Santa And The Ice-Cream Bunny (1972) is a surreal, kid friendly, nightmare


If some films have red flags you can see a mile off, this film has enough for a United Communist Countries parade. Firstly it was written, directed, filmed, scored, and edited by one person; Richard Winer. Secondly, it was mostly used as a promotional vehicle for, specifically a regional amusement park (Pirates World in Florida). Thirdly, about half of it is made up for repurposed footage from another project, bulking the two out to something that can hit the magical 90 minutes run time marker. Combined, and the results should be terrible. Well, they are. But underneath that, there is a layer of amazing that no one, including the makers, intended there to be.

The film starts as it means o go on; cheaply produced, badly shot, and with all the dialogue done in post. The elves, a motley selection of child laborers, are worried about Santa being missing. It turns out that he’s stuck on a beach in Florida a few days before Christmas because all his reindeer have abandoned him for never quite explained reasons. Possibly they melted in the heat, as Santa makes a lot of mentions about how hot it is and how thirsty he is, all whilst wearing his full winter-weather issue uniform. You could treat this as exposition, setting the scene and laying the stakes. Or you could opt to have everything that happens after he has his first little nap as the visions St Nick witnesses as he dies of heatstroke. Either is just as likely and makes as much sense; a brazen disregard for cohesive storytelling makes this film so much fun to watch, so you can amuse yourself throughout by affixing your own narrative to it.

“Let us rise up and seize the means of production from that fat beardy bastard!”

Santa then does the most obvious thing possible: use his psychic mind powers to summon a whole load of children to his aid. This sequence is probably supposed to be charming and carefree, but thanks to the drained colour tones, low-fi sound effects, and arbitrary activities the youths are up to it ends up being sinister and terrifying. Kids flock to him, many looking like they have no idea why they are there. This is a motif that carries on throughout their performances in the film, and it’s never clear if they were local drama students, coerced friends of the production team, or unwilling hostages. On the plus side, it is a pretty integrated group of gender, race, and facial expressions.

“And if you’re very good then you’ll get to see your parents again”

To help Santa get his sleigh going, a sequence of random animals are brought out and fitted to the front. This is a petting zoo parade, with Santa maintaining his Xanax optimism throughout. Quite how he thought someone dressed in a gorilla suit was going to help is unclear, he’s just happy they’re trying their best to help. Maybe there is a moral here, maybe they had 15 minutes to fill and a line in that script that read “assorted animals try their best”, or maybe pigs are considered exotic in The Sunshine State

Subtext is what you make of it

Then, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn turn up and hide in a bush. They appear again, near the end of the film. In both instances, they do nothing of any value or importance and don’t even interact with any of the other characters. They just exist because they exist. Again, the reasons for this are best left to the audience. Maybe they are there to add a touch of literary class to the proceedings, maybe they are a child-friendly extension of Vladimir and Estragon, maybe the writer wanted to win a bet. Whatever blithe and witty speculation you come up with is probably as useful as a therapy session, as this film is less a window into a light fantasy world and more a mirror into the darkness of your soul.

“Why have you forsaken me!”

Because Santa is terminally cheerful, and presumably hasn’t seen this film already, he tells the kids to not give up hope and browbeats the story of Thumbelina into them. Only this is Santa and The Ice-Cream Bunny, so it can’t be a simple staging of that tale. Instead, he tells the story of a mole telling the story of Thumbelina as part of an attraction at Pirates World, with a guest imagining themselves into the role of Thumbelina. So, it’s an interpretation of a story being told in a story about telling a story; 4 levels of abstraction. You can be forgiven for not being ready for such a deeply meta-fictional concept, but you will be absolutely shocked at the effort put into the performances. Very little talent, but absolutely huge amounts of effort.

“DIVE!!!!”

On top of the avant-garde surrealism/post-modern storytelling, this section is also deeply political. It asks a lot of questions about the position of women in society, exhibiting a clash between traditional family values and the feminism of the modern era. It also has moles migrating south for the winter, insect crows, and a frog prince that is an afront to god and nature. The combination is heady, disorienting, and either a fascinating example of Outsider Art or, if you’re determined to not go with the flow, grossly incompetent filmmaking.

“I will feast upon your soul!”

The final section of the film is a violent act of horror. For the reasons that it’s in the title, the Ice-Cream Bunny, a Lovecraftian homunculian=lagomorph arrives, heralded by a barking dog, on an antique fire truck bedecked with a horde of children. This drives an indeterminate distance, mostly through Pirates World, in long, drawn-out shots which frequently show why someone in a vision and mobility reducing costume should not be driving a large, open-topped vehicle with a bunch of children holding on to it. When, after what feels like an eternity, it eventually reaches the marooned Santa, they meet as equals, and Santa bums a lift back to the North Pole. Once departed, his sleigh disappears; so either the instigating problem was utterly avoidable, and everything just watched was utterly pointless, or Santa’s mind offered the solution as soothing comfort and the Ice-cream Bunny is a child-friendly version of Charon.

This is how gods die

It is very easy to consider this film unwatchable trash, mostly because the evidence is plain to see. But, and I offer this with no hipster irony, it’s the utter lack of proficiency on any level that makes it so fascinating a Treasure. Filling in of the gaps, working out the logical consequences of what’s on-screen, and trying to form a cohesive narrative out of essentially random images, is a great sport. This is an inkblot test; a chance to let your imagination run free and pull meaning out of the meaningless. This is psychotronic cinema at its incompetent finest; never dull, unrelentingly strange, and inscrutable to correct interpretation. You will get exactly whatever you put in whilst watching it. Be it effort and imagination or an intoxicant. And, with any luck, you will never be witness to another film like it.

The Raggedyman

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