This 1993 adaptation of William S. Burrough’s short story may be the least-shown animated seasonal special in history (with the possible exception of The Glowworm’s Christmas), but it also ranks among the best– provided you’re not a child.

He was in the West Nineties. A long block of brownstone rooming houses. Here and there a holy wreath in a clean black window. Danny’s senses registered everything sharp and clear, with the painful intensity of junk sickness. The light hurt his dilated eyes.

Crew

Directors: Nick Donkin, Melodie McDaniel
Writers: William S. Burroughs, James Grauerholtz.
Producer: Francis Ford Coppola.

Synopsis

Danny the Carwiper, a heroin addict, gets released from the holding cell on a mid-1950s Christmas morning, and spends the day trying to score.

When he finally does and settles down in his cheap hotel, something unusual happens.

High Point

The fact that the ending is both ironically ambiguous and quite powerful.

Low Point

Danny’s facial expressions when he begs from the croaker become distractingly distorted. I prefer the understated approach (well, for a claymation cartoon) taken throughout the film.

The Review

Originality: 4/6 While a very literal adaptation of a short story, it also proves highly original. Simply animating the story while the author reads its text should have been a disaster. Instead, the filmmakers have wrought something wondrous and unusual.

Animation: 5/6 The claymation creates a sense of Danny’s world that live actors probably could not– without seeming utterly repulsive. The claymation also nicely recalls old Christmas standbys like Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but is actually superior quality.

Story: 5/6 This plays like every Christmas special you’ve ever watched– but entirely different.

Voice Acting: 5/6 It’s all Burroughs, but he was a superb reader. He also peopled his story with convincing lowlifes. Danny himself proves sympathetic, but not glamorous. Nothing about his odyssey makes substance abuse seem appealing.

Emotional Response: 6/6

Production: 6/6 The sets of mid-century Manhattan are extraordinary, and the live framing sequences, showing Burroughs celebrating Christmas dinner with friends, do not distract. If we view Burroughs as the recovered and elderly Danny, then the film becomes, in the end, hopeful.

Overall: 5/6

In total, The Junky’s Christmas receives 36/42.

Additional Comments

The severed legs Danny finds were left there in another short story by Burroughs.

The text of the short story, which appears in the collection, Interzone, can be found here. I have a more detailed review of the short story and movie here.