On a sunny Halloween in Southern California, Mark (Chris Kroesen) agrees to help an old “witch” (Valerie Hobbs) get her cat Lucifer out of a tree. Sadly, Mark falls from the tree and has a vivid and disturbing dream in color à la The Wizard Of Oz (1939). In payment for his efforts, the witch bestows upon Mark a magical ring with Santa Slaus’ likeness that contains a magic seed which, when planted, grows into a magic Christmas tree that’ll grants wishes.
The Magic Christmas Tree (1964) is a micro budget holiday picture from the aptly named Holiday Pictures. The film trades in familiar signifiers associated with Djinn narratives as well as the folktale of Jack and the Beanstalk. One time film director Richard C. Parish does well to make the most of what is available to him. But even technical ingenuity and some bold acting choices fail to lend spectacles of magic the gravitas the script clearly calls for.
The best parts of The Magic Christmas Tree are objectively its worst attributes. For example, the amount of screen time devoted to Mark’s father (Richard C. Parish) tinkering with his lawn mower is obscene. The prolonged sequence is played for laughs (goofy sound effects abound) but feels more like a joke on the audience. Images of Mark’s father mowing the lawn are intercut with his mother (Darlene Lohnes) making a tedious phone call to fellow housewife Betty where she discusses her casserole. The Magic Christmas Tree, evidently a twenty-minute movie padded to last an hour, also features plenty of gratuitous shots of the busy main street of the town.
When Christmas finally enters into The Magic Christmas Tree the film picks up a little bit, trading on nostalgic tropes and sweet sentiments. But the real momentum of the third act is derived from the wacky talking tree that grants Mark his three wishes. First, Mark wishes it were daylight again (enter a mundane montage). Afterwards, Mark wishes “I want Santa Claus for my very own this Christmas” which the tree grants immediately. Santa (Howard Blevins) appears, confused and speaking stiltedly like a drunk. In no time at all Mark attempts to extort Santa.
But before that plot can resolve itself, The Magic Christmas Tree shifts gears when suddenly Mark is in a forest. It is here that he meets a giant (Robert Maffei). The giant takes Mark as a slave in punishment for his attempted extortion of Santa Claus. It isn’t until Mark repents his previous wish that he is able to escape and wish his previous wishes never occurred.
All of these bizarre and disturbing plot twists are given a terrifying dreamlike quality by the campy acting. Everyone in The Magic Christmas Tree speaks with the wooden cadence associated with Ed Wood movies. The Magic Christmas Tree fits into that tradition of B-Movie that is wholly unique to the fifties and early sixties where ambitious independent films far exceeded their grasp, crafting surreal works of cinematic outsider art. The Magic Christmas Tree is an acquired taste, but to the initiated it’ll hit like catnip.