Haven’t You Heard? Santa Claus Is a Killer!

« Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus. » — Annie Dillard

’twas 1982, and DC’s mystery anthology titles were dead or dying (the last one standing, The House of Mystery, had but a year or so left to go), and The Unexpected, published since 1956, was a mere two issues away from cancellation. Latter-day editor Dave Manak had done a fine job with the means at his disposal, wisely engaging Joe Kubert (1926-2012) to grace close to ten issues with his ever-elegant artwork.

This is perhaps the finest of the lot, a wistful, old-fashioned cover that dispenses with most of the clichéd Holiday iconography.

This is The Unexpected no. 220 (March 1982, DC). Pencils and inks by Joe Kubert with extra-fine lettering by Gaspar Saladino (1927-2016), truly a key element of the cover’s visual appeal.
Drive carefully, darling!” Is that woman worried about *everything*? Talk about fretful. Insurance agents must adore her. From the Fairhaven and Bon Marché allusions, one may presume that the events are set in the state of Washington.
To give credit where credit is due, the unexplained bit with Santa’s hand on the phone is the story’s subtlest touch. He’s the one who phoned in the tip — anonymously, one presumes. Santa does not abide off-brand competition.

The issue’s lead, Holiday-themed story, boasts gorgeous art by powerful and versatile Puerto Rican cartoonist Ernie Colón (1931-2019), and it’s unusually well-coloured for the era (not to be confused with well-printed!), in that the shadings convey projected light and ambiance, not merely the prevalent, simplistic colour-by-numbers approach.

The writing, on the other hand…

Santa Is a Killer! is an artless hodge-podge of tropes, a kiddie rehash of Johnny Craig’s timeless “… and All Through the House” (Vault of Horror no. 35, Feb. 1954, EC), dressed up with the done-to-death-and-then-some “That — wasn’t *you*? Then — it must have been the –*choke* — real ghost / Satan / Santa Claus / Carlos Santana / Tooth Fairy / Larry “Bud” Melman!) “twist”. Did I mention that I love the art?

Since we strive to avoid repetition, and as my partner-in-mischief ds has already featured this legendary cover in her How do you like *your* Christmas? post, here instead is the original 1954 Silverprint proof, a colour guide for the printer’s edification and coloured by hand, presumably by EC’s resident chromatic conjuress, Marie Severin (1929-2018). Cover art by Johnny Craig.
It’s a little-known fact that VoH35’s dear, doomed wife’s peignoir was later snapped up for a pittance at an estate sale by a young rake by the name of Danny Rand. Soon, with a few minor alterations, he had himself a nifty (and silky!) crime-fighting ensemble. Just don’t ask ‘is that a ladies’ nightgown you’re wearing?‘ if you don’t want your features rearranged. This is Iron Fist no. 8 (Oct. 1976, Marvel). Cover art by John ‘Booster Cogburn‘ Byrne and Dan Adkins. And though « The Canadian Government has apologized for Bryan Adams on several occasions » (and presumably for Céline Dion and Justin Bieber also), I say it’s high time Canuck honchos proffered their excuses as to cuddly Mr. Byrne.
To give you some idea of how prevalent the ‘Santa as homicidal maniac’ notion was by the 1970s, here’s another semi-famous instance: this is Creepy no. 59 (Jan. 1974, Warren); cover by Spain’s Manuel Sanjulián (b. 1941). A year later, writer-director Bob Clark (Porky’s, A Christmas Story) would unleash his influential Black Christmas.

The film adaptation of Craig’s “… and All Through the House“, starring Joan Collins, from Tales From the Crypt (1972, Amicus), directed by Freddie Francis;

The television adaptation, from Tales From the Crypt (season one, episode two, 1989), directed by Robert Zemeckis.


6 thoughts on “Haven’t You Heard? Santa Claus Is a Killer!

  1. Matt Brunson December 17, 2021 / 22:56

    Given your vast knowledge, I knew there would be a mention of the TALES FROM THE CRYPT movie somewhere, and you did not disappoint. (Otherwise, I might have sued, given my fondness for Amicus anthologies.) And thumbs up to the CREEPY!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gasp65 December 23, 2021 / 21:03

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Matt! I’m a lifelong Amicus aficionado myself, but not because of Famous Monsters… I think it was through soaking up a pair of Alan Frank books, ‘Monsters and Vampires’ and “Horror Movies’, which I thereafter used as a repertory of things to see. Also, the French editions of Creepy and Vampirella featured some great, in-depth articles about horror in films and literature, so that contributed.

      In high school, I recall hand-drawing the flyer advertising our film club’s showing of ‘From Beyond the Grave’ (as ‘Frissons d’outre-tombe’). We *tried* to sneak ‘The Exorcist’ past the powers that be, but given that our school was a seminary, we predictably didn’t make it past the poster stage. Ah, fun times.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Matt Brunson December 25, 2021 / 20:13

    Denis Gifford’s A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF HORROR MOVIES was my Bible and led to everything else (even FM), with Alan Frank’s HORROR FILMS (a larger book than his other titles) next in line. They made for good companion pieces because Gifford was clearly mostly interested in pre-Hammer horror (mainly Universal) while Frank was clearly mostly interested in post-Universal horror (mainly Hammer). Also have Gifford’s MOVIE MONSTERS and your pair, Frank’s MONSTERS AND VAMPIRES and HORROR MOVIES. Those two Franks, as you perhaps know, were part of a British series of books titled The Movie Treasury; also nabbed their SCIENCE FICTION, THRILLER, GANGSTER and WESTERN books. It was while living in Portugal as a teen that I purchased every book mentioned here; not sure if all were available on this side of the Atlantic.

    BTW, Happy Holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gasp65 January 15, 2022 / 18:38

      Ah, all good stuff, and formative to boot. We were so lucky to have these. I can’t speak for the US in terms of availability of The Movie Treasury titles, but here in Canada, one of the main bookstore chains (Coles was the other) was the venerable W.H. Smith (which later suffered through a humiliating series of mergers and acquisitions to wind up part of the execrable Chapters-Indigo near-monopoly, whose skeevy owners bankroll illegal Israeli settlements in their spare time).
      The sordid slow death of W.H. Smith (read it and weep): https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/our-company/timeline/
      And the face of Indigo: http://www.inminds.co.uk/article.php?id=10092

      Anyway, back in the goodish old days of 1977 or so on a trip to Montréal, I picked up my Alan Frank books from a W.H. Smith clearance table. The underground Place Ville-Marie location, if memory serves.


  3. Krackles December 29, 2021 / 09:10

    Cheap shot at Byrne but great shot of Kubert’s art… That’s cosmic balance!


    • gasp65 December 29, 2021 / 12:04

      At the end of any given year, the best we can hope for is a somewhat balanced account.


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