The Junky’s Christmas (1993)

Starring: William S. Burroughs
Grade: A-

Kidney stones are a real bitch.


Author William S. Burroughs is in his home, and he goes over to his bookshelf to grab his novel Interzone. Taking off his glasses, he opens to the book until he’s interrupted by movement from one of the presents by his Christmas tree. A white cat climbs out of the box and walks away. Finally, he turns to the short story within Interzone, “The Junky’s Christmas”.

It was Christmas day, and car wiper Danny just finished his 72-hour stay in a precinct cell. Experiencing withdrawal, Danny immediately starts looking for things to steal to sell for his next hit of heroin. Upon walking past Christmas decorations and such, he sees a package in someone’s car and notices the window is unlocked. He walks forward ten feet, and no one is in sight. Realizing he has to be fast and conspicuous, he walks back towards the car and reaches for the window. Immediately after doing this, an apartment door opens behind him, so he pulls out a rag and starts polishing the windows because he knows the man coming out is watching him. The man asks what he’s doing, and Danny just says he thought his windows needed polishing. The man adamantly says they don’t need polishing and he doesn’t need anything stolen either. When he tries to grab Danny, Danny jumps back and insists he wasn’t trying to steal. Then, he runs out of there, walking fifteen blocks in another direction. Still, he has to score somehow. Eventually, he finds a briefcase, acts like he’s looking for a cigarette as he scopes out the scene, steals the briefcase, and runs away. It’s surprisingly heavy though, but it makes him think he scored big time and could potentially net him heroin and a room to stay in. He goes to a park to check the contents of the case, and there’s two long packages in brown wrapping paper. He tears one open and it’s a women’s foot. He’s disgusted and tosses it, but he can’t let that stop him from his goal. So, he tosses the other leg out and takes the case to his buyer at some cafe. The buyer asks what was in the case, but Danny insists there was nothing. Though the buyer is a bit suspicious and asks questions regarding the state of the case and its smell, Danny sticks to his story and is given $3 for it. Unfortunately, Danny is told before he leaves that his dealer George the Greek was arrested two days ago. Now, he needs to go somewhere else to score.

Danny looks around and can’t seem to find anyone until he runs into fellow junkie Joey, though he’s having the same problem Danny is in trying to find someone. After telling him “Merry Christmas”, Danny departs and goes to a doctor he knows that lives on 18th Street, P.H. Zunniga. Zunniga told him to not come back after their previous meeting, but it’s worth trying. The alcoholic Zunniga answers the door, and Danny apologizes for bothering him on Christmas but explains he’s had another attack of facial neuralgia. After startling him when Danny contorts his face, Danny brushes past Zunniga to get inside the house. Zunniga says he can’t give him a prescription because it’s illegal. Following Danny’s persistence though, he agrees to give him a quarter of a grain tablet of morphine because it’s all he has in his house. Danny is still bothered by it not being more, but Zunniga explains that if his condition is legitimate, he won’t need more. If it isn’t, he wants nothing to do with him. He gives it to Danny for free. When Danny asks for him to inject the medication, Zunniga declines, saying he will get longer relief if he uses it orally. Then, he demands Danny leave.

Now, Danny still has something to take the edge off and he still has money to get a room. However, his attempt to abuse the drug will be bothered by a next-door neighbor who may need it more.

My Thoughts:

Accompanied by public domain Christmas music and a claymation presentation in the vein of the famous Rankin/Bass specials, this re-telling of author William S. Burroughs’s The Junky’s Christmas is very much a dark Christmas special that is both bleak and strangely sweet in its own drug-infused sort of way.

As you may already know, William S. Burroughs and his writings deal heavily with drug addiction and the horrors of it. He never shies away from the subject or paints an unrealistic picture of its effects or inspired motivations. From his own experience using heroin and other drugs, Burroughs writes from the mind of a junkie in a lot of his characters. It’s about scoring drugs and doing whatever he can to score more. As soon as Danny exits his jail cell, scoring is the first thing on his mind. The desperation to steal and sell anything not bolted to the ground to get some junk is our main character’s only desire. Right from the opening, this is how we are introduced to this off-kilter Christmas special. Interestingly enough, the Christmas spirit and message is still present throughout. With the cold feel of the big city, the snow on the ground, the idea of Danny wanting to get his supply of “H” as his own Christmas present, and his ultimate selfless act all fit what a Christmas special is all about. Without spoiling the highly memorable ending, Burroughs details his own “Christmas miracle” of the mythological “immaculate fix” that ranks right up there with Frosty the Snowman coming to life or Rudolph’s red nose guiding Santa’s sleigh that one night. Would you show The Junky’s Christmas to your kids in the same light? I would advise not to, but if you’re old enough, you’ll come to appreciate the story told from an artistic and storytelling perspective and in terms of pure creativity amidst the gloomy and realistic depiction of addiction.

Though I didn’t mind the opening sequence of the real-life author getting to open and read his book with the sound of a church choir in the background because it gave him a Santa-like vibe, the epilogue with Burroughs celebrating the holiday with his family and eating didn’t seem necessary at all and only took away from the wild finish of Danny’s story. In terms of the direction, it was memorable, but this is mostly because of the novelty of telling such an adult story in what could be seen as an art style usually reserved for children’s entertainment. Other than that, everything else seemed a bit shotty. At times, the background doesn’t mix with the animation of the characters and makes the production look cheap, and certain over-the-shoulder shots along with the ending looked more like someone who was playing with their toys compared to what real stop-motion is supposed to look like. In addition, Burroughs’s narration sounds like it was done on one take and sent to print right away. Some words spoken are flat-out unintelligible and there are certain lines where you can hear him clearing his throat. Did he refuse a read-through beforehand to familiarize himself with his old story or something, or were they just happy he agreed to narrate, and they didn’t want to upset him by telling him that he needs to enunciate better? It’s hard to say, but it sounded off.

With this being said, the way the story showcases “junk sickness”, withdrawal, and the lengths one will go to score is an engrossing one. The character designs are done well too, and though I did note problems with how the stop-motion was handled, the very expressive eyes of Danny and the sleepless 18–20-year-old kid with kidney stones was done well enough to complete the story as a whole and feel the pain both are going through.

Even on Christmas, a junkie can’t help but feel the spirit. The Junky’s Christmas somehow pulls off the impossible of succeeding at portraying an authentic tale of an addict going through withdrawals coming out of jail the morning of the world’s most magical holiday and giving us a rewarding and thoughtful ending without losing the edge of the story as a whole. If anything, it enhances it. The special has some technical issues and some areas that need polishing, but it could find a way into your regular rotation of yearly Christmas programs sure enough.

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