Crest to host holiday film fests for fans of camp, Capra and corpuscles

For those whose Christmas season isn’t complete without watching Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed stroll through Bedford Falls warbling "Buffalo Gals," Sacramento’s Crest Theatre is bringing director-screenwriter Frank Capra‘s 1946 Liberty Films classic, "It’s a Wonderful Life," back to the big screen for nine holiday screenings Dec. 22-24.

It’s just one of three yuletide-themed events scheduled for the 975-seat art deco movie palace during the week leading up to Christmas.

Also on tap: the G-rated "Santa’s Cool Holiday Film Festival" (Dec. 17 and 18), a syndicated package of "Greetings from the Theater Management" trailers, vintage TV segments, cartoons and the so-bad-it’s-good 1964 theatrical feature "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

And for those who prefer strychnine to egg nog, an adults-only (18 and older) holiday movie edition of the Crest’s long-running Trash Film Orgy series will showcase the 1984 UK slasher flick "Don’t Open Till Christmas," along with live pre-show entertainment, including a "Trash Santa" accompanied by a posse of scantily clad elves, games, prizes and a full bar (Dec. 17).

While the Crest has established a successful tradition of showing a much-beloved, classic Christmas title each holiday season, general manager Sid Garcia-Heberger said slotting a quirky, retro festival featuring a lesser-known cinematic centerpiece like "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," or scheduling a decidedly edgy attempt at counter-programming such as TFO’s holiday show, is "a roll of the dice."

"We’ve been showing ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ for the last 20 years, and in the early years business was OK, but not fantastic," said Garcia-Heberger. "But in the past five or six years, when we’ve been alternating ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with ‘White Christmas,’ they seemed to really catch on."

Helping ticket sales along has been the Crest’s recent partnership with social media outlets, whose heavily discounted offers like Groupon’s recent 50 percent-off deal for "a movie outing to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with large popcorn and large drink" resulted in more than 1,000 $9 admission/concessions package purchases.

"But this year’s festival shows are new for us," Garcia-Heberger said. "It’s hard for us to gauge at this point."

But Garcia-Heberger, an admitted Christmas fan whose family’s own holiday traditions include listening to the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre production of "It’s a Wonderful Life" while on local road trips, said she’s hopeful that the nostalgia factor and innocence of Santa’s Cool Holiday Film Festival, and the "irreverent Christmas fun" of the TFO holiday show, will capture the attention of both the unapologetically sappy fans of Dec. 25 like herself, as well as those whose take on the holiday season is more "snarkly" than sparkly.

Among that latter group – who are unlikely to queue up for a chance to tearfully watch Zuzu’s dad "paste" her precious flower’s petals back into place, but are eager to embrace a humor-laced ’80s film featuring a serial killer out to off anyone donning red velvet and fur ("Fur is murder," after all) – is TFO Productions co-founder Christy Savage.

"I’m pretty damn excited about our TFO show this month," said Savage, who formed TFO Productions with fellow artists/filmmakers Darin Wood and Amy Slockbower in 2001. "I think it’ll be a fun TFO show, it’s pretty ridiculous. I’m more excited about Christmas than I have been for ages."

Though the six to 10 annual TFO shows have consistently proven popular – especially those featuring films by Russ Meyers, Roger Corman, and anything with a zombie – Garcia-Heberger is guardedly optimistic about the TFO show.

"The TFO audience is definitely not your general John Q. Public," she said. "They are seeking out unusual, different things for their entertainment."

In the beginning, she said the Crest had expected TFO audiences to be primarily 20-somethings. But as the series continued, they saw that TFO ticket buyers were generally in their late-30s or early-40s.

Garcia-Heberger said she and her TFO partners thinks the Crest finally has the perfect mix of salty-and-sweet holiday treats this year, and that there really is something for everyone.

The shows in detail

Described as "the funkiest, silliest and least emotional movie experience you’ll have this holiday season," Santa’s Cool Holiday Film Festival is a cornucopia of Christmas hors d’oeuvres ranging from such tasty tidbits as the Fleischer Studio’s original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated short, to a main course that rockets a kidnapped St. Nicholas to the Red Planet where he must outwit the Martian high command in order to return to Earth and save Christmas.

With its cardboard robots and television-antenna Martian headgear, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is ripe for mockery, and one of the best jibes was delivered by orbiting space janitor Joel Hodgson and his robot pals (and fellow Satellite of Love castaways), Crow and Tom Servo, in a nonstop stream of sarcastic comments during their screening of the film on a December 1991 episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

That episode was later included on Rhino Theatricals’ 1988 DVD release "The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection – The Essentials."

In 2010, Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) added her own twisted take on "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" when her "Elvira’s Movie Macabre" series put the bite on the what has been called one of the worst movies ever made. Like "MST3K’s" mock-fest, Peterson’s television "roast" is now available on DVD.

In 2005 – more than four decades after the film’s theatrical release – Roadside Amusements published Lou Harry’s novelization of Glenville Mareth’s screenplay – proof, of a sort, that "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (and its peppy theme song, "Hooray for Santa Claus") will live forever as successive generations discover what can be best described as Flash Gordon meets Kris Kringle. As a special treat, Roadside Amusements’ hardcover book also includes a stocking stuffer: a DVD copy of the movie.

Also on the Santa’s Cool Holiday Film Festival bill: two of Max Fleischer’s classic pre-War theatrical cartoons, 1936′s "Christmas Comes But Once a Year," in which "whimsical inventor Grampy creates a whole Santa’s workshop worth of toys for some poor orphans," and 1944′s "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," a charming adventure that should not be confused with the 1964 Rankin/Bass TV classic.

But the Crest’s cool yule lineup doesn’t end there, fans of Christmases past will get to set their Wayback Machine dials for additional stops in the 1950s and ’60s to visit such cathode-ray icons as Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their sons David and Ricky, ventriloquist Shari Lewis and her sock-puppet pal Lamb Chop, and marionette Howdy Doody and his comrade, Buffalo Bob Smith.

Rounding out the roster of retro shorts are a series of "Greetings From The Theater Management" trailers that were made for cinema audiences in the days when filmgoers came dressed in suits and dresses, and looked forward (literally and figuratively) to take in a widescreen VistaVision spectacular, and not straight down to focus on a 2-inch cell phone text.

Like Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol," the premise of Frank Capra’s "It’s a Wonderful Life" has seemingly been adapted a million or so times, with each retelling focusing on how the suicidal protagonist has positively touched the lives of those in his orbit – and how his life has truly been wonderful. Among the latest TV shows receiving the "IWL" treatment was the Syfy network’s "Warehouse 13."

And also like "A Christmas Carol," the sentimental "It’s a Wonderful Life" has spawned its own roster of parodies, including "Saturday Night Live’s" uproarious "lost ending" sketch featuring Dana Carvey as a revenge-minded George Bailey, Jon Lovitz as the evil Mr. Potter, and Jan Hooks as a club-wielding Mary Bailey.

The Trash Film Orgy’s holiday show may feature an honest-to-badness movie ("Don’t Open Till Christmas"), but it may be the "extras" like the "Trash Santa" and his bevy of comely elves that may turn out to be the real stars of the show.

"There will be a Santa’s workshop where you can make crafts, have your picture taken with the sexy elves, and have a drink at the bar," said Christy Savage, co-founder of TFO. "And if you come in costume, you can save a dollar on admission."

Savage said audience members are encouraged to "play along," and embrace the interactive nature of the event.

"It’s all about fun," she said. "It’s an adult, interactive type of fun, in which we encourage audience participation – even heckling."


Just the facts

Santa’s Cool Holiday Film Festival | 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18 | Featuring "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," Max Fleischer’s theatrical cartoons "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1944) and "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" (1936), plus additional shorts. | Regular admission prices apply ($6 for first show of the day – all seats; $9.50 for afternoon and evening shows – $6 for children, seniors and students)

Trash Film Orgy Xmas | 10:30 p.m. (doors open for pre-show festivities at 10 p.m.) Dec. 17) | 18 and older only | Featuring the movie "Don’t Open Till Christmas," plus art-and-crafts, "Trash Santa" and his sexy elves, and more. | $10 admission ($9 if in costume)

"It’s a Wonderful Life" | 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22-24 | Starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Thomas Mitchell | Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes | $9.50 general admission; $6 seniors/students/matinees (Groupon alert: everyone who purchased a Groupon deal for this film may exchange their Groupon certificate for a specific show time and a concession coupon in person at the Crest during regular operating hours.) | Advance tickets available online at

Directions to the Crest

For more info: (916) 44-CREST

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