December 22, 2010

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

IT’S OFFICIAL: I have a new favorite bad movie.

I had heard about Santa Claus Conquers the Martians over the years, but it wasn’t until I watched it last week with Dash that I truly realized what I was missing.


Martian leader Kimar (Leonard Hicks) is upset his children spend so much time watching TV shows from Earth singing the praises of Santa Claus (John Call), so he leads a group of Martians to Earth to kidnap Santa and take him to Mars. In their travels, they abduct two children who lead the aliens to Santa, whom they kidnap as well. Will Santa and his two little Earthling friends be stuck on Mars forever? Will it be a year without a Santa Claus? (Oh wait, that’s another story.)


It’s hard to believe the same year that gave us Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer also gave us Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It’s an exceptionally poor film in many – check that, all – respects, but one that provides unintentional laughs and even an odd sense of warmth in its desire to please.

Regarding the title: Conquers” is a bit of an overstatement – frankly, Santa doesn’t do jack in terms of overthrowing the Martians (and he’s pretty blasé after Kimar tells him he won’t be returning to Earth). The conquering lies more in the hands of Billy (Victor Siles) and Betty (Donna Conforti), the kids the Martians abduct while searching Earth for Santa.

There’s not enough room to list all the things wrong with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but here’s a sample of some of the biggies:
  • The pitiful lighting: Were the filmmakers just cheap, or were they deliberately trying to conceal the flimsiness of the sets?
  • The cornball dialogue by everyone involved, such as a news announcer declaring, “Mrs. Claus has positively identified the kidnappers as Martians” and Billy telling the leader, “You’ll never get a way with this, you…you…Martian!”
  • When the Martian’s ship is spotted in the sky by the US military, we’re treated to extended stock footage of military command centers and Air Force pilots jumping into fighter planes (the same footage was used at the beginning of Dr. Strangelove – also released in 1964!)
  • A “polar bear” that chases Billy and Betty at the North Pole is obviously a man in a polar bear suit, to the point that he stands upright and casually walks out of frame as the scene ends
  • There are actually typos in the movie: One in the opening credits (“Custume Designer”) and another in a newspaper headline (see right)
  • The please-make-it-stop theme song, “Hooray for Santy Claus,” is played over the opening and closing credits and sung by then-child-actor Pia Zadora, who also plays one of the Martian children (her first movie role) 

While some films claim to be the worst movie ever made, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians truly delivers the goods in terms of sheer awfulness. And though it may be a lump of coal in the stocking of cinema, it provides plenty of opportunities to laugh at its ineptitude, especially when viewed in a group environment. (In that sense, I’m shocked it hasn’t gained a stronger cult following during the holidays.)

By watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians last week with Dash, and showing him how to enjoy a truly bad movie, Christmas did indeed come early this year.

* Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was shot on Long Island, New York, mostly with Broadway actors who never appeared in films again.
* “Hooray for Santy Claus” was written by Milton DeLugg, who went on to become the leader of the house band for TV’s The Gong Show in the late 1970s. (He was composing music for the game show What’s My Line? during filming of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.)
* Producer Joseph E. Levine also produced another holiday-themed kids’ film in the ‘60s: 1967’s Mad Monster Party.

What did Dash think?
Initially, it took some egging for him to put up with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but once he saw me laughing at the bad special effects and adding my own lines to the cheesy dialogue, he joined in the fun and we made a sport of it. More than once, the told me with a smile that “this is probably the worst movie ever made.”

Is it suitable for your kids?
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is essentially harmless, but there a couple of scenes that wee ones (read: toddlers) might find frightening: a Martian commands a six-foot-tall robot to crush Billy and Betty with his arms, and the “polar bear” chases the kids into a cave at the North Pole. There’s also some Martian-on-Martian fisticuffs (can’t they all just get along?).

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she enjoys so-bad-it’s-good movies, she’s in for a treat with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Here’s a chance to make it a new holiday tradition for your family.

“Now, fat man, you’ll witness the firepower of this fully operational soundstage!”
(You’re welcome, fellow nerds…and Merry Christmas.)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
* Director: Nicholas Webster
* Screenwriter: Glenville Mareth
* Stars: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Bill McCutcheon, Victor Stiles, Donna Conforti, Chris Month, Pia Zadora
* MPAA Rating: N/A

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Phillyradiogeek said...

I haven't seen the whole movie, but I've seen good bits of it, and while the production values are poor, the concept could be a good one with the right attitude and money. I truly believe a decent, fun remake could be made, as long as it's done with a sense of humor.

Santa doesn't conquer the Martians with weapons, he conquers them with love!

BTW: Milton DeLugg wrote the Munsters theme song, if I'm not mistaken.

Retro Hound said...

We have this in the library where I work. (one of the librarians donates lots of lousy movies.) I've always laughed at the title.

Gemma said...

Too stinkin' funny!

StuartOhQueue said...

Much thanks for introducing me to this wonderfully terrible film.

Alex and Ben said...

HAHAAHA! I ADORE THIS MOVIE! I tried showing my friends, but they got weirded out by that scene where the kids fight the bad guy (who's name escapes me) in the toy shop. Oh,well. I still love the boxy frame of Gort.

Haritha said...

Every aspiring junior economist should read Atlas Shrugged. It's eerie how spot on she was in predicting things to come.....

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