On any given day, I get some strange stuff in my email inbox. This is the nature of the beast—you write eclectically, and about some weird topics, and you start getting more and more off-the-wall email from a small army of harried PR people attempting to get their clients noticed. The vast majority of it, you simply tune out. But then something catches your eye, and before you know it you’re tumbling down a rabbit hole of shame and insanity.
That’s what happened to me this week. And now I’m going to share the bizzarity with you.
It all began with an email from a PR person I didn’t recognize. I checked on this to confirm, later on—I’ve literally never gotten an email from this particular PR person before this one. I’ve just got the one, with the following headline:
“Ed Asner Stars in SAVING CHRISTMAS Coming to Digital and DVD”
In that first moment, I almost went ahead and deleted said email, but two things stopped me:
1. I wanted to confirm that Ed Asner was in fact, still alive, and
2. I was certain that I’d heard the name Saving Christmas for a film before, and wondered if there was a connection.
As it turns out, Ed Asner is indeed still alive. At the age of 88 (turns out today is his birthday, completely by chance), he’s been spending the last few years making TV guest star appearances and appearing in films of the direct-to-video variety, including some delightful-looking, critically drubbed Argentinean and Peruvian productions. His last film of consequence was of course Pixar’s Up, and he previously portrayed Santa Claus 14 years ago in Elf. When he has time, he indulges his hobbies, such as being an enthusiastic 9/11 truther. Incredibly, he’s also starring in another film as Santa this year, entitled Santa Stole Our Dog: A Merry Doggone Christmas.
Santa appears to have borrowed Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart’s beard for this film.
Which brings us to point #2: the warning klaxons that sounded in my brain the second I saw the title Saving Christmas. This is where we start getting into weird territory because there’s simply no way that this 2017, Ed Asner-starring film should possibly have ended up titled Saving Christmas. The reason why is simple: That title has already been claimed, and it was claimed by what IMDB regards as one of the very worst films of all time.
It wasn’t even long ago, in the winter of 2014, when lovable Growing Pains actor turned hardcore born-again Christian Kirk Cameron produced his directorial magnum opus, Saving Christmas. If you haven’t seen it (and you almost certainly haven’t, unless you belong to a militantly Christian household), Cameron’s Saving Christmas is a bizarre film that is probably a bit different from what you might be picturing. Which is to say, it’s not a “war on Christmas” movie that implies the secular world is trying to destroy the holiday by making people say “X-mas.” Rather, it’s a passionately incoherent defense of those seemingly secular holiday traditions such as Christmas trees, gift-giving and Santa Claus, which Cameron attempts to wrap up and reclaim via batshit Christian mysticism and extremely selective Bible quotations. The end goal: to prove to an intensely evangelical Christian audience that it’s okay to love Santa, and hot chocolate, and presents, because they’re secretly all in praise of Jesus … from a certain point of view. Atheists/agnostics are portrayed as bitter, cynical fools who are attempting to steal Christmastime traditions away from the good Christians in the audience, and the film’s content consists of Cameron shooting down weak, straw man arguments from his deluded brother-in-law for 79 minutes while simultaneously making the point that “presents are Christian because when you lay them down in front of the tree they symbolize the skyline of the new Jerusalem.” This is an actual point from Saving Christmas, delivered with supreme, world-breaking smugness.
It might shock you to know that Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas was not particularly well received. Not in Christian circles, who were presumably put off by the director’s intense egotism, and certainly not outside of those circles. In all likelihood, though, the film would simply have passed unnoticed and forgotten, like any of the other 10,000 direct-to-video Christian movies released in any given calendar year. But Cameron’s ego was simply too big to let that happen.
Disappointed and angry about the film’s poor reception, Cameron reached out to the internet in an attempt to gerrymander a better-looking reception for his work. He posted the following plea to his Christian followers on Facebook:
“Help me storm the gates of Rotten Tomatoes. All of you who love Saving Christmas – go rate it at Rotten Tomatoes right now and send the message to all the critics that WE decide what movies we want our families to see.”
It was accompanied by the following image, so desperate was Cameron to be validated with a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. TAKE THAT, CRITICS!
“All of my self-worth is wrapped up in this; oh god, please deliver me from the purgatory that is a Rotten rating.”
As I’m sure you can guess, things didn’t go as Cameron planned. As it turns out, he’s only a fan of vote manipulation when it’s in his favor, and he didn’t take kindly to huge internet communities such as Reddit and YouTube coming out of the woodwork to downvote and poorly rate Saving Christmas en masse to ruin his little plan. By the time they were done, it was the #1 lowest rated film on the entire IMDB Bottom 250. Three years later, it’s still technically rated as the #3 worst film of all time according to IMDB, and the worst American-made effort. If you were wondering, the #1 rating now belongs to a German zombie comedy starring YouTubers, simply titled Potato Salad.
Cameron’s Saving Christmas also dominated the 2015 Razzie Awards, winning four awards: Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Screenplay, and an impressive win in the “Worst Screen Combo” category for “Kirk Cameron and his Ego.”
Which is all to say: How and why would you possibly create another film in 2017 called Saving Christmas?
Let’s get this out of the way right now: This film is definitely generating a lawsuit from Kirk Cameron. There’s no doubt about that, which leave us with “why?”
It’s impossible that the producers of the 2017 Saving Christmas could somehow be ignorant of the previous film. Type “Saving Christmas” into Google and you’re presented with 3.39 million results on how terrible Cameron’s movie is. YouTube yields the same results. Even if you type “Saving Christmas 2017” into YouTube, the first result is a Minecraft video, before this film’s trailer. The only reasonable conclusion is to assume that the producers were attempting to piggyback on some kind of name recognition from Cameron’s movie, but is “the suggestion of infamy” really an effective driver of DVD sales? Is that how you move merchandise these days?
Things are only complicated further by the fact that Saving Christmas apparently wasn’t always the 2017 film’s name. Do a little searching and you’ll find that it was once called The Santa Files, and had that name as recently as four months ago. In fact, there’s an entire little “behind the scenes” YouTube series chronicling the development of The Santa Files, before the title was abruptly changed leading up to a Nov. 21, 2017, release. It then received a new IMDB page, with much more detailed information, although both film names still appear on the IMDB pages of actors such as Asner. This must be the film’s current name, though, or they wouldn’t have hired a PR agency to promote it as such. And, by the way, because we haven’t yet discussed the new film’s actual premise at any point:
Emmy Award winner Ed Asner, star of TV’s Mary Tyler Moore and the family movie classics Up and Elf, headlines this Christmas-themed movie about a young boy (newcomer Jack Brunault) determined to prove the existence of Santa Claus (Asner). Adding to the cheer is a very merry supporting cast that includes Patrick Muldoon (Starship Troopers, TV’s Days of Our Lives) and Brooke Langton (The Replacements, TV’s Melrose Place).
Here’s the trailer as well. Your first thought will surely be, “Wow, the years since Starship Troopers have been even less kind to Patrick Muldoon than they were to Casper Van Dien.”
A depiction of the “real Santa Claus” who needs to wear a fake beard to cover up his pointy, unattractive facial hair? Check. A Santa Claus who is momentarily shown floating in the center of a pro wrestling ring? Check. Complete loss of dignity for Ed Asner? That’s a big check. Where can I see this masterpiece?
So, who the hell thought this new Saving Christmas was a good idea? That would be writer-director Tom Denucci, who has appeared in films with names like Blood Circus, Inkubus and The Getter. As a director, his most prominent work (and the one included in the PR email) is a film called, I shit you not, Arlo: The Burping Pig. I wish that I could claim to have invented that amazing title, but it’s an entirely real film. Observe:
Denucci, easily recognized by the “young Tommy Wiseau” look he sports in his official headshot on IMDB, also seems to be the source of one of the film’s other unusual features: multiple professional wrestler cameos. Both Extreme Championship Wrestling veteran Tommy Dreamer and current Smackdown Live power couple Mike and Maria Kanellis are billed as featured players, because nothing says “Christmas spirit” quite like “The Innovator of Violence” Tommy Dreamer. Coupled with the fact that you can clearly see Santa hovering above a wrestling ring in the trailer, does that mean this version of Saving Christmas contains a literal wrestling subplot? Please, God, allow this to be true.
You can get a better idea of Denucci’s seemingly laid-back demeanor by watching the aforementioned short series of behind the scenes videos about the film on YouTube, which were filmed when the movie was still called The Santa Files. The product of a stand-up comedian and videographer named “Brad Pierce, EPK,” I can’t quite suss out the purpose of these videos. Both Pierce and Denucci are clearly from Rhode Island, so … are these guys friends? Did the film’s producers hire Pierce to produce short videos about The Santa Files/Saving Christmas as a way of somehow drumming up publicity? If this is the case, did they feel they got their money’s worth when one of said videos is 67 seconds of measuring Pierce with a tape measure, in order to determine if his true height is 6’2’’ or 6’3’’?
It’s strange, because Pierce clearly had access to each and every cast and crew member. Allow me to present some of my favorite highlights from the six short videos he produced:
— Exciting reports from the set include “Someone on set was walking a dog,” and “someone was cleaning a pair of Chuck Taylor Converses.”
— During the introduction of a video, Pierce is interrupted mid-sentence by loud car-honking, which causes him to stop and look around, but not to consider the possibility of doing a second take.
— Because the kids in the film are “conspiracy theorists” according to Denucci, Pierce interviews members of the cast and crew about their beliefs in ghosts, UFOs and Bigfoot. Says Tommy Dreamer: “I’ve seen three ghosts in my life.” Says a half-awake and regretful-looking Ed Asner, clad in what appears to be a green silk tunic: “I would leave my body, when I was a kid.”
— Pierce interviews different cast members about their favorite pro wrestlers, including Tommy Dreamer … without any mention that he’s a professional wrestler. Was Pierce even aware of this? Bonus: One of the actors gives the creepiest possible answer to the question of “What would your finishing move be?” when he answers “I would choke people to death … with my kneecaps.”
In summation: What the holy hell is going on with this Saving Christmas? Why does this film exist? How can it exist, in a world where Kirk Cameron’s 2014 Saving Christmas is widely acknowledged as having soiled that title for all eternity? What kind of trauma is happening in the life of Ed Asner when an 87-year-old, seven-time Emmy winner needs the meager paycheck that an appearance in Saving Christmas might provide, not to mention doing the same thing in Santa Stole Our Dog? Just how much wrestling is in the film? Does Tommy Dreamer throw anyone onto a big pile of thumb tacks? WHAT OF JESUS???
I’m afraid I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but you can probably discover some of them for yourself when Saving Christmas hits DVD and video-on-demand this Nov. 21. With that said, you’ll probably want to hurry, before Kirk Cameron’s lawsuit is finalized.
I’ll leave you with a final YouTube video that, as of this morning, had 3 views … and two of those views were from me. It’s Brad Pierce again, with a 23-second excerpt from an interview with Tommy Denucci. The topic: Whether sleep is a necessary activity for human beings to be engaging in. Denucci’s view: “Sleeping’s such a waste of time. What are you, just layin’ there?”
Truly some vital filmmaking, right there. I look forward to this Saving Christmas being hailed as the modern classic that Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas could never quite manage to be.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer who enjoys bad movies and wrestling, both of which seem to be inherent to Saving Christmas. You can follow him on Twitter.