Lars Nilsen & Zack Carlson are programmers for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest.

Lars Nilsen is more excited, obsessive and knowledgeable about underappreciated movies than any other Nordic man. He programs Weird Wednesday, the world's single greatest weekly 35mm exploitation film series. He has so many movie reference books that his shelves bend like upside-down wooden rainbows.

Zack Carlson programs Terror Tuesdays, a weekly series of cult horror films from the 70s and 80s with glorious 35mm prints. He doesn't eat vegetables. He's never had a beer or a cup of coffee in his life and it's too late to start now so don't worry about it.



Lars Nilsen:

'The Magic Christmas Tree' (1964)

Amazingly, this microbudgeted regional kids movie played in theaters throughout the country up until the '80s. Did any adults actually watch it? Or did they just back up to the theater and hurl their children into the fire without warning? I hope those parents enjoyed their illicit hour alone, their children are probably still paying the price in night sweats and facial tics.

The plot? Just that old seasonal standby: a young boy (with an Aretha Franklin sized ass) helps a witch get her cat Lucifer out of a tree. In return she gives him a magic seed that he plants in his backyard. It makes a Christmas tree appear overnight. The boy's self-loathing father cuts the tree down and installs it in the living room. Then on Christmas Eve it begins to talk. It offers the boy an "hour of power" in which all his wishes are granted.

Among a number of other strange and frankly tiresome wish fulfilments, he gets to have Santa all to himself. What child wouldn't want to have a dyspeptic, confused-looking Santa bound to a chair by the hearth, complaining endlessly? Among the many highlights of this one hour long movie (which feels like about 8 years) are a wacky lawnmower vs. turtle race and an encounter with a giant who says grossly uncouth things that seem undeniably sexual in nature.

Not for children or the weak. In fact, not for anyone. Forget I mentioned it.



'The Silent Partner' (1978)

Elliott Gould vs. S&M Santa Claus!

From the golden age of Canadian tax-shelter cinema comes this dark fable about the joy of giving and receiving. Elliott Gould stars as a bank teller who spies a totally ingenious way to steal a lot of money from his till and get away with it. The problem with his plan is that he antagonizes a real bank robber (Christopher Plummer), who has been casing the joint in the guise of an unusually intense department store Santa. Plummer, who is an enthusiast of S&M games when he's not attired as jolly St. Nick, puts the pieces together fairly quickly and starts to make Gould's life a living hell in pursuit of the stolen money. But Gould, a chess enthusiast with a mind for strategy, counters every move. Soon the two men are locked in a real life game with their lives at stake. The tension (and Gould's eyebrow) ratchet up to an unbearable pitch before the highly satisfying conclusion.

Note to Gould-face enthusiasts: Gould makes the Gould-face repeatedly. The Gould-face is seen from a variety of different angles and under different lighting conditions.

'Santa's Space Ship' (1950s)

This wildly obscure marionette animation short would probably be phenomenally popular with crank addicts if they could get their trembling, cracked hands on it.

It combines the dual 50's fascination with rocket propulsion and drunken cowboys in one seasonal mini-spectacular. Here's the deal: Santa has a gin soaked, elderly cowboy buddy and an experimental space ship. When the intoxicated cowpoke accidentally fills the reindeers' water trough with Santa's rocket fuel they start freaking out and bouncing off the ceiling like Charlie Sheen on a hot date. Needless to say, the toy delivery is completed in record time by the amped up reindeer and the whole gang has plenty of time left to clean all the mirrors in the house with toothbrushes and imagine spiders crawling all over them - just like real meth-heads.

A must for everyone who loves watching the nauseating spectacle of expressionless paper-mache puppets jerking around on strings and staring ahead blankly like they f**king want something from you.



Zack Carlson:

'Don't Open Till Christmas'
Dir. Edmund Purdom / 1984

There are many horror enthusiasts who consider themselves "wild" when they dip into the Killer Santa genre in preparation for Jesus' b-day. And fair enough; the slash-crazed Santas of 'Christmas Evil' and the 'Silent Night Deadly Night' series undeniably fill us with holiday warmth. But seldom-seen Christmassacre epic 'Don't Open Till Christmas' brilliantly turns the tables, taking us for a slayride with a sadistic maniac who specifically slices up Santas. The merry murders themselves are viciously trashy and startlingly inventive. In fact, no less than two doomed Kriss Kringles end up with a knife in the part of their body that rhymes with "Nick."

'Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny'
Dir. Barry Mahon / 1972

Oh, Santa...will you ever win? Here you are stuck on a hot Florida beach with your reindeer nowhere in sight. Luckily, the local children have brought several pigs and men in gorilla suits to tow you across the burning sands. Why don't you tell us a brutally meandering story about Thumbelina and two talking moles? And once that's done, false holiday icon The Ice Cream Bunny will arrive in his magic fire truck to drive us around the suburbs at 15 MPH. Finally, we'll all enjoy the closing credits, which inform us that someone credited only as "Mike" was the actor responsible for the Skateboard Donkey Boy performance. Watching this movie is like snorting a seven-foot line of ground-up human bones while driving an airplane on the freeway. Recommended.

'Jewish Holidays Video Guide'
Dir. Larry Nimmer / 1994

The fictional Cohen family bring you into their home to learn about the "games, traditions and fascinating rituals of the Jewish people." That's straight from the back of the video sleeve. Contained in this VHS-only release are many songs and potato-based dishes, plus special surprise guest appearances from Ed Asner and the grandmaster of TV's 'People's Court' himself, Judge Wapner! Hasn't it often been stated that the Jews run Hollywood? If that's true, couldn't the filmmakers have landed some more prominent Jews than these? I mean, were Gilbert Gottfried AND Tom Arnold both really unavailable? Truly one of the most hypnotically awkward holiday videos in history. L'chaim!


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