Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny (1972)

At this point, the act of watching unquestionably insane holiday-themed entertainment has eased its way out of my life. The older I get, the more respite I crave. Especially during the holidays. When the TV clicks on in December, things need to be warm, sincere, and joyful. I don’t want K. Gordon Murray’s Santa Claus. I want The World Of Henry Orient. I want Desk Set.

I want a skinny, distressed Santa Claus stuck in the middle of a Florida wasteland.

Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny is deceiving. Watch it once and it’s terrifying. Watch it twice and it’s beguiling. Watch it three times and you’re hooked for life. This film is not seized by weirdo-trash quicksand; it’s blessed with a near surgical approach to artless absurdity. And there’s a big difference between the two. Barry Mahon is not Coffin Joe or Nick Millard. Occasionally, Mahon’s work skimmed the rim of madness (Censored), but for the most part, he kept the aesthetic undesignedly practical (The Beast That Killed Women). His late-career adventures in dirt-cheap kids’ stuff (The Wonderful Land Of Oz) were no different. So, when Mahon set out to make a kiddie Christmas movie, it was business as usual. No money. No skill-set to effectively communicate on film. Just a nice supply of his particular brand of invariable “logic.”

“Santa was mighty uncomfortable!”

As he should be. Due to an undisclosed mishap, December 20 finds thrift-store Santa and his sleigh bogged down in a Florida beach. He can’t get out. It’s hot and Christmas is in danger. Naturally, Saint Nick telepathically summons various children for assistance. This disrupts their day-to-day activities (fighting, pet tricks, jumping off of roofs), but of course, they’re eager to help. With a gorilla. A pony. One black pig. A skinny cow. A horse. A rabid dog. Lots of grunting and pushing of anxious-looking animals ensues. Santa continues to complain about the heat and remains trapped in the sand. It is here that Barry Mahon interjects the disconcerting reality of The Ice Cream Bunny and his fire truck caravan. No matter how many times I’ve seen this film, The Bunny’s messianic appearance never fails to invoke an exclamation of “Jesus Christ!” in my living room. Which is appropriate; it makes the off-center, old-west typeface announcing “MERRY CHRISTMAS” at the film’s conclusion entirely justified.

Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny isn’t deranged. Though it easily could have been, Mahon’s calm, grounded methodology insures that we’re here to laugh hysterically, rather than lose our minds. And what better gift could a filmmaker give to his audience during the holidays than 35 minutes of pleasant hilarity? From the bafflingly solemn, reverse-zoom long-shots of Santa in his sleigh to the constipated and repetitive post-dubbed mumblings (“It . . . is . . . so HOT! GOOD GOLLY!”) to the pieces of the story that are never quite told, this is Barry Mahon’s vision of what he thought kids would like to see in a movie about Santa Claus. That vision may have been misguided. The ramifications, however, are not.

Since being purchased for $1.50 at a Family Video in Indiana six years ago, Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny has found its way onto my television set each and every December. That should come as no surprise — as mentioned, I savor warmth, sincerity, and joy in my holiday-themed entertainment. Obviously, that’s all Barry Mahon ever wanted.

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