy Claus.

Here’s how it all started: In one of my many fits of VHS digitizing, I ran across an ad circa 1988 for a 900 number where kids could call up Candy Claus. Back in the late 80s/early 90s, there were literally hundreds of such numbers that tried to get gullible children to call them up and amass enormous phone bills for their parents.

I remember many of these ads, particularly the one for the DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince number, since I had a friend who snuck out of CCD one afternoon to call said number on the church office phone (needless to say, he got into an assload of trouble). However, I have no memory of the Candy Claus commercial. According to Santa’s narration, she was the Christmas Seals Child. I don’t recall her being elected to that position. Perhaps it’s appointed by Congress?

So unmemorable was this ad that not only did I not remember seeing it as a kid, but I completely forgot about the commercial after first posting it to YouTube. Initially, I assumed it was just an attempt to introduce a charity’s mascot, one that presumably did not take off.

But after looking through my YouTube inventory recently, I watched the Candy Claus ad again and began to wonder about it. It’s doubtful a charity would’ve bothered to animate all of this material just for a 30 second spot. I sensed a long-forgotten holiday special was involved somehow.

Turns out I was right. Oh lord, was I right. Although using the word “special” to describe Candy Claus seems bitterly ironic.

Candy Claus was directed by Yoram Gross, described by his IMDB page as “Australia’s leading animation Producer and Director” (caps theirs). His most famous creation is Dot and the Kangaroo. I’ve never seen that film, but it has to be better than Candy Claus, since the same could be said of virtually everything else made by humans, including several wars. His own web site makes no mention of it, and I can’t say I blame him.

Candy Claus has all the strange hallmarks of something made either by American producers for foreign consumption or vice versa. If you watch the clips below, you’ll notice that most of the dialogue is spoken off screen or by characters too far from the camera to require strict lip-matching.

You wouldn’t expect top-notch voice actors in a production like this, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the actors know how to say words. I don’t mean in terms of pronunciation; I mean in terms of knowing the proper tone to employ. The reluctance to show people talking on screen and the odd, stilted dialogue remind me of Death Wish 3. Both productions appear to have been created by people who have never heard humans speak.

In the very first scene, a family trims their Christmas tree while wondering about what Santa Claus receives for Christmas. When they realize the answer is nothing, they decide to make a pair of dolls for him on behalf of all the children of the world. Once received by Santa, Candy Claus comes to life through the power of LUV.

It’s a cute concept, one that might have had promise in more capable hands. Unfortunately, there was not a single pair of capable hands involved in the making of this special. Or even one isolated capable digit, apparently.

In the scene where the unnamed family decides to make a gift for Santa, the voices sound weirdly sarcastic or brash, as if the vocals were recorded in a crowded restaurant. The characters speak like they’re working off of an experimental, pseudo-Dogme film, in which they were all given tiny strips with their own individual lines without any context for the scene or knowledge of what anyone else is saying.

A montage of Candy Claus’ construction is accompanied by a song about “My Kind of Christmas,” sung by the mutant offspring of Bing Crosby and the 1-877-KARS4KIDS singer. And this is the best song in the whole show by a mile. That’s the kind of terror that awaits you.

Santa gets his gifts—a boy and girl doll, because of course that’s what an elderly man wants for Christmas—but on his way back to the North Pole, the boy doll is stolen by a cackling prankster named Oh No. Santa doesn’t seem perturbed about this turn of events so much as mildly annoyed and sleepy. He asks Oh No to “come back in the morning,” as if he’s a door-to-door salesman.

Once Candy Claus comes to life, Santa and Mrs. Claus find themselves parents for the first time at a rather advanced age, which would confuse and disorient any person in their golden years. But Mr. and Mrs. Claus manage to remember that they’re supposed to go to Santatown and greet the elves and other folk who live there, as is their Christmas tradition. This is where things veer outside of the territory of Merely Bad and into the category of Horror.

It seems that naughty prankster Oh No lives in Santatown. He sees Candy Claus with Santa and The Missus and wishes he had the only child in Santatown, for reasons that are never articulated. Oh No wonders why the doll he stole won’t walk and talk the right way. The sleepy-eyed doll (who he dubs Hey You) says he “can’t come properly alive” unless he’s loved. (Oh No might also want to consider not shaking the poor kid for five seconds.)

Hey You stutters and walks in odd jerks, taking this special into some very uncomfortable territory. The unspoken implication is that this child that can’t quite walk or speak “correctly” is not a “real” child. It is at this point I began to wonder if Candy Claus was actually written by humans, because I can’t imagine this plot point would occur to any living person to include IN A CHRISTMAS SPECIAL FOR CHILDREN.

Oh No dedicates the rest of the special to making Candy Claus’ life miserable, though most of his tactics revolve around making her trip and fall, believing that this will make Santa and Mrs. Clause hate her. By the effed-up logic of this special, any child that’s even slightly clumsy is unworthy of love. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Meanwhile, back at Santa’s workshop, Candy is hindering toy-making operations with her clumsiness and over-eagerness to help. The Elf Council convenes to discuss what to do about her, and the freakishly mugging elves grumble with mild concern over the matter. The soundboard for this special must have had just two tracks, because you never hear more than one elf talking at once.

One of the elves utters one of my favorite lines in anything ever: “I don’t know what to do. I give up. But something’s got to be done.” It’s like dialogue from Waiting from Godot, almost zen-like in its existential hopelessness. He says this in a voice that conveys none of the conflicting emotions reflected by these words, but in a flat monotone that renders the line even stranger than it looks when written down. (Skip ahead to 7:11 in this clip to enjoy its splendor.)

In Act III, everything is tied up in a neat little bow, one that promptly unravels and spills all over the place. Oh No’s evil machinations continue, until they don’t. When last seen, he’s caused enough mischief to make Candy Claus leave Santa’s workshop in tears, but we never find out how he receives his much deserved comeuppance, or that he even gets comeuppance at all. Nor do we ever find out if Hey You is claimed by loving parents so he can become a “real” boy. A plotline this disturbing demands resolution, and the fact that we get none is far more upsetting than almost any alternative conclusion.

Candy takes off into the polar wastelands tailed by a robot named Shad-O who we’ve never seen before and will never see again. Santa chases after Candy in his sled, going very fast but getting nowhere a la Fred Flintstone’s tripping on a rollerskate. Cut to a freezing Candy Claus. Cut back to Santa in his sleigh. Over and over and over again. This is presumably meant to build tension, but all it really does is make you think you’ve entered a terrifying Mobius strip where Candy Claus will never end.

At this point, the production either hit a wall or ran out of money, because it just stops all of a sudden. Candy is rescued. Santa has a special present for her, which we never see (shades of the briefcase in Repo Man, clearly an influence on this production). Out of nowhere, the special peters out with an ear-splitting song about how much we all love Candy Claus. Yes, you too. And in case you weren’t clear about that, the song plays over the end credits as well. To quote the “Santa Claus” episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, “If seasonal depression has a soundtrack, this is it.”

The best word to describe Candy Claus would be “punishing”, but even that adjective falls far short of the effect it has on a viewer. If I may evoke MST3K again, it reminded me a lot of the disturbing, awful way you feel after watching Manos: The Hands of Fate for the first time. Three minutes into watching this…thing, you will wonder how it was created on the same planet as you. If a thousand Tim and Erics toiled in a thousand soundstages for a thousand years, even they could not match the otherworldly bizarreness of Candy Claus.

Candy Claus left me with a profound, almost childlike sadness. It gave me the feeling I got when my dad would come home from work with some toy he bought from bootleg tables in the Hoboken train station, some cheap knockoff of something I actually wanted like a Transformer or a handheld videogame, and I said “thanks” even though I didn’t really want it and felt weird that he didn’t know he hadn’t gotten me the “right” toy.

Because I remember when Christmas specials were really “special.” They only came on once a year, there were only so many networks, and home recording was still not widespread. Every year, I looked forward to watching as many specials as possible, relishing the old ones and judging the new ones. If I had seen this special at a formative age, I may have relinquished all of my belief in the Christmas spirit, and perhaps the human spirit as well.

Normally, I have a grudging respect for anyone who creates. Even if I don’t enjoy what they’ve created, I recognize that there are far worse things you can do with your life than to try to share a part of yourself with the world. This is not one of those times. I dearly wish the makers of Candy Claus had not tried to create this, or anything else, because after watching it, I felt like I had a kidney stone in my soul.