SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)
**** (for bad-movie buffs)
* (for the rest of humanity)
DIRECTED BY Nicholas Webster
STARS John Call, Bill McCutcheon
By the time Santa Claus Conquers the Martians benefited from national exposure thanks to a 1991 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, aficionados of turkey cinema had already been familiar with this mind-numbing movie for years. A staple at those "worst film festivals" that were in vogue during the late 1970s and early 1980s, this inept achievement nearly rivals Plan 9 from Outer Space and Robot Monster in its overwhelming incompetence at every level.
Long a prisoner of the public-domain realm, the film has finally been accorded a decent release from Kino Lorber, the specialty outfit known more for releasing landmark motion pictures from the likes of Fritz Lang and Buster Keaton than for putting its muscle behind grade-Z efforts. But bless them for taking the time: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians should be, uh, enjoyed by everyone at least one in their lifetimes.
The film concerns itself with the well-meaning but ill-advised scheme by the Martian rulers to kidnap our Santa Claus and make him cheer up the sad little children on the Red Planet (one moppet is played by a 9-year-old Pia Zadora, long before she became a multiple Golden Raspberry Award winner during the 1980s). John Call essays the role of Santa, and his slightly maniacal leer and constant groping of the kids make one long for the days of Miracle on 34th Street's Edmund Gwenn. At any rate, it's not long before our hero is cheering up everyone on Mars with his rancid jokes. One sample offering: "What's soft and round and you put it on a stick and you toast it on a fire and it's green? A Martianmallow!"
Meanwhile, three nefarious Martians plot to kill Santa and the two earth children accompanying him, but their plans are largely foiled by the wacky antics of Dropo (Bill McCutcheon), who's fighting his label as "the laziest man on Mars." During the course of the film, Mr. Claus also has to contend with a scary robot named Torg - actually, some guy in a painted cardboard box - and an equally frightening polar bear - in reality, another schmo in costume. And speaking of "costume," wasn't there anybody on the set who had finished high school, so they could have corrected the misspelled "custume designer" credit at the beginning?
Ah, well, enough grousing. Let's sit back and sing along with the film's endlessly played anthem: "Hooray for Santy Claus! Hoo...ray...for...San...ty...Claus!"
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. Extras include a great collection (approximately 45 minutes) of vintage cartoons, TV plugs and commercials, all related to the holidays; a stills gallery; and the trailer.