matinees were a weekend mainstay in many small town movie theatres
from the early 50's until the mid 70's. Mom could drop the kids
off at the picture show while she ran errands and did the shopping.
These matinees were often filled with second run family films, animated
classics (mainly Disney) and low-budget fare. The holiday film Santa
Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) definitely belongs in the
latter category. It was produced specifically with the kiddie matinee
and television market in mind.
the bouncy theme "Hooray for Santy Claus" (featuring a
children's chorus that sounds like it was on loan from Peter Pan
records) we go straight to a pre-holiday news broadcast from KID
TV. The on-the-spot reporter makes a few lame North Pole jokes before
a live interview with Santa Claus (John Call). The Big S is as jolly
as you might expect, though the frenzied pace of the holiday season
has left him so scatterbrained that he refers to one of his reindeer
the planet Mars, Kimar (Leonard Hicks) worries that his children
are spending too much time in front of the video set. Bomar (Chris
Month) and Girmar (Pia Zadora) placidly watch earth programs. They
won't eat and they won't sleep. "Something is happening to
the children of Mars."
a smoky Martian forest where the alien trees are made of two by
fours draped with synthetic angel hair, Kimar and members of the
counsel consult Chochem (Carl Don). The ancient one appears in a
magical puff of smoke and proclaims that Martian kids are just too
serious. "They must learn what it means to have fun,"
he croaks, "We need a Santa Claus on Mars."
problems require desperate deeds," declares Kimar, "Earth
has had Santa Claus long enough." Kimar and his crew blast
off in their rocket ship but are confused when they find a Santa
Claus on nearly every earth street corner. "With so many, they
won't miss one."
(Vincent Beck) the mustachioed Martian antagonist gripes, "All
this trouble over a fat little man in a red suit."
the Martians land, they encounter young Billy (Victor Stiles) and
Betty (Donna Conforti). "What are those funny things sticking
out of your head?" precocious Betty asks.
are our antennae."
you a television set?"
it seems, but not too bright.
calls them nincompoops before dragging them along to the North Pole.
When the children hear of the Martian's kidnapping plot, they make
a quick getaway in hopes of warning St. Nick. A guy in a shabby
polar bear costume briefly menaces them before Torg the futuristic
robot (played by a guy in an even shabbier cardboard robot costume)
captures them. Billy and Betty are taken back to the spaceship while
the Martians use Torg to raid Santa's workshop.
oversized toy doesn't threaten Santa, though after a close inspection
he declares that Torg is "very well-made". Voldar uses
his Wham-o air blaster to freeze Santa's helpers. "We don't
want to hurt you Santa, so come along quietly."
kidnapping of a seasonal icon makes international news on earth.
Voldar can't stand that the jolly old elf handles his abduction
with such a cheery disposition. After some expositional dialog that
clearly spells out the jeopardy they'll soon face, Voldar places
Santa, Billy and Betty into the ship's air lock and blasts them
embarrassingly hokey fistfight ensues when Kimar learns of Voldar's
treachery. But he needn't fear, Santa and the children escape certain
death with the help of Santa's magical yuletide powers.
brings Santa to his space age Martian home (complete with a tower
of crystal fountain by Dawson of N.Y.C.). Santa does a meet and
greet with Kimar's family, "I'm not accustomed to entering
people's homes through the front door, but you have no chimney."
At first Bomar and Girmar eye Santa suspiciously, but the holiday
spirit proves to be contagious. They're soon laughing it up for
no apparent reason.
up in a cardboard cave, an excommunicated Voldar plots his revenge
along with his dimwitted compatriots. "We cannot eliminate
Santa Claus, but we can discredit him."
Santa oversees toy production in his high-tech Martian workshop.
With the push of a button, toys roll off an assembly line. "That's
automation for you."
Santa has retired for the evening, Voldar and his crew engage in
some tepid slapstick before sabotaging the toy machine. When Santa
and the children arrive for work the next day, the machine spits
out defective toys.
the Martian (Bill McCutcheon), whose only purpose so far has been
to provide annoying comic relief, shows up dressed like Santa. Voldar
mistakes him for the real Santa and takes him hostage. Voldar soon
realizes that he's got the wrong earthling and returns to the workshop
to get the genuine article. Billy, Betty and the Martian children
fight him off with a barrage of toys that they let loose with gusto.
Despite the fact that he's carrying a Wham-o freeze gun, Voldar
is easily defeated. The only thing left for everyone to do is have
a hearty good-natured laugh.
Santa sees Droppo in his signature seasonal attire, he declares
that, "You don't need me here. You've got a wonderful Santa
Claus of your own." With the Jeudo-Christian holiday tradition
firmly established on another planet, Santa's work is done. "Merry
Away!" he dramatically declares
as if he were making a magical exit. Instead, he just walks out
reprise of the theme song follows as the rocket ship with Billy,
Betty and Santa returns to earth. Once the end credits finish, karaoke
lyric appear on the screen so that the young (and the young at heart)
can sing along with all the happy children of the world.
C-L-A-U-S. Hoo-ray for Santy Claus! Indeed.
Claus Conquers the Martians has always maintained a certain
level of notoriety among cult film buffs. It experienced a mainstream
surge in popularity when it was featured on a memorable episode
of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Aside from the nostalgia
it offers to those who spent their holidays in front of the warm
glow of a console TV, the movie's biggest claim to fame is that
it marks the film debut of a young Pia Zadora. Who could have guessed
that the adorably chubby little girl Martian would grow up to bare
it all in the pages of Penthouse and in cult films like The
Lonely Lady (1983).
charming part of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is its
rock bottom production vales. All of the sets have a two-dimensional
feel, as if they were once part of a grade school Christmas pageant.
Every scene in the film (including those that take place outdoors)
was shot at the Michael Mayerburg Studios in New York. In actuality,
the "studio" was a retrofitted aircraft hanger on Long
Island. It's hard not to admire the filmmaker's can-do attitude.
original copyright for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
long ago fell into the public domain. Countless companies have distributed
it on video and DVD over the years. This means that the film can
usually be found in the bargain bin of your local store for less
than $8. But it also means that most video companies use the same
worn-out source print. The faded and discolored film print occasionally
makes the green Martian make-up look like black face. No restored
deluxe edition DVD will be coming anytime soon. But the battered
nature of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians does add a certain
retro appeal. It's like watching it on the late, late show on a
local UHF channel.
parts holiday, family and low-budget sci-fi film, Santa Claus
Conquers the Martians has a genre defying charm that can be
enjoyed any time of the year.