Classic Sci-Fi: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matt Donabie, you will never return to Earth, you belong to Mars now.

The call went out. "Anything Christmassy that you'd like to review, now's your chance." I love a good Christmas film or TV special, I have several that I watch annually which always get me in the mood for the festive season.

So I thought about it. Blackadder's Christmas Carol I said, someone's doing it I was told. Er, Muppets Christmas Carol? Nope, taken too. Well then, how about The Box of Delights. Argh, done. And then I remembered a DVD that I'd paid 30p for at a car boot sale a couple of years ago. A film I'd heard was terrible but in a so-bad-it's-good way, a film I hadn't actually got round to watching yet, and a film that definitely nobody else was going to cover. So...

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a 1964 science fiction comedy. A movie that is currently number 75 in the "bottom 100" list on IMDB. Directed by Nicholas Webster, it stars John Call as Santa Claus, features an 8-year-old Pia Zadora playing the role of one of the Martian children, and also marks the first documented appearance of Mrs. Claus in a motion picture.

The story, in a nutshell, is that the children of Mars are unhappy. They have become obsessed with Santa Claus, thanks to some long-wave Earth television signals, but they don't have a Santa of their own to give them presents and bring them festive cheer. So the Martians kidnap Santa from Earth (along with two annoying kids) to bring joy and happiness to their children. Santa starts producing toys for the children of Mars, thanks to some Martian technology, and things are going well (outside of the kidnapping that is), until the Martians make it very clear that Santa will never leave Mars. He's not happy about that, but still manages to laugh pretty much all the time. Eventually, with the help of a good Martian called Dropo, Santa encourages the kids, both human and Martian, to throw lots of toys at the bad Martians. Evil is thwarted, Santa is permitted to go back to Earth, and Dropo takes over the mantle of Martian Santa.

Now I know this was intended to be a children's movie but that's no excuse for the terrible acting from just about everyone who appears on screen. It's hard to single one person out as the worst, from Bill McCutcheon who plays Dropo, the unfunny 'comic' relief, who spends most of the movie acting stupid (and overacting at that). Vincent Beck plays Voldar, the evil Martian, he's just terrible. Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti play the two annoying Earth kids, and I know they're just kids but their 'acting' is so bad it defies belief. And then there's John Call as Santa, who (and I wouldn't blame him for a minute if he was) comes across as if he was drunk throughout the entire production. He's constantly laughing. Often for no reason.
Watching it I figured they must have had a very meager budget. The Martians wear green jump suits and weird sort of tea-pot helmets, also they have a greenish brown grease paint spread across their faces that seems to disappear in some scenes. All the limited effects are terrible, the robot looks dreadful, the Martian spaceship is clearly a toy on a string, but the worst is the scene where a polar bear is attacking. It is basically a guy crawling around in a poorly fitted bear suit. I could go on but you get the point? But here's the thing, I checked it out and they had a budget of $200,000 for this. Now, that's not a huge sum for a movie even back in 1964, but I have no idea where they spent the other $199,000, as it ain't on screen. (Maybe it was to pay for Santa's liquor bill?).

There are a lot of bad movies out there, but there's only one Santa Claus Conquers The Martians. I'm not sure if it is so-bad-it's-good, I rather think it may have gone beyond the point of no return in the bad scale.

Yet... In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm writing this in mid-October and the weather has been quite mild the last few days, but I have to say that after watching Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I do feel sort of Christmassy. And so in that respect this movie has done a good job. I'm not sure it's one I'd want to add to my annual essential Christmas viewing, but it's definitely one that I'll remember, that's for sure.

"Hooray for Santy Claus!"

Matt Donabie

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