About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Silent Night Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Are you a fan of the Christmas horror movie franchise Silent Night Deadly Night?
When the fifth installment of a movie franchise is finally made, it's best to keep your expectations low.  One of the things I love about SNDN 5 is how it's an exception to that rule. This horror movie has come to have a very special place in my heart--and anytime someone mentions the title, my first reaction is to start laughing! With good reason, this campy fifth installment always makes me smile. I frequently have to watch the same Christmas movies over and over--to write about them, provide further commentary, and sometimes to answer a reader's questions.  SNDN 5 is one of those movies I love watching again and again, seeing how the pieces of the puzzle all fit together once again in the end. How many times have you watched it?

Innocent little Derek--who would want to harm this youngster and what would be his/her motivation?
The movie begins with a small boy named Derek walking into his parents’ bedroom while they are making love.  Next, Derek finds a Christmas present on the front porch addressed to him. His father Tom takes the gift away from him and sends the boy to bed. But moments later, the toy inside the package ends up attacking Tom--he defends himself and ends up falling upon a fireplace poker! Poor little Derek is so traumatized this Christmas, he loses his ability to speak. From this set up, we see this story is evoking the familiar scenario of a traumatized little boy at Christmas--just like the first, second, and third SNDN movies. This leaves us to wonder if this is just another crazed ax-wielding Santa Claus serial killer plot line. However, SNDN 5 continues into a much different movie.

It's the TOYS that are deadly in this movie. Not until the very end will you see what kind of Santa and his kooky workshop could make these life-threatening toys!

It turns out that toys intended for Derek are attacking and harming people all over town. A creepy insect doll is offered to Derek, but ends up in the possession of an angry hotel manager. The deadly toy attacks him while he’s driving and he is killed. A pair of roller blades left on Derek’s doorstep end up on the feet of the bratty kid next door and he winds up rolling out of control and into oncoming traffic. Even a battalion of military toys are let loose in Derek’s home and they fire a deadly barrage upon his babysitter and her teenage paramour.  Who is behind these deadly toys?

Could it be Noah--Sarah's stalker?

The mystery story provides viewers with several options for the person behind the deadly toy attacks. At first, we are suspicious of Noah, a man who works at a local shopping center as Santa Claus.  His demeanor frightens young Derek when they boy sits on Santa's lap. Noah is also following--maybe even stalking--Derek and his mother Sarah. Later, we see him in a hotel room with several dozen toys taking them apart. There are many clues to Noah's potential involvement--but what would be his motivation to harm Derek?

Joe and his son Pino--is one of them the violent one?
Viewers also become suspicious of Joe Petto and his son Pino.  Joe is the local toy store owner and toy maker while Pino is his prankster, teenaged son.  The elderly Joe owns an old-fashioned toy store that has seen better days. We also see that the friendly store owner has a very dark side--he's a drinker that can be very cruel and critical of his son. But Pino seems to be creepy too. The teen breaks into Sarah's home and goes through the rooms and her closets when no one is home.  What's he looking for? There's also something not quite right about that boy.  

You know Joe's stock is out of date when you can spot a "Julia" lunchbox on the shelf behind the front counter!

Joe Petto is my favorite character in this movie. Veteran actor Mickey Rooney plays against type as Petto, the drunken abusive father. You have to remember that Rooney made his name in Hollywood during the 1930s and '40s playing the character Andy Hardy in sixteen films--a happy-go-lucky, young man with a strong, solid family and a heart of gold.  (Yes--there's a Christmas one, 1938's Love Finds Andy Hardy.)  Rooney also starred in hope-filled inspiring movies such as Boys Town, National Velvet, and upbeat musicals such as Babes in Arms.  You get the idea.  (Rooney also proved himself in more serious roles in Requiem for a Heavyweight, his heavy role in "The Last Night of a Jockey" on The Twilight Zone, and elsewhere. But the highs of Rooney's career are dominated by his roles as the good guy.  He even played Santa Claus for Rankin/Bass's animated TV specials three times!)  So to see Mickey Rooney here at the other end of his career campily playing against his good guy image is awesome.  It seems like he’s having as much fun with it as it is for us to watch him doing it.

This isn't the first kidnapping Rooney commits during Christmas--remember THIS Full House Christmas episode?

The movie even teases viewers with the possibility that Joe is a crazed, killer Santa--we see him kidnap poor Derek from his home in the middle of the night.  But that's not the end of the movie.  If you haven't seen this Christmas horror movie yet--I don't want to ruin the surprise ending.  It is definitely worth discovering its reveal on your own.  So STOP reading--and go find SNDN 5 on DVD NOW!  If you've seen the movie before and you're still reading along, then you must love the ending as much as I do!

I love re-watching this movie over and over, adding up all the easy-to-overlook clues.  Remember the storybook the babysitter is reading to Derek?

It turns out Petto isn’t the creator of the deadly toys after all.  It’s his son Pino, the creepy, abused teenager in the background of the movie the whole time.  We soon learn that Pino is a robot created by his father Joe after Joe’s pregnant wife died in an accident years ago.  In the funnest movie twist I’ve seen in a while, it turns out Joe Petto (read Geppetto) has made a wooden boy come to robotic life--and now this PINOcchio son is jealous of the real boy, Derek.  Pino wants to eliminate the youngster and has been making the deadly toys in his father's twisted workshop.

Adding another creepy weird layer to it all, Pino has Oedipal feelings for Sarah, Derek’s mother, and wants to consummate his love for her! Of course, what every real boy needs is a strong father figure and Noah (Derek's biological father and Sarah's lover) arrives just in time to put a stop to all the trouble Pino has brought.

That kidnapping Santa wasn't Joe after all--it was Pino donning another face!

Pino--or Pinocchio--here looks like a manufactured cross between Davey from Davey & Goliath, and DEVO (when they wore plastic hair.)  Very creepy!

Remember in the original Pinocchio story, the wooden figure just wants to be a real boy!  In SNDN 5, the same is very dark motivation for Pino.

There are quite a few Christmas movies and specials that bring toys to life (many of them on the fringes of being very scary.) Many more weave familiar fairy tales into holiday adventures. SNDN 5 humorously places an original spin on these common story lines, making this mystery unfold within a campy horror film.

Did you recognize what Derek is watching on TV in the beginning of the movie?  He’s watching the animated Saturday morning cartoon series Rambo:The Force of Freedom. Yes--the series has a Christmas episode!
SNDN 5 has a few other fun pop culture references in it as well, including an all-too-brief part for cult film/TV actor Clint Howard. (Clint is also the real-life brother of director/actor Ron Howard.) In SNDN 5, Howard plays a co-worker to Noah, another shopping center Santa Claus named Ricky.  Fans of SNDN 4 might remember the characters of Ricky, Kim, and Lonnie who also make brief appearance here in SNDN 5.

Clint Howard as Ricky

Let us not overlook one of the primary elements of the first, second, and third SNDN movies.  (SNDN 5 teases our expectations with this same set up). These stories all begin with a young person who sees something so traumatizing, that they become madmen. I find this to be a brilliant premise for a horror movie--essentially daring viewers to watch a traumatizing story about an ax-wielding Santa Claus where viewers are shown the consequences: they too will be made madmen! (The Ring series of films and its imitators seemed to have taken a similar cause and effect to the next level, from metaphor to literal, but this concept is here in these earlier SNDN films too).  What could be more traumatizing than seeing a crazed, deadly Santa Claus?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Love Boat Christmas (1977)

I know I'm not the only one looking forward to more seasons of The Love Boat being released on DVD.
With the hundreds of hours of new holiday programming generated each November and December, it's so easy to forget about the classics. Sometimes we can lose track of our Christmas spirit unless we actively incorporate the past into the present. How long has it been since you've seen this The Love Boat holiday episode? The first season's "Lonely At the Top/Divorce Me, Please/Silent Night" is certainly one of those classic episodes that evokes not only nostalgia for Christmases past but warm TV memories as well.

Father Mike is played by actor Dick Sargent.

The 1977 Christmas episode follows the same, familiar Love Boat formula of three story lines.  In "Lonely At the Top," the crew welcomes Father Mike and six orphan boys from the home he runs.  It is explained that Father Mike brings the orphans each year on the Christmas cruise courtesy of an anonymous benefactor.  The captain seeks Father Mike's advice about feeling lonely over the holidays.

The happy couple that really hates each other is played by actress/singer Florence Henderson and comedian Shecky Greene.

In the second story line, "Divorce Me, Please," a happily married couple embarks on the holiday vacation.  By all appearances Audrey and her husband seem like newlyweds however, viewers can hear the characters' inner dialogue--both the husband and wife "voice" their dissatisfaction with the relationship. Each hopes the other will request a divorce before the cruise is over.

Lila (Donna Mills) tries to calm her angry husband Dan (John Gavin) after he's spent three years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

The third story "Silent Night" is the more serious drama of the three.  Recently paroled from prison, Dan Barton, joins his wife Lila on this Christmas cruise to begin their life together again.  Dan is extremely bitter and resentful for being wrongly convicted of embezzling from his law firm.  When his former business partner Perry also shows up onboard the cruise--Dan confesses to his wife that he's figured out that Perry actually embezzled the money and framed him for the crime.  Now Dan is set on revenge!

Gavin's character is moved by the spirit of Christmas to embrace peace and forgiveness.

Dan confronts his former partner with his awareness that he thinks Perry is the thief--Dan even pulls a gun on Perry!  But when he hears carolers singing the emotional "Silent Night" off in the distance, Dan tosses his gun in the ocean and walks away.  His wife Lila witnesses her husband's act away from vengeance and knows her words of love and second-chances have not fallen on deaf ears.

You know Florence Henderson is a professional singer too--right?

The more lighthearted, comical story of "Divorce Me, Please" sees the husband and wife each trying to sabotage their marriage.  Audrey attempts to spend all her husband's money to make him angry while the husband tries to embarrass his wife by drinking to excess and making a fool of himself.  Neither one gets the reaction they desire and somewhere along the way, the couple re-discovers what they love about each other.  With their love renewed, Audrey entertains the passengers and staff on Christmas day in the dining room by singing the carol "The First Noel."  (Can't get enough? Florence Henderson sings "O Come All Ye Faithful" in the 1969 Christmas episode of The Brady Bunch too.)

The captain tries to be pals with his crew but he's not a very good joke teller.

And in "Lonely At the Top," Captain Stubing seeks a better relationship with the crew.  Following the advice of Father Mike, Stubing tries to become more involved in the interests of Julie, Doc, Isaac, and Gopher--but Merrill fails time after time.  Playing Santa to the orphan boys, Capt. Stubing forgets a gift for one little boy--and ends up giving away a cherished sextant his own father gave him.

Danny gets the spirit of Christmas.  He may not have received the football he asked for but he did receive a neat gift after all.

This lesson helps Merrill understand the value of enjoying what you have--not necessarily what you think you need.  Though each of the crew members bemoans not being able to spend Christmas with their own families, they can still value the good times spent together with their friends on crew for the holidays.

Merrill breaks his own rule about not exchanging gifts with the staff!

These workplace friends end up exchanging gifts and having a fine Christmas--even if it isn't the traditional family holiday they imagined for themselves.  Television has created quite a few stories of friends and workplace friends celebrating Christmas together--just like families.  I'm immediately reminded of Christmas episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, Friends, and even The Office (those workers seem to resent each other much like family members who at times painfully struggle to get along!)  There are many, many more examples of friends acting like family at Christmas--got a favorite episode?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Three's Company Christmas (1977)

Do you remember 1977's "Three's Christmas" holiday storyline?

Not all Christmas stories need to be complex, offer a surprise or a twist ending to be thoroughly enjoyable.  The second season episode of Three's Company entitled "Three's Christmas" is a good example of well-defined characters that make this simple holiday story entertaining. 

Remember what Christmas gift Jack receives from his roommates? Both Janet and Chrissy give him a pair of socks!   

Jack offers his roommates affectionate kisses under the mistletoe!

In "Three's Christmas," Jack, Chrissy, and Janet exchange gifts and discuss their holiday plans.  Wanting to celebrate the season with all their friends, the three roommates decide to host a Christmas party for later that same night.

No one can come to their party.  All their friends have already promised to attend the Christmas festivities at the Stevens' apartment.

After calling most of their friends, the gang realizes that everyone is already planning on attending another party--one thrown by their mutual friends, the Stevenses.  Jack, Chrissy, and Janet don't know why they weren't invited, but their hopes for attending a merry party are dashed.

Who could hurt Mrs. Roper's feelings?  Not Chrissy.

Downstairs, the Ropers return home earlier than planned from their family celebration.  Stanley had drank too much--and Helen is once again frustrated with her husband's anti-social behavior.  Instead of spending the evening alone, Helen decides to invite Jack, Chrissy, and Janet to the Ropers' apartment for a small get-together.  Before Jack can make up an excuse to avoid the boring affair, Chrissy cheerfully accepts Mrs. Roper's invitation.  No one wants to hurt Helen's feelings but the evening is looking to be a disaster.   That is, until Jack receives a phone call from his friend Jim Stevens--the roommates are invited to the big party after all!

What a festive pink, plastic Christmas tree, Janet quips.

Predictably, Stanley is stingy when he serves his guests a drink.

Unable to cancel at the last minute, Jack, Chrissy, and Janet swear to each other to stay at the Ropers' party for just a little while.  After Mr. Roper falls asleep early, just as he does nearly every evening, the three roommates plan to go to the Stevens' party.  And, the short evening drags on and on as the trio endures their landlords' attempts to entertain his guests.

Stanley offers to show off his poor skills at card tricks.

Jack plays the piano while Chrissy and Stanley share an old fashioned sing-along.

Janet and Helen can't even stay awake during the party!

When Mr. Roper gets out his bugle, the three roommates make a quick exit.

Finally, Jack can stand no more of Stanley's annoyances and makes his excuse to leave.  Janet and Chrissy follow his lead.  Frustrated that they couldn't leave any sooner, the roommates excitely leave for the Stevens' Christmas party.  Inside the Ropers' apartment, Helen berates Stanley for chasing the kids home from of her party early.  But Stanley reveals that they've been invited to the Stevens' party!  He's been trying to get Jack, Janet, and Chrissy to leave all evening so the Ropers could attend the big party with all of their other friends.  Happy with themselves, Helen and Stanley leave for the Stevens' Christmas party.

Stanley drinks too much--the same offense that ruined the Roper's earlier family celebration.

In the tag before the credits roll, we see Jack and Helen assist a drunken Stanley home from the Stevens' party together.  Mrs. Roper remarks that she's not mad at Jack, Janet, and Chrissy for leaving her get-together to attend the Stevens' party.  Her only regret, once again, is Stanley's behavior. 

Did you catch this episode's reference to the hit song "White Christmas?"

A nice little detail in this popular Christmas episode is the explanation from Chrissy about the origin of her name.  She explains that her birth name is Christmas--she's called Chrissy for short.  Her full name, she tells Jack, is Christmas Snow because "My father was a big fan of Bing Crosby." 

Anybody else a big fan of the song "White Christmas?"