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BAD SANTA review

When was the last time you saw a movie set entirely in a mall that never once showed a single name brand product? No FOOTLOCKER, SUNCOAST, DILLARDS, J.C.PENNY’S, RADIO SHACK, SPENCER’S GIFTS, FREDERICK’S, SHARP ELECTRONICS…. None of the stores that are synonomous with MALLS. You go to in-door malls and they are all the same, and when you watch BAD SANTA it isn’t that you deliberately notice that you are not being programmed, but as I sat down with Father Geek, Johnny Wad and Ravvy at our favorite post-great-film Pakistani/Bangladesh/Indian restaurant, SHALIMAR… this wonderful place that never seems to have Anglos other than us, and the tellys are always attuned to either Cricket or Bollywood films… And the food is so good. BUT anyway, as I was munching on Naan and my Boti Masala I suddenly realized that I couldn’t remember a single brand name shown in the film. That there wasn’t a single gift that a boy or girl asked Santa for that was a “known product.”

This is a detail of an overall larger issue that BAD SANTA has to do with. Sure, the movie is a general roasting of the Holidays. A skewering of the “ideals” so tightly wound around that most sacred American tradition… consumerism.

Billy Bob’s Willie T aka the “bad Santa” is a beef jerky of a man. Dried out, tired, weathered and just the sort of truck stop trash that you would never think of in a Santa outfit. He’s an alcoholic in the sense that the bottle only ever leaves his hand empty. We look at him and he’s a really sad fucking guy. We don’t know what he does in life, but a brief look at his home tells us he’s a simple fellow. Not a lot of possessions. No happy memory pictures around. The stripper he’s got there to fuck, well that and the empty and soon to be emptied bottles of alcohol being the only thing he really partakes in. One a rush of feeling, the other a dulling of feeling. Neither is particularly complicated.

Willie T has tattoos. Prison? Military? Neither? Both? Not really sure. He doesn’t know much, but he does know how to crack safes. He’s got that down. We never learn how he hooked up with Tony Cox’s little person… or how the concept of being a Mall Santa and Elf would give them the inside access to a Mall during the richest time of the year, but their ingenious plot to make one big score a year, then live off of it till the next score is actually quite admirable.

The film doesn’t take place in the real world though… This is a fantasy film. In a way, like both CRUMB and GHOST WORLD. And yes, I am aware I called CRUMB a fantasy world, but even though that was a Documentary, you can't really call R. Crumb's reality... reality. BAD SANTA while being completely not from the Underground Comix world, it very much is THE Underground Christmas Tale.

Imagine if you melded A CHRISTMAS CAROL (the Alastair Sim one) with Gilbert Shelton’s FORTY YEAR OLD HIPPIE comic with a dash of A CHRISTMAS STORY, but with better dialogue than any of those ever dreamt of.

You won’t see this film on Network Television ever. However, for people that go to a Jewish Deli on Easter, that eat meatloaf on Thanksgiving, that give out canned beets on Halloween and that on Christmas… well, they check out an early matinee of something… This will be the DVD that those people show their friends every holiday season, and will be a film they’ll show new people they meet to help define to them their own sensibilities.

This won’t be a film for the regular whole family, but in a way… I found it deeply sweet. Mr Beaks brought up Bukowski in his review back in January, and well… the movie isn’t that heartless… that black. The film is made by the soul of a man that can listen to the despair of 30’s Black Blues and smile. The result is a certain amount of melancholic mirth. A bleeding heart of a Christmas tale that is never quite as broken as it’d make you think it should be.

You see, I’m not real sure if Billy Bob’s character is continually the alcoholic that we see, or if it is just a… this time of the year thing. I’ve got a theory, to me… Billy Bob is a ‘could give a shit’ sort of guy. I think he used to believe in a lot of things. We learn what his family life was. The hollow sort of black pit that only a kid can survive. I like to think that he got out of that and wanted something different for himself. He probably had a whole string of disappointments that left him believing that life is something you tread. Keep your head above water, don’t invest yourself in anything, because it’s all a load of shit.

Then Marcus… Marcus the midget, dwarf, squirt… little person showed up with this scam. The first time was probably easy for Willie, the kids would come hop on his lap and he’d pretend a bit. But as the seven years of repetition came along, sitting in that mall realizing that the kids on his lap were being forced there by parents that just wanted that photo, not for any sort of cherished memory, but because of some sort of fucking programming. These kids would come up and tell him whatever piece of crap trend toy of the year was what they wanted. These fucking mall rugrats no longer knew what they want, they were just spouting the same shit. How fucking original. He realizes that not only is life empty and worthless, but that just putting on that outfit he becomes a perpetualization of the whole fucking farce. That scam, the bullshit, it all starts with the fucking Santa suit. That line with the frantic moms thinking about all the shit they have to remember, or think they have to fucking remember. And it’s all such a load of shit to him, because he knows that some of those kids have as fucked up a life as he had, and if they didn’t… well, they’re just deluded and full of it.

He’s the deepest and blackest type of cynic. The type that finds his answers by forgetting the questions. And that’s why that kid… That weird genetic cross between Porky Pig and the Greatest American Hero that Zwigoff found. He’s seemingly, at first glance, a spoilt retard of a boy. Though through it all… he becomes a release for Billy Bob. Nothing huge, this isn’t a situation where the Grinch hears the Whos sing and his heart grows 3 sizes too big… He finally has a feeling that comes that isn’t on his dick. It doesn’t change him tremendously. He looks at this sad pathetic kid that nobody anywhere should give a shit about, and like a blind dog with two broken back legs… ya just can’t not fill his water dish… ya know what I’m saying? It’s like, no matter how pathetic your own life is, here’s the evolutionary step down. This kid represent the oblivion in all those bottles he’s consumed without ever attaining.

OK… now that sounds like this is one depressing as hell flick, but it isn’t. This film is FUNNY AS HELL. When most people say something is “Funny as Hell” they never really sit back and think how utterly ridiculous the concept of hell is. I mean, think about it. You got this Underground Eternally dank and creepy and hot and humid endless apartment complex carved out of the bowels of the Earth. Each layer down you go, the conditions are worse. You’ve got layers where people are suspended upside down and throughout eternity they’re being dipped face first into boiling shit! Now first off… Where’s all this shit coming from? It’s just got to be being piped in from the eternal feast aplenty in the Heavens right? So that boiling shit, is the shit of saints and martyrs’ excessive compulsive gorging? Secondly, what is worse, the guy that’s being dipped face first into the boiling shit or the guy that throughout eternity is having to yank and let go of the rope to let the guy go face first in the boiling shit. I mean, sure the first time you go in the boiling shit, it burns and scalds your face, but after a year or two… well, I’m sure your nostrils have fused together and the skin is just numbed to the pain. Whereas that poor sap on the edge of the lake, pool or river of boiling feces… He never gets a respite from smelling it and… he’s forced into manual labor throughout eternity. NOW, what I want to know is what the difference between the two sinners are, are they truly stuck in these situations throughout eternity, or is there like a merit system. If so, does that mean there’s an official that watches them throughout eternity, and if so… is it from an air-conditioned cubicle free of the shit smell, or is this official also a sinner, and if he’s a sinner… can you imagine anything more boring than eternity of filling out recommendation paperwork based on the performance skills of the shit diver and the rope puller? So, when I say this movie is funny as hell, that’s the sort of funny I’m talking about.

You might notice that I haven’t talked about Bernie Mac. Well, that’s deliberate. He isn’t in the movie much, but his Mall Detective is wonderful. He isn’t in it much, and he isn’t very likable… matter of fact, he’s a right dirty festering asshole of humanity. A bottom feeder that feeds on the lowest of the low, but has the prance of a king of the forest.

John Ritter, he’s ok. Just a sniveling mall administrator. Nothing big.

Cloris Leachman? She’s the boy’s spry Grandmother. I really wish she’d had a nude scene. She could take Kathy Bates. The scene of her in that chair… she should’ve been nude with a vibrator on idle… and when Billy Bob touches her, it should’ve plopped out on the floor and hummed around a bit. That would’ve been cool.

Lauren Tom… Bitch.

Lauren Graham? I love her. Her Santa fetish fuck habit is just a thing of beauty.

Ok, so how’s the film? I loved it. Absolutely deep of my bones loved it. It was a wondrous work of perversity. A blissful look at a joyous sty filled with the very drippings of humanity.

In a way… Imagine that Robert Crumb is playing Santa Claus. That indifference, disdain for humanity, contempt for the intelligence of the common person. That’s the sugar in this Sundae. I can’t wait to hear the music that Terry Zwigoff finally puts on this puppy.

Whenever this film finally gets release at… the end of this year, you folks that loved GHOST WORLD and CRUMB… you’ll be delighted with Zwigoff’s latest. This is a that rusted aluminum Christmas tree you’ll find this coming Holiday Season.

P.S. The film's script was apparently written by John Requa & Glenn Ficarra. Now those guys wrote the terrible scripts for CATS& DOGS and LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION. Now before you think I must be absolutely looney myself for liking this thing... the script did have the second draft handled by the Coen Brothers I'm told... Though it looks like they won't get credit, though they are on board as Producers. But just so you know, this is much more like a Coen Brother film than a CATS & DOGS type of film. Though to put it quite simply... more than anything it feels like a Holiday film from the director of CRUMB and GHOST WORLD... and that's why you should definitely check it out later this year...

Readers Talkback
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  • April 26, 2003, 1:13 a.m. CST

    plot sounds cliched

    by beamish13

    Zwigoff proved that he could tackle fiction w. "ghost world", but can this film rise above its hokey premise?

  • April 26, 2003, 1:18 a.m. CST


    by b1gw0rm

    sounds like a winner...i'm sure harry's 2 1/2 year old nephew will be seeing this one soon...

  • April 26, 2003, 1:27 a.m. CST

    Harry here... RE: My Nephew and the other two Talk Back posting


    Technically, my nephew will be around 3 1/2 at the earliest before he could possibly see this... BUT more than likely, he'll be closer to 4 (on DVD) before he sees it. And by that time I'll have already explained to him that Mall Santas are actually secret agents from the North Pole that are hired by Santa to spread good will and gather reconnaisance on Good and Bad children and what they want. Which would mean that Billy Bob was actually once working for a Toy Company to infiltrate the whole Santa thing, but was turned by the evil elf into robbing malls of money, which is a bad thing. AS FOR the missing posts, they are not erased... you just can't see them... though I can... and you can too, if you're tricksy.

  • April 26, 2003, 1:29 a.m. CST


    by madfigs

    I think most if not all the places in Mallrats were made up... unless there's a real carpet store called "Rug Munchers"

  • April 26, 2003, 1:30 a.m. CST

    the missing Talkbacks


    And if you have to find the comments, they are here:

  • April 26, 2003, 1:30 a.m. CST

    I have been censored by the large one!

    by Toby Wan

    I was the original second post on this talkback(story of my life)All I said was that there was no review posted and that Harry must have liked the movie, and now I have been erased from existence!! P.S. Please lose the man jugs animation. I can't quit staring at it.(in a car crash sort of way)

  • April 26, 2003, 1:37 a.m. CST

    Ok, I stand corrected....

    by Toby Wan

    I have not been censored. I have been sent to some freakish parallel universe in computer land. Geez, I can't keep up with the coolness that is the large one. Still staring at the man mammaries though. Make it stop! Make it stop!! MY EYES! MY EYES!!

  • April 26, 2003, 1:55 a.m. CST

    Bad Santa

    by joe_buck

    You know, for all the shittalking about Harry's reviews that occurs in these talkbacks, that was a damn good review for a movie that isn't getting a lot of press yet. I'm really looking forward to seeing it. Thanks Harry. (that whole Fast Times/Harry animation IS a little disturbing. I suppose it won't get changed till we stop complaining. Or till X2 comes out next weekend)

  • April 26, 2003, 1:58 a.m. CST

    parallel computer universe

    by joe_buck

    Hee hee. Sorry, I'm a little fucked up right now and that made me laugh.

  • April 26, 2003, 2:03 a.m. CST

    Mallrats is right, Madfigs

    by Banky the Hack

    I was a big fan of "Buy Me Toys". ...and "Fashionable Male" is a little too close to what a real mall store would be named.

  • April 26, 2003, 2:29 a.m. CST

    "Santa Fetish Fuck"

    by Rupert Cornelius

    I think they played the quad at my college during greek week. Seriously, does Lauren Graham act on said fetish in the film?

  • April 26, 2003, 4:55 a.m. CST

    A bitch tits animation and the thought of you eating.

    by lemmingwinks

    That goes together like a 8yr olds ass and curling iron.

  • April 26, 2003, 6:55 a.m. CST

    that wasn't a review!

    by Redbox

    That was Harry going down on this film. Licking the clit with gentle motions mentioning Gibert Shelton and stirring up fantasies of and almost lost world of true cynicism and "Underground" sensibilities. Since ghost World may be my Favorite film next to The Third Man, this sounds like just the kind of film to waken my people, until they make "FFF Bros. Idiots Abroad" or "Real Stuff: The life of D. Eichorn". Between this and Harvey's film, the true art of Comics seems to be sneaking in the back door. If only someone can get Pedro Almodovar to get together with the Hernandez Bros. and do "BEM" or "Mechanix". I'm in the seat already! Long Live Terry!

  • April 26, 2003, 7 a.m. CST

    What's up with Bill Murray?

    by Silvio Dante

    He was supposed to star in this. And then they dropped him/he quit the Charlie's Angels gig too. And both films feature Bernie Mac...hmmm...

  • April 26, 2003, 8:51 a.m. CST


    by Silvio Dante

    seemed to try and broaden his horizons a bit with Wes Anderson. I for one wouldn't mind seeing him do his regular thing every now and then but after reading Harry's review, I do believe Thornton is better suited for Bad Santa. I'd imagine Murray's take on the things would have been a bit more along the lines of Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places (the drunken & suicidal santa with salmon bit) whereas Billy Bob probably takes the less-is-more approach, which worked very well in The Man Who Wasn't There. Actually, thinking about that one: James Gandolfini could have been a great alternate casting choice for BS.

  • April 26, 2003, 10:16 a.m. CST

    Where The Buffalo Roam

    by Silvio Dante

    Anyone seen this? Murray plays Hunter S. Thompson...or maybe that should be "plays"?

  • April 26, 2003, 11:28 a.m. CST


    by readyoufool are honestly the most purposefully ignorant person I have "met" so far in my short 23 years. How any single person on the earth could be as stupid as you have just proved yourself to be and still be able to find his own ass with two hands AND a magical "ass-finding" machine is beyond me. In the future I'll be coming to this site only for the reviews typed by foywonder and moriarty.

  • April 26, 2003, 12:28 p.m. CST

    Ok, Harry, I'm seriously not trying to be mean here...

    by Shabbadoo

    But I honestly couldn't understand your first paragraph, and I read it over about 3 times. Now, I'm gonna' bet you don't give your reviews a once-over before you post them (again, not trying to sound harsh...just giving some constructive criticism), so maybe you should give it a shot from now on. You really write some of the most passionate film reviews out there, but you have to work on how readable they turn out, man.

  • April 26, 2003, 12:44 p.m. CST

    go for the cinematography

    by imageburn13

    Im sure each scene is a treaure trove of doesn't dissappoint!

  • April 26, 2003, 2 p.m. CST

    I believe the mall in Mallrats had all made up stores.

    by Zod_Is_Back

  • April 26, 2003, 2:50 p.m. CST

    How perverse!

    by LordKinbote2

    A person going to a Jewish deli on Easter? How utterly strange, since everyone on Earth celebrates Easter, and even if there were people who didn't, it is against the rules of religion for people to come in contact with people of other religions on sacred holidays. You don't know how hard it's been this Passover to take detours so I wouldn't have to pass a church. I don't know, should I be offended by this comment? Harry did make it abundantly clear in his second paragraph that he *is* Friend To All People Of Different Races and Religions.

  • April 26, 2003, 2:59 p.m. CST


    by Mr. Tourette's

    Nobody likes the disturbing Harry Cates coming out of pool animation. Please change it. There are people trying to masturbate to The Real Cancun banners, and seeing your huge man-tits flop out kills my boner on a consistent basis. Thank you for considering this, and please have a good day.

  • April 26, 2003, 5:19 p.m. CST


    by TomVee

    "A person going to a Jewish deli on Easter? How utterly strange, since everyone on Earth celebrates Easter, and even if there were people who didn't, it is against the rules of religion for people to come in contact with people of other religions on sacred holidays." As embarassing as that comment was, it is not necessarily bigoted. Harry was probably raised Catholic. When you are raised Catholic, as I was, it IS the only religion in the world.

  • April 26, 2003, 6:40 p.m. CST


    by Duck of Death

    I'm still reeling from the tossed-off suggestion in this review that Bad Santa features better dialogue than A Christmas Story. Not having seen Bad Santa, all I can say is that it had better be a frickin' masterpiece to top lines like "In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenity that, as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan."

  • April 26, 2003, 7:30 p.m. CST

    harry please

    by missnoitall3

    could you please cut back on the philosophical shit? i had to skip most of the review because it was incredibly boring. I must say though, your hell speech was quite interesting. On the actual subject i think ill go see that one when it comes out.

  • April 26, 2003, 9:51 p.m. CST

    *Sigh* It's "couldN'T give a shit"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by Magic Milkmaid

    He couldN'T give a shit!! If he COULD give a shit, that means the opposite of what you're trying to say!!!!! MORON!!!!!!

  • April 27, 2003, 10:38 a.m. CST


    by JackieJokeman

    Harry cant get through one review or introduction for a story without telling us how bad America is.

  • April 27, 2003, 12:44 p.m. CST

    while Harry is in Hell, he's gonna be bitching about the impluas

    by Tall_Boy

    HARRY: "But this is all so impluasable! I mean, how does the merit system to this work, and that dude over there who is being dumped in scaling shit for all eternity doesn't seem to be in pain anymore, so therefore the concept of Hell is flawed because people get used to it and-" SATAN: "Geez, doesn't this guy ever shut up?" *shoves poker*

  • April 27, 2003, 2:10 p.m. CST

    Sounds as bad as "Hebrew Hammer"

    by Jon E Cin

  • April 27, 2003, 10:21 p.m. CST

    Billy Bob Thorton is the Sexiest Tomboy Beanpole on the planet

    by NubtheSquirrel

    Not really. I just figured since everybody else is saying it in all the talkback, why not get on the bandwagon. Either way, I can't wait to see this flick!

  • April 27, 2003, 10:28 p.m. CST


    by Ribbons

    I just read Harry's take on Hell and, um.... wow. And the Coen Brothers make films that transcend their hokey premises all the time. I'm not necessarily saying that Terry Zwigoff and the Coen Brothers are comparable, but it can be done, you know...I'm hoping that next year's 'Punisher' flick will transcend its hokey premise, as well, but in a different way...cause right now, it could end up being like 'Road to Perdition' or 'A Man Apart'....which one is anybody's guess. So anyways, I like misty skies. And rolling greens. They're hauntingly beautiful. What's the deal with that GIF? Does Harry feel proud that people never stop talking about it? There's some new news on S-M:2, or at least that's what I hear: turns out MJ's a model and engaged to JJJ's son. Gee, I wonder how that flick's gonna turn out. So what are you all gonna have for breakfast? I'm thinking about toast. Oh, well. Hey, Cheers is on Nick at Nite! I've watched that show before! [End rambling].

  • April 27, 2003, 11:20 p.m. CST

    Murray in "Nothing Lasts forever" (1984)

    by beamish13

    apparently, he still thinks its his best film, and he'd even do a DVD commentary for it. Has anyone seen it? Cinefile video in L.A. has a bootleg DVD copy of it...

  • April 28, 2003, 1:18 a.m. CST

    I'll wait for Elf.

    by Smurfette

    That one sounds funny.

  • April 28, 2003, 12:39 p.m. CST

    Cloris Leachman nude?

    by Sheik Yerbouti

  • April 28, 2003, 12:43 p.m. CST

    Cloris Leachman nude?

    by Sheik Yerbouti

    Uhhhhhhh? Just a thought, but why would you want to see that. And did anybody else notice how Harry loves to show off how amazingly cultured he is by going into great detail about his fav post film restaraunt. It does seem like a bit of a desperate attempt to impress us again with tails of how he is not merely another overweight American, from Texas no less, who is a film junkie and nerd at heart, but actually a high cultered socialite who is at a higher plain of existance than all of us peons who post here at this site. The movie sounds interesting but sometimes I get tired of being patronized.

  • April 28, 2003, 3:05 p.m. CST


    by Neil MacAuley

    Who would pay money to see reality TV in a movie theater? Unless it promised and delivered more than could be seen on TV, a la Jackass? Only Moriarty would think a pile of crap like Cancun would be a huge hit, but then he's looking at from the perspective of a sexless nerdboy who only went to movies in high school and college with his two D&D buddies, none of whom could get laid in a morgue so they needed the outlet. Oh sweet love, Moriarty is proven wrong on a grand scale like I predicted he would be. Ding dong the witch is dead, hee hee hee...

  • April 28, 2003, 3:56 p.m. CST

    What I plan on telling my kids about Mall Santas

    by Vegas

    Inevitably, my daughter will ask how Santa is at every single mall. To which I will respond, "Those aren't really Santas! Those are homeless alcoholic men possessed by the spirit of Claus!" See, I figure Claus can possess the souls of weak-minded men and force them to do his bidding. And that he sees and hears all that these homeless alcoholic men see and hear, and that's how he gathers his intel. And that my girl had better study hard and get into college and get a job, otherwise she'll fall prey to possession by THE CLAUS! Keep in mind, I love Christmas. The story of Santa Claus is something very dear to me, but I think it is possible to love Christmas and at the same time have a funny take on it. So while I am wanting to see BAD SANTA, I don't think its appeal will be limited solely to those who are anti-Holidays as Harry would suggest. Just another case of Harry trying too hard to be subversive, as if that's the only measure of one's cool.

  • April 29, 2003, 5:37 p.m. CST

    I saw this movie last night.

    by SquirrelClaws

    It was terrible. Harry is sent into a fanboy orgasm way too easy. WAY too easy. Ok, there's a few good laughs here. Most of them centered around buttfucking jokes: "You aint gonna shit right for a week!" But Zwigoff, who's displayed such great disdain for the stupidity of pop culture and Americans in general with his previous films, here just makes something dumb. Kinda funny, but dumb. It felt like it could have been a Rodney Dangerfield vehicle. A big step down for Zwigoff. I saw the pre-MPAA version, so it'll probably become even worse by the time you guys see it.

  • May 5, 2003, 7:38 p.m. CST

    by Mosby

  • June 4, 2003, 12:19 a.m. CST

    HEY DJ -- the movie

    by highsociety

    this movie looks cool. there's a new movie called HEY DJ that looks good too it stars hot babe charlotte lewis Here's a link about it: