There is a real movie called “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” Just let that sink in for a minute. In 1964, adults with careers used real money and real effort (well, real money anyway) to make a movie called “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”
Regrettably, Santa conquers the Martians with joy and laughter instead of tactical brilliance or superior weaponry. The story follows Santa as he is kidnapped by Martians who look suspiciously like humans and coincidentally speak a language that sounds exactly like English.
A Martian elder guru with a hilarious beard informs some Martian council that their youth are losing direction in life because Martian society is too rigid and curmudgeonly, so naturally, the Martian council decides to kidnap Santa Claus to fix the problem. They also kidnap a boy and girl because … I guess the movie needed something cute.
Of course, the movie also needs conflict, so a burly, mustachioed Martian named Voldar (a lot of the Martians’ names sound like medications) decides that the whole joy and happiness thing is corrupting Martian society and tries to un-kidnap Santa and send him back to Earth.
Alas, his plan fails and he unwittingly un-kidnaps the Martian goofball named Dropo. Because he’s such a goofball, Dropo was wearing the spare red suit (and spare beard, apparently) that Santa received as a goodwill present from the Martians’ mother figure Momar (not to be confused with the late Libyan dictator).
Despite the fake Santa’s green skin, antennae and Martian helmet, Voldar is somehow fooled. Hijinks ensue, Voldar is defeated by four kids armed with soap bubbles and there’s a happy ending.
The appeal of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is in the lack of production quality. The script is hilariously corny, the actors don’t seem aware that they’re in a movie called “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” and the cheesy ray gun props are never even used.
The costumes also strike me as particularly bad. The Martians wear tight jumpsuits with badges and ridiculous helmets made of hoses and coat hangers, and their green makeup is inconsistently applied at best. Torg the Robot is very clearly a man in a cardboard box with a bucket on his head. Worst of all is the man in the polar bear suit. I can’t earnestly refer to it as a polar bear.
The movie also has a very “unique” Santa. His mannerisms were probably intended to be whimsical, but they come across more like drunkenness or senility. Santa’s jolly laugh often sounds unintentionally evil, and his jokes are more bizarre than funny.
Santa is shown to be missing a few marbles early on when he lists Nixon among his reindeer, which seems even funnier when you realize that this was made eight years before Watergate. Soon, the poor old man’s dementia advances to the point that he chuckles heartily at attempts on his life and tells a joke with the punchline “Martianmallow.”
In case you hadn’t gathered already, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is terrible. It’s so terrible, in fact, that’s it highly enjoyable.
Like many great terrible movies, it was picked up for an episode of the ’90s cult classic series “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ and brought into the limelight of bad movie stardom. Show host Joel and his ‘bots gave it one of their best commentaries to date, and the episode also saw the introduction of that greatest of all Christmas carols, “Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas.”
Despite the show’s usual copyright troubles, that episode has been released on DVD paired with the similarly infamous “Manos: The Hands of Fate.” The “Mystery Science Theater” riff is classic, and it’s definitely worth a look if you can find it.
If not, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” has been released by itself on DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s currently available on Hulu. If you’re looking for offbeat Christmas joy, grab a few friends to heckle this piece of work, simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst Christmas movies of all time.