Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Welcome to Day 14 of our 25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS series, where we will be taking a look at holiday classics each day in the lead up to Christmas. Today we're looking at one of the best-of-the-worst Christmas movies, 1964's SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is one of those movies that's famous for being "terrible". If you've seen this movie at all, you're probably most familiar with its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you haven't seen it, you're in for the kind of rare treat that only low-budget movies, especially low-budget children's movies, can bring.

In Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a group of men from the planet Mars kidnap Santa Claus and take him back to their planet, so that the children of Mars can have Christmas, too. The "conquering" part comes as Santa, being the embodiment of all the wonderful aspects of the holiday season, breaks down the Martians' cold and purposeful demeanor and teaches them to laugh and embrace the joy of Christmas (hey, I said it was a kids movie).

Almost every frame of this movie is another feast of retro-futurist kiddie show cheese, from the green-painted, spandex and cape wearing Martians, to the use of the classic trope of the food of the future being delivered in pill form. There's even a bit with a robot, because of course there is; just about every sci-fi kids show in the sixties did a bit with a robot. And I'm sure a more obvious example of "actor wearing dryer hoses and a bucket used as a robot" could be found, but I haven't found it yet. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the current reigning champion in my books.

It would be foolish (and futile) for me to try to convince you that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is even a reasonable facsimile of a good Christmas movie. It isn't. But that's the thing: to a greater or lesser degree, every Christmas movie is crap, or at least the ones that are explicitly about hammering home the "joy and love, peace on earth" shtick, as this one is. The good ones in this bunch are the ones that don't get hung up on the sentimentality inherent in their message. In these cases, those involved just have fun making their project; they may know full well they're helping bring another holiday turkey into the world, but they don't care. This is why movies like Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story, the last of the truly great Christmas classics, are such perennial favorites: they don't skimp on the holiday spirit, but they're still tons of fun to watch. Any movie that focuses on fun, and lets the holiday spirit take a back seat, gets remembered. The ones that don't get released on ABC Family, where they are watched by no one.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians falls into this category. It has the goofy, low budget fun of the kind that would make the Batman TV series so unique a few years later. There are some memorable performances, particularly by the actors portraying Santa Claus and a comedy relief martian named Droppo, the latter played by Bill McCutcheon, who older Sesame Streetfans may remember as Uncle Wally. My favorite, though, was the antagonist, a martian named Voldar, played by Vincent Beck. Beck plays Voldar as such a straight-down-the-line villain stereotype that it's a wonder we never see him engaging in some good old fashioned mustache-twirling. But the best thing about this movie is that at no point does any character stop the story to spout some tired homily about family, giving or other such vomitous, overplayed rot. This is a Christmas movie made for the fun of it, and what's Christmas without fun?

Very young kids might like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but mostly this is a movie for any grown-up who retains a soft spot for the unselfconscious camp of old kids shows. Like any forgotten antique, not everyone will appreciate it, but for those that do, this is a flawed treasure. The full movie is available on Youtube; check it out below.

Robert's Score: 7/10

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