Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the fourth day of The Twelve Days of Shitmas! As you may recall, our previous entry was bogged down with a lot of personal baggage for me and the review served as something of a therapy session where I tried to face down the trauma and confusion of annually forced holiday entertainment. Today's Christmas special has no such psychological encumbrances--in fact I'd never even heard of it until just a few weeks ago when I impulsively decided to give it a try. So was it a glorious Yuletide gift or a naughty lump of Christmas coal? There's one sure way to find out! Grab some hot cider and Christmas sugar cookies and join me on a strange holiday journey through an exotic and magical land...but step lightly! There be monsters here!

I'll have a blue Shitmas without you.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning, each one a festive gift from Million Monkey Theater to you.

I stumbled across this unique little gem quite by accident and immediately sat down to watch it because I found both the title and the fact that it was produced in New Zealand intriguing. We all know about that little sextad of fantasy films with the rings and the wizards and the orcs and the dwarves and such, but aside from those my knowledge of New Zealand-produced entertainment has pretty much been limited to Black Sheep (2006) and Flight of the Conchords (2007-09). I therefore entered the mysterious realm of The Monster's Christmas with no particular expectations and a completely open mind. It turns out Peter Jackson isn't the only kiwi who knows a little something about constructing an entertaining fantasy.

We open with a p.o.v. shot of something stalking around in the trees and bushes outside an isolated house, making deep grunting noises and inching ever-closer to a little Girl's bedroom window.

Is this a Christmas special or a slasher flick?

We can hear the little Girl inside reading aloud a story about a group of monsters who loved to sing. Each Christmas, she tells us, they would have a contest and peform lots of lovely carols. It was their favorite thing to do and their favorite time of year.

Seems reasonable.

One year, however, a witch named Fistendook entered the contest. Yes, her name was Fistendook, which definitely does not sound like a fetish activity involving a leather lab coat, a latex glove, liberal lubrication and a flexible sphincter.

Unfortunately for the monsters, Fistendook's singing was so horrid that she came in last. Being a witch (and a particularly wicked one at that) she wasn't going to let this affront to her dignity slide! She cast a terrible spell and stole the monsters' voices, hiding them in a secret cavern deep within her lair. Somehow in the confusion, however one of the monsters managed to steal her wand, and without it she couldn't continue to make her evil magic. The only way to get the voices back is to go to the edge of the cavern and shout out a secret word, but even if the poor monsters knew what the word was they still couldn't speak it, and so must bide their time until a hero comes to save them.

Have you got all that? Good. I'm not going over it again.

As soon as the Girl finishes reading the story she falls asleep, because delivering all that exposition in less than two minutes wore her right the hell out.

She's not asleep for long, though. Almost immediately she hears something stirring out in the living room. It must be Father Christmas, she thinks, so she quietly gets out of bed, sneaks into the living room and switches on the light to find...

H.R. Pufnstuf has really let himself go.

Now if I saw this thing in my living room, perhaps especially because I'd just seen a picture of it in the book I'd been reading a few minutes before, I'd run directly outside. Not just because it's a goddamn Mountain Monster in my goddamn living room, but because I'd think I was hallucinating from some sort of gas leak inside my home and would want to escape its influence as quickly as I could.

This little Girl is apparently made of iron, however, and she just smiles at the beast and says "I know what you are! You're a monster!" As if it's the most natural thing in the world.

She's stone cold.

She tells the Mountain Monster that he doesn't scare her because he can't even talk, which makes the poor fellow cry! She immediately walks it back with an awkward apology, though and pulls out a tissue to dry his tears. The top of his head emits a steady stream of mist, by the way which blows out in sudden, agitated puffs whenever he gets angry or upset.

He's a sensitive brute.

The Girl talks about the poor monsters' plight, bemoaning that they can't do the one thing needed to restore their voices because they need a voice to do it, then suddenly realizes the obvious solution that someone else could go to the secret cavern and speak the magic words for them! The Mountain Monster gloms onto this instantly, gets very excited and walks over to the fireplace. He grabs a poker in an attempt to communicate something to her.

The two now play a little game of charades. I must say the Girl is not particularly good at this game and guesses wrong four times before Mountain Monster hands her the poker in exasperation and puts a little star decoration on the end of it. "The wand!," she cries, "You have the witch's wand!"

Yes, he was explicitly stated in the book you were reading literally
three minutes ago.

She gets very excited now, realizing that with the wand she could easily defeat Fistendook, go to the cavern and speak the magic word. She agrees that she'll do it so long as Mountain Monster can get her back home in time for Christmas.

Now they walk along a grassy ridge-top together and we get an overdubbed song wherein the Girl recaps the salient points of her quest and bolsters her courage for the journey ahead. She can sing only passably well, and having her do an extended solo like this serves only to highlight her limitations. As an actress she's much better--her unpolished, anaffected line readings actually work in her favor and she generally comes across as a real little Girl playing make-believe in a suddenly unbelievable world.

So the Girl and Mountain Monster saunter off hand in hand to retrieve the witch's wand, and as they move beyond the crest of a hill a creepy lizard/fish man suddenly slinks in behind them, following at a discreet distance.

Creature from the Black Buffoon.

Mountain Monster takes the girl to a huge natural cavern from the interior of which radiates an intense red light. She exclaims, rather charmingly, "Ooh! This is a magic place!"

She opens up a rock that's been hollowed out to form a secret compartment and pulls out the wand, which looks like something from a grade-school production of "The Wizard of Oz." It's pretty clear there wasn't much of a budget, and most of it was probably spent on the monster costumes. The music is particularly cheap, and seems to have been recorded using a single keyboard.

Magic Wand: $1.49. Magical Adventure: Priceless.

Black Buffoon, meanwhile is watching them covertly from behind a rock and when he gets sight of the wand he has a game-show level conniption.

"Come on down! You're the next contestant on The Price is Right!

There's a very cute scene now where the Girl suggests they stop and have a bite to eat. She offers Mountain Monster some chocolate but he declines. Monsters, it turns out, don't eat chocolate. She asks what they do eat and he points to a book about flowers she just pulled out of the big Christmas stocking she's been toting along with her. When she opens the book he tears out one of the pictures and scarfs it down! It turns out monsters like to eat pictures, and this particular monster likes pictures of flowers. She wants to feed him but doesn't want her book ruined, so she offers to draw some pictures of flowers for him instead. Luckily he finds these to be just as delicious.

Monster Meal Prep 101.

As you can see she's wearing a little nurse costume here which is just a lovely detail and exactly the sort of thing a child her age would do. She's just a normal kid playing dress-up and having a little adventure.

As Mountain Monster waits for his meal, Buffoon lurks behind them, looking for an opportunity to snatch the wand. He makes his move but botches it, and Mountain Monster uses it to summon a little flash-pot explosion to chase him off with. The Girl decides the dastardly creature hasn't had quite enough punishment, so she grabs the wand and pops him twice more, gigling as the third explosion burns off his tail!

I wonder if she's gotten her Hogwart's invitation yet.

Buffoon, as you may have guessed, works for Fistendook, and slinks off to wake and mutely convey to her that he's found the wand. She's clearly not a morning person, but she perks right up when she figures out what he's saying. She orders him to go out and retrieve the wand at all costs.

Before I go would you mind having a quick look at my ass?

Back out in the wilderness Mountain Monster has gone as far as his fear will allow, and indicates to the Girl that she must continue her quest alone. She gamely marches off into a dense forest with only her wand and a stocking full of books and chocolate to protect her.

Thanks for nothing, asshole.

As she walks through the dense foliage unknowingly followed by Buffoon, she's suddenly ambushed and carried off by a big insect guy. This Bug Monster runs with her to his sticky web-lair amid her protests that she's a friend and she wants to help get the voices back.

Hey kid! Got any flies?

The Bug Monster's suit is designed with the face pointing backwards relative to the actor wearing it, so he must walk backwards to make the creature move forwards. This gives the Bug Monster a peculiar, disjointed gait and allows the wearer to make odd inhuman gestures that would be impossible if the arms were oriented to the front. It's not entirely successful, but it's rather an ingenious idea and definitely helps the thing to seem more like an a fantastic beast and less like a guy in a foam rubber suit.

As Buffoon watches from a tree limb above them Bug Monster helps the Girl make a convincing monster costume so she won't look so conspicuous as she wanders through their realm.

Add a silk infinity scarf and a pair of pumps and you're ready for the catwalk, girl!

As they bond they have a little tickle fight, and the Girl discovers that monsters don't laugh when you tickle them, they just hop up and down. I suspect this might this be of importance later on.

Buffoon has meanwhile spotted the unguarded wand on the ground between himself and the spot where Bug Monster and the Girl are playing. He decides to sneak over and grab it, but Bug Monster takes notice, grabs him instead and wraps him up in the webbing.

I think I saw this once in an episode of
Blake's 7.

Bug Monster and the Girl reach the edge of the woods and the Buggy one indicates that this is as far as he goes. Once again the Girl must continue on alone.

"You're shitting me, right?"

Back at the bug lair Buffoon manages to free himself from the webbing and continue his pursuit. He chases the Girl across a rocky river and seems to have her cornered at a cliff next to a waterfall, but just as he's about to pounce he loses his footing and plunges into the churning waters below.

No, that's not an empty suit stuffed with polyester pillow fill, why do you ask?

Now our little heroine finds herself traversing a steam-shrouded, alien wonderland of hot-springs, geysers and boiling mud. It's an extreme and eerie environment and she must step carefully to avoid slipping into any of the simmering pools. At one point she sees what look like a couple of conjoined, mud-caked, natural steam vents and goes over to have a peep. Whenever she's not looking, however a couple of heads pop out of it to have a peep at her.


This is the Mud Monster, the next creature (creatures?) she will befriend along her route. They have an odd, galloping walk and occasionally can't even agree what direction to move along in, but they seem to have a system that generally works. They eventually sneak up behind the Girl and steal the wand, passing it back and forth between their four hands and over her head like a game of "monkey in the middle." She explains to them who she is and about her quest to get their voices back, and although they don't seem like the brightest porch bulbs on the geothermic block, they finally comprehend, give the wand back and agree to help her along.

Mud and Mudder

In exchange for their assistance, however, she has to draw them some food, in this case a cartoon crab, and there's some confusion when they can't agree how many legs and eyes it should have. She draws it to their final specifications (fifteen legs and four eyes, if you must know) and one of them tears about a third of it off, tricking the other into taking the smaller piece. The Girl giggles as they sniff and chew the paper, and I'm suddenly aware of just how charming and believable this oddball world feels now that I've settled into its peculiar rhythms.

The Girl and the Mud Monsters practice being scary to help her become a more convincing monster, and they also provide her a spiky helmet to complete her monstrous look.

Eventually they settle down by one of the bubbling mud pools and Mud Monster points down, gesturing that the Girl should listen. As we watch the bubbles form and burst we become slowly aware that each pop contains a whispered syllable of a spoken word, and in one of the most clever and compelling ideas in the film, the Earth itself assists her in her quest, offering the following clue to deciphering the magic word:

"The magic word is like 'hello,' a noisy greeting from 'below'"

With the mud monster's silent coaching she's able to figure out that the secret word is:


The mud also gives her a hint to the voice-cavern's location:

"Above the horse and deep inside, behind the teeth the voices hide."

This couplet, however, she and the Mud Monster are unable to decode.

Once again the Girl's new friend is too timid to accompany her beyond its own domain, so she straps on her new hat, shakes the four outstretched hands and lights out alone toward Fistendook's distant mountain lair.

We now join the witch herself in her cavern gymnasium, struggling through a televised exercise routine.

In another cheeky detail, the instructor is also a witch.

Back outside we see our young heroine having a tough time clambering over some rough terrain. She's clearly getting tired, and at this untoward moment Buffoon appears from behind a rock and gives chase.

"Wait, kid! I've got candy!"

She makes a valiant effort to escape but she's simply too weary and Buffoon catches up with her. The capture isn't shown directly, but takes place behind a large bush. All we see are the items from the Girl's stocking flying up in the air as Buffoon ransacks it, and then him emerging with the wand and running off. I think this was a good choice, as showing their confrontation directly might have proven too frightening for younger viewers. As it happens, however, Buffoon has not been quite as successful as he imagines. He may have gotten the wand...

...but he didn't get the orb that makes it work!

The Girl now stands at the edge of a crater and shouts out in heartbreak and frustration.

"I want my Maypo!"

Her voice travels with the winds and each of her monster friends in turn hears her cry. This finally encourages them to overcome their fears and the three (four?) each start off to find and help her.

It's about time these three (four?) grew a pair (or three?) between 'em.

This is another of those classic fairytale elements with which The Monster's Christmas abounds, where the protagonist helps each in a series of characters along the quest journey then calls on them later when they reach an impasse.

From the mountain ridge where she stands the Girl can't see that help is on the way. She gamely gathers her courage, however and continues the journey towards the witch's cave on her own.

Back at the cave Buffoon comes in and shows Fistendook the wand. He makes a game of not handing it over which turns into a cheesy little song and dance where Fistendook patter-sings "Give it to me" over and over again. This and the Girl's song near the beginning are definitely the two weakest points in the film and probably should have been cut.

Buffoon's impudence just pisses Fistendook off, of course, and when she finally gets the wand she decides she's going to use it to teach him a lesson. She gives it the old witch's wind up, but when it fails to fire she's absolutely livid to discover that Buffoon has lost the orb.

Never send a monster to do a witch's work

Buffoon flees the cave, both to look for the orb and to save what's left of his ass. On his way out he unknowingly passes the Girl on her way in.

She's still hoping against hope she can somehow complete her mission and help her friends, and as she wanders through the caverns unsure what her next step should be, Fistendook, duster in hand, spots her from behind some boulders.

The witch jumps out and catches her, and now her training in how to be a monster saves the day. Fistendook is first unimpressed at her angry monster hiss then highly impressed at the energy of her hops when she tickles her. The witch is convinced that despite the human face this is indeed a harmless little monster whom she might be able to put to good use. It seems there's a lot of polishing and dusting to be done around the cave, so Fistendook figures she might as well put the little one to work as a maid.

Meanwhile Mountain Monster, Bug Monster and Mud Monster have caught up with each other and formed a badass Monster Posse. They hurry off towards the caverns ro kick some wicked witch butt.

"We're putting the band back together. We're on a mission from God."

Back in the gymnasium, the Girl has noticed the wand sticking out of a bag hanging on the uneven bars. She silently takes note and proceeds to clean the various pieces of exercise equipment. After completing her first few tasks Fistendook orders her to "polish the horse," which is definitely not a euphemism for waxing the carrot, but a command to clean "The vaulting horse!" as the witch impatiently explains.

As the girl begins to run a rag over this standard piece of gymnasia accouterment, she recalls the words of the bubbling mudpots. She looks up and spots an imposingly tall ladder leading to a gaping maw of rock surrounded by stalactite and stalagmite "teeth," and the hidden meaning of the cryptic couplet suddenly becomes clear.

"Above the horse and deep inside, behind the teeth the voices hide."

Back along the path to the witch's mountain the Monster Posse finds their friend's scattered belongings and the witch's Orb. This gets him so excited that his chimney head blows out like a volcano.

Monster porn money shot.

They run into a startled Buffoon, who scarpers off to the cave to warn witchie-poo. He finds her in a steam tent, reducing her figure apparently, and we get another game of charades as he tries explain that the Monster Posse is on its way. After Fistendook correctly divines what's what, Buffoon catches sight of the Girl! He frantically manages to alert Fistendook that she's a danger to her because she can speak!

Now that's what I call comedy!

There's a chase in the gymnasium now with Buffoon and Fistendook doing some silly slapstick as they try to capture the Girl. She manages to get her helmet off and perches it atop the steam tent, and Buffoon makes a fool of himself for about the eighth time since breakfast when he tries to tackle it.

This bit of diversion distracts the two baddies just long enough for the Girl to grab the wand. She gives it a solid wave, but when it fails to fire Fistendook emits her perfunctory evil laugh.

As evil laughs go it's pretty convincing.

Unfortunately for her that laugh gives away her precise location to the approaching Monster Posse.

Anxious to get back in his mistress' good graces, Buffoon begs Fistendook to let him take care of the Girl himself. He performs an impressive series of somersaults in his run up towards her but the witch pulls the mat out from under him just as he's about to grab her, both because she's a douchebag and because she wants to punish the little "monster" herself.

Like many a villain before her, she feels compelled to give a premature victory speech that we just know will give the posse just enough time to come to the rescue. "You came here to take something that doesn't belong to you," she says, circling like a jackal homing in on its prey, "that makes you a thief...and you know what happens to thieves!"

"They get jiggy with it."

Just as the witch grabs the wand handle out of the Girl's hand the Monster Posse arrives to grab it back.

Mud Monster reassembles it and hands it to Mountain Monster. He raises it up and gives it a mighty wave and...the all-powerful Fistendook falls in a craven swoon, crumpling like in foil in a heap on the exercise mat.

I know it's a family film, but I'd really hoped to see her explode like a pumpkin
stuffed with C4.

The Girl ditches the monster suit and climbs the ladder up to the mouth of the voice cavern. She peers over the top and screams into the seemingly bottomless abyss "HULLABALOO!!"

There's a rope attached to her you can just barely see, but still...that's a hell of a climb and one brave little Girl.

Having done the deed she climbs down and begins an a capella rendition of "Silent Night," and one by one the monsters and even Buffoon and Fistendook join in and begin to sing!

Na-na-na-na-na-na, gettin' jiggy with it!".

We slowly fade to the Girl at home, asleep in her bed with "The Monster's Christmas" book half covering her face. She wakes up and goes into the living room, just as she did at the beginning when she thought she heard Father Christmas, but this time it's Christmas morning and she begins to open her presents!

It was just a dream...

...or was it?

As is probably obvious from this review, I kind of fell in love with The Monster's Christmas somewhere about ten minutes into it. I found it thoroughly charming, with just the right blend of quirky humor and genuine sweetness. It's one of those rare movies where you can see its many flaws as you're watching it, but it's so darn cheeky and good-natured you're inclined to charitably ignore them. In fact I'd go a step further and admit that despite a slow start, by about a third of the way through it had won me over to the point that I had to kind of squint to see its flaws at all. This is a good solid story of a classic myth-quest, chock-full of authentic fairy tale wonder, featuring both an appealing protagonist and a whimsical aura of childhood magic. What more could you ask for in a holiday treat?

The End.

Back in 2018 I absolutely scorched the abysmal 1983 Lucio Fulci fantasy Conquest for getting virtually every one of its folklore and mythological elements wrong. Contrast that film with this obscure, low-budget New Zealand TV special, produced only two years earlier, which gets every single one of those elements absolutely right. It just goes to show that you don't need a decent budget or a name director to make an entertaining movie; you just need a good script, a likeable cast and a lot of heart.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 11th.

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December 2019.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

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