THE MONSTER’S CHRISTMAS is a holiday special that aired on New Zealand television in 1981. I’m going to be up front and admit that I don’t have a whole lot of insightful things to say about this one, but it’s so charmingly weird that I felt like I owed it to the world to write it up and share some screengrabs so more people can know it exists.
It opens with a slasher-style P.O.V. into a window, but otherwise it’s only scary in an accidental sort of way. An unnamed little girl (Lucy McGrath, whose only other credit is NEARLY NO CHRISTMAS, a 1983 special from the same director) reads a picture book to her teddy bear. It’s “The Monster’s Christmas by Burton Silver,” which is not a real book, but that is the name of the screenwriter.
Then she hears a clatter so she goes to the living room where the Christmas tree is and spots a big rubber blob monster guy. Smoke billows from a hole in his head. He has one wiggling antenna and one eye. Rings of weird Koosh-ball-like tendrils pulsate around the eye as tears or something drip out.
“Hey, you’re not Father Christmas!” the girl says.
He can’t speak, so they communicate through charades. It’s pretty easy for her to figure out, because this was all covered in the book she was just reading. The monster (possibly “Mountain Monster” played by Paul Farrell?) says he stole the witch’s wand, so they go to a smoky cave drenched in red light to get it from a secret hollowed out rock. Suddenly the girl is dressed like a nurse showing him a book about flowers. A skinnier monster with a long snout and bat wings (“Nasty” played by Michael Wilson, stunt double for Pauline in HEAVENLY CREATURES?) sneaks around and tries to steal the wand, but the girl uses magic to burn his tail off. So he goes to tell the witch where the wand is. He’s a witch snitch.
Suddenly the girl gets carried off by a bug monster (Paul Jenden) who is covered in webs and is very obviously a person in a suit walking backwards in order to look weird. Suddenly she’s saying “How do I look?,” spinning around showing her bizarre monster shell. I don’t know if there was a horrifying transformation sequence that was cut out or what. But now she’s a monster too.
Walking through some hot springs with her wand and her Christmas stocking she meets conjoined twin, uh, piles of something (Roger Page and Ingrid Prosser)? And they make faces at each other and dance around until bubbles in the mud start talking to her.
When we meet the witch (the only adult in the whole show) she’s watching a witch workout video, wearing a “WITCHES RULE” t-shirt and her hair stands up in a cone as if she has permanent witch-hat-hair. She kinda looks like Large Marge. Her cave is mostly unfurnished, so it’s nice that she at least has a TV, horizontal bars, an exercise bike and a couple trampolines. Plus an easel for cartooning. When the snout monster comes in with her wand she says “Give it to me” and then just keeps repeating “give it to me” dozens of times as sort of a rhythmic chant. So it’s sort of a musical.
When the girl stops by the witch accepts her as a monster (“Nice hands for a monster”) which to her means 1) she’s ticklish and 2) she can be forced into servitude. So she makes her clean the “gymnasium.” The girl sneaks away and climbs a very tall ladder which honestly kinda freaked me out because I don’t like climbing tall ladders and this little girl clearly did it, unless it was a stunt little girl.
Although this is only 50 minutes it’s a bit of a chore because the story is so nonsensical there’s not much momentum to it. It’s kind of an Alice in Wonderland type of story but saving money by not having any sets, just outdoor locations showing off New Zealand’s natural beauty. The whimsical score by Dave Fraser (“music producer,” THE QUIET EARTH; keyboards, BATTLETRUCK) has some organ and some goofy early synth sounds that remind me of The Star Wars Holiday Special.
The main – or pretty much only – attraction is the monsters, whose basic vibe is some Brundlefly combo of the Kroft Superstars and GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. The Mountain Monster is definitely the coolest and weirdest. He seems nice too, though friendship with him can’t be good for the lungs.
Director Yvonne Mackay continued doing TV movies and shows up through 13 episodes of Kaitangata Twitch in 2010. Her one theatrical feature was THE SILENT ONE in 1985.
As far as Christmas specials go, this is not the most Christmasy. In New Zealand, of course, Christmas falls in the summer, so there’s no snow in this one. It’s mostly just the Christmas tree and presents at the beginning and end. The witch does sing a version of “Deck the Halls,” and the climax involves giving the monsters the ability to sing carols. After saying the magic word “HULLABALOO!” into a glowing cavern the girl waves her arms around, leading the monsters and the witch in a rendition of “Silent Night.”
And then suddenly she wakes up from having dozed off reading the book to the bear in bed. She goes out to the living room again and doesn’t notices that the monsters come over and peep through the window. Because it was all real, you see? The world you live in is just a sugar-coated topping.
Like many old TV programs I believe you can find this on Youtube, but I watched it on the DVD type format, on which it was legitimately released. Unfortunately they gave it a shitty cover with non-screen-accurate green fur and present, because they made the calculation that it would sell better if it seemed like a shitty ripoff of the shitty Grinch movie. And in the tradition of the SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE and SLEEPAWAY CAMP sequels there’s just some random girl on the cover, not the one from the show.
It’s a shame because if they did some nice artwork of what the monsters actually look like – even if they just took it from the storybook shown in the movie – I’m sure it would catch some eyes.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.