Sunday, December 07, 2008

Review Of SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS... seriously. By John Rose

Oh, yes we did.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964) should be seen at least one time during Christmas, preferably in the company of trusted friends with lots of strong eggnog to drink. Yes, it is a bad film. But the thing that makes this film bad is not the sets (though cheesy in that 1960's way), the special effects (though very ineptly done) or the costumes (though every single Martian in the production looks almost exactly like a human version of Hanna-Barbera's Great Gazoo). What makes this film troublesome to watch is the snail's pace at which it sets up its story.

The rather interesting plot (on paper, anyway) has the planet of Mars facing a big problem: the children of Mars (one of whom is a young Pia Zadora) are becoming unhappy and restless due to the Martian lifestyle, which has them being taught by machines and eating food pills (which look like jelly beans, only I'm not sure Brach's, Jelly Belly, or even Bertie Bott's Every Flavored Beans has ever experimented with the hamburger-flavored bean). Because of this, Martian children are openly rebelling, spending all their time watching television transmissions from Earth, specifically those of KID-TV, which is broadcasting live from Santa's workshop at the North Pole. (Note the snow on the newscaster's coat, which never melts.)

Kimar (Leonard Hicks), the worried ruler of Mars, consults an ancient Martian sage named Chochem, who reveals that the children of Mars need to have time to be children, and that Mars needs a Santa Claus. Another Martian named Voldar (Vincent Beck), who thinks things are okay the way they are, protests this idea vehemently, cluing us in as to who the true villain of the piece is. (Duh.) Undaunted by this, and out of concern for his own children, Kimar travels to Earth with a Martian landing party in a ship that can only be described as the Eggbeater 2000, with intentions of kidnapping Santa and bringing him to Mars. After abducting two Earth children who lead him to the North Pole, Kimar captures Santa (John Call) with the aid of a robot who looks like an old-fashioned robot toy (which is turned into the same by Santa), while Martian-servant and resident annoying klutz Drupo (Bill McCutcheon) tries unsuccessfully to help the children escape. Santa returns with Kimar's party to Mars, along with the Earth children, and sets up a giant toy factory to help the Martians with their unhappy children, but it's still not the end of trouble, as far as Voldar is concerned...

The movie has lots, and I mean lots, of bad things going for it. There are the horrible sets, costumes and acting, the obvious shoestring budget, the heavy, heavy use of stock footage (especially in the opening scenes, which makes the setup drag terribly), and the fact that John Call's Santa, while being what a Santa ought to be in looks and disposition, behaves much like some odd form of Alzhemier's patient. However, there are some good things going for it storywise: the Martians (with the exception of Voldar) are not warmongering types by nature, and Kimar is pretty adamant all the way through about not harming anyone or destroying anything if he can help it. (This can be taken as a somewhat threadbare explanation for the Martians' ray-guns, which fire no rays of any type but simply go "pop" and freeze the victim.) And Drupo, who is viewed as 'the laziest man on Mars' by other Martians, finally finds the job he was born to do, and becomes the Martian version of Santa Claus.

I cannot recommend this film as a dazzling Christmas movie by any means. Yet strangely enough, it does manage to retain some proper Christmas spirit, which is a task that some modern Christmas productions with ten times the talent and budget cannot manage to do. Perhaps it should be viewed at least once because of that, if you can swallow any inhibitions you may have and watch it. (That's what the eggnog's for.)

POST-MORTEM: If you harbor morbid curiosities about this film, try your usual method of movie rentals first. For the severely crazed, has it at a fairly cheap price, but sometimes public-domain DVD copies can be found in dollar stores. (We got ours from Dollar Tree.) --M.D.