In an age where just about anything is available on YouTube and other video sites around the Web, it’s rare to come across a true lost gem. One such gem – so rare that it’s less infamous now than nearly forgotten – is the 1982 Misfits Christmas Spectacular. Never officially released on any home format, only fourth-or-fifth generation bootlegs tend to turn up at the occasional comic book or fan convention.
By most accounts, the special was actually the idea of Misfits leader Glenn Danzig. In late 1980, bassist Jerry Only’s brother Doyle had joined the band at age 16. Worried about the effects of traveling with the band full-time, Danzig came up with the idea of a holiday special to help “restore wonder” to the youngest Misfit, despite Jerry’s repeated protests that “Doyle don’t believe in no Santa Claus.” In spring 1981, Danzig reached out to CBS, which aired his favorite TV series at the time, the short-lived Mr. Merlin. Eager to court a younger audience, CBS agreed to a half-hour Christmas special, which would be directed by former Incredible Hulk star Bill Bixby, who had helmed six episodes of Merlin.
Hoping to make it a star-studded event, Danzig asked CBS reach out to several potential guest stars, including the recently-convicted Claus von Bülow, the California Freeway Killer and ET star Henry Thomas. Network brass politely declined Danzig’s guest list.
Instead, the guest star roles were filled out by a host of the Tiffany Network’s prime time stars. The special’s uneven plot, credited to Danzig and Bixby, starts off as a riff on A Christmas Carol, with Dallas star Larry Hagman as “J.R. Scrooge” and, Pat Harrington, in the Bob Cratchit role, playing his character Schneider from One Day At A Time. It soon veers wildly from source material when J.R. buys the North Pole and halts Christmas gift production for oil drilling. Schneider, claiming to be “the Misfits’ biggest fan,” writes to the band for help in freeing Santa Claus (M*A*S*H’s David Ogden Stiers). The Misfits, in turn, make a “Christmas sacrifice” to the Krampus – played under heavy foam prostheticsby Vic Tayback, best known as Mel on Alice – to liberate Santa and punish the wicked. Said punishment includes the grizzly death of J.R.
The Misfits don’t make for particularly compelling leads, with Doyle looking especially embarrassed to be in the special. Only new drummer Robo, who joined the band after leaving Black Flag, commits to his part. The arguable highlight is the effects and make-up work provided by Rob Bottin, who had just finished The Thing. As envisioned by Danzig, the North Pole has more of a Lovecraft-ian “beyond the stars” setting than normal, and Bottin’s work on Santa’s elves and The Krampus is shockingly visceral.
As expected, the special ends with a performance by the band, who provide a fairly spirited medley of The Sonics’ “Don’t Believe In Christmas”, The Wailers’ “She’s Comin’ Home” and the Misfits’ own “Where Eagles Dare”.
Inevitably, the final song caused the most controversy. Danzig helpfully volunteered to change the song’s famous “I ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch” to “son of a Grinch” for the holidays, but neglected to omit the “goddamn”, drawing outrage from church and parents’ groups and a rumored hefty FCC fine. Combined with network unease about the creepy effects and occult overtones, the special would never air again, and a rumored mid-90s release on Japanese LaserDisc never came to fruition.