Monday, 4 August 2014

Santa Clause Conquers the Martians... Or Does He?

On the planet Mars, the local people (who look more or less like us except for slightly greener skin and funny hats) are becoming concerned about the obsessions their children have been developing with Earth programs, specifically material about Santa Claus. They're becoming uncooperative and hard to work with. When the Martian high counsel consults a wise elder, they realize that pumping massive amounts of techno babble into a child’s head from infancy might not be such a great idea. 

They are told that the solution is to let the children be children, to allow them to laugh and learn how to have fun, so naturally, the best course of action is to travel to Earth and kidnap Santa Claus. That turns out to be slightly more complicated than expected when they seemingly find a thousand men in red suits and end up kidnapping two children when they reveal where to find the real Santa. 

However, the Martians are quickly won over by their new friend, who manages to bring joy and happiness to all. That is except for one small group who oppose the changes Santa is bringing to their society, and plot to get rid of him. Hilarity inevitably ensues as the Martians try to protect Santa from the rebels that want him off.

I’m not normally a huge fan of so bad its good-type movies, but this one was a lot of fun. I think part of what makes this particular b-movie work so well is that it is self-aware of its status. It knows it’s a cheap b-movie with a ridiculous premise, cheesy special effects, and an extremely low budget. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if half the toys we see in the movie were just whatever the filmmakers could find under $5.00.

The thing is many b-movies still try to take themselves seriously, and what really makes this film so enjoyable is that it embraces its absurdity. It knows it’s a silly movie and just goes all out, with the bizarre costumes worn by the Martians, the campy sets, and the obviously fake special effects. The "robot" the Martians try to use to kidnap Santa (which ends up becoming one of his toys) is obviously just an actor wearing a cardboard box and the polar bear is clearly just a person in a suit. 

Naturally, the acting ranges between poor and over-the-top, but given the quality of the overall film it fits in perfectly. There is, however, one performance that stands out: John Call is surprisingly good in the role of Santa Claus. He captures the essence of the character so perfectly you forget its just an actor. Every scene he’s in Santa manages to be so jolly and loveable. He’s such a kind man and always manages to find ways to brighten up even the darkest moments of the film. Really, when I think of Santa Claus, I imagine someone like in this movie.

While the title Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is something of a misnomer (since he doesn’t really “conquer” them), the movie is great campy fun. It’s no ground-breaking masterpiece in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but if you want an enjoyably bad b-movie you’ll be in for a real treat.


  1. I have this in my collection! I love it and fondly:) You are right about the actor playing Santa as he seems out of whack with the others meaning he is quite good as Santa. In my DVD there are also classic commercials(It's Slinky, It's Slinky...) and some excellent cartoons. Glad you mentioned this little gem. Too bad the martians didn't send little Pia Zadora off to Neptune otherwise PickFair may still be around

  2. I've also got this one in my collection and you're review is spot on. Reviewed it myself this past Christmas and had much the same experience as you...

  3. I don't know. I found this one to be a bit of a slog to make it through. Two things bothered me, the scene with the elder Martian just seemed to go on and on. And then there was Droppo, the laziest Martian. Wow, was he one of the most annoying and irritating comic relief characters I've ever seen. Just painful. I do agree that Call makes a great Santa, he really feels like he walked in from another movie.

    Now, once you add Mystery Science Theater to the mix, this movie gets a lot better. Joel and bots do a great job with this one. But I think Joel and his fellow riffers do an even better job when they tackled the film again a few years ago as Cinematic Titanic. That is really a great riffing session on this film.

    I will admit we end up watching this one every year around my house, but only with Joel and his team on board.

    Check out my review of the flick:

    1. To be honest, I can see where having the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew can help make some of these b-movies a bit more bearable (try sitting through "Planet of the Prehistoric Women" without them and you'll see what I mean), and one of these days I really should try watching a full episode. Unfortunately, since I don't know how to make robots out of my blu-ray player while still leaving it functional I usually have to do all the riffing by myself. On the other hand since I didn't use those parts to make my robot friends I can still control when the movies begin and end.