Ho Ho Holy Crap, they sure don’t make ‘em like this anymore! Often ranked amongst the worst films ever made, Nicholas Webster’s 1964 science fun-fiction cult classic is a low-budget festive oddity unlike any Christmas flick you have ever seen.
On a mission to save their ailing young, the Martians invade earth to kidnap Santa Claus and bring some much-needed festive cheer to their homeworld. Abducting two all-American kids to help them find the real Santa, their adventures take them to the North Pole, then on to the red planet where jolly old Saint Nick will help everyone understand the true meaning of Christmas.
In the nigh-on fifty years since its release, this schlocky yuletide yarn has garnered a reputation as a poorly-made, shockingly-scripted mess. Much has been made of its amateurish cardboard sets, Martian headgear fashioned from kitchen implements and chronic overacting, with some critics claiming that watching it can cause actual physical pain.
Leonard suddenly realised he needed a better agent
Well, to those critics I say, ‘Balderdash in a fiddley-dee, you cotton-headed ninnymuggins’!’
With production values and performances reminiscent of the 1960s Batman TV show, this is delightfully merry, shonky but outrageous fun that, when viewed with the appropriate level of festive cheer (and a few cold ones), could really brighten up your Christmas. Though outdated kitschy cheapness pervades its every nook and cranny, it’s hard not to allow its goodwill to envelop you like a warm, cosy blanket. Trippy 60s pop art Star Trek-like sets, all blatantly filmed on a sound stage, require you to suspend your disbelief, though director Webster does well to sneak in some nifty stock footage of jets, rockets, and radars to make his film seem bigger and more expensive than it actually is.
Sure, it may feature the fakest-looking man-in-a-suit polar bear you’re ever likely to see, and in the hilariously unthreatening mechanical Torg, has the crappiest, lumbering, dustbin-headed robot in the cosmos, but the picture’s status as a camp, cheerful relic of more innocent, pre-CGI Michael Bay explode-a-thon times makes it tough to dislike.
As humiliating as it was, at least Gene could say he was finally in the movies
A master class in overacting, all performances are dialled up to eleven, with John Call’s jovial codger proving a reliably jolly, loveable Santa. His incessant chuckling may start to grate, but his rotund hero is a safe pair of hands, so altruistic that he sees the good in everyone, even if they’re trying to have him sucked out of the spaceship airlock.
Santa couldn’t stop farting
Leonard Hicks as Martian commander Kimar is heroically sombre, delivering ludicrous ‘What is a Christ-Mas?’ dialogue like an earnest William Shatner reading for Hamlet. As proper ‘Bah Humbug!’ walrus-‘tached villain Voldar, scowling, baritone Vincent Beck hams it up nicely, while the child actors (including an 8 year-old Pia Zadora as a Martian moppet) are suitably ‘Gee Golly!’ cute, if atrociously wooden. As Kimar’s simple-minded, but good-natured lackey Dropo, Bill McCutcheon exudes a childlike goofy charisma. Though his over-exaggerated, camp body language often borders on creepy, he pretty much fits into this crazy, candy-striped sugar rush of a film perfectly.
Roy Alfred and Milton Delugg’s outrageously catchy, kiddie-sung ‘Hooray For Santy Claus’ theme tune helps amplify the spirit of giddy, reckless abandon and we are even encouraged to sing along, Karaoke-style, as the credits roll.
It’s that sort of film, celebrating all things Christmas so vigorously it’s hard not to get swept up.
Coasting by on breezy charm and festive spirit, this movie almost gets away with its overt trashiness. However, some goofs cannot be ignored, such as Torg’s supposedly terrifying, but actually bloody hilarious entrance to Santa’s workshop, where he clearly slips and almost tumbles over. It beggars belief that this was the best take the filmmakers could get, though cult status is assured by keeping it in.
Transformers 4 went back to basics
Elsewhere, when Martian ‘freeze guns’ turn Santa’s elves into statues, it’s hard not to chuckle at the midget actors’ vain attempts to remain completely still, comically wobbling like a bowl full of jelly.
Throughout, it’s also difficult to ignore the fact that Santa never seems too bothered that he’s been kidnapped, though he probably only had to check his naughty list to ascertain that things would turn out just fine. He does, however, do very little in the way of actual ‘conquering,’ which is definitely misleading, though there should be ample yuletide shenanigans to warm even the frostiest heart.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is not concerned with looking cool, rather it’s an old school holiday flick for kids and for grown-ups clinging on their inner child, who still believe in the magic of Christmas. It’s a silly tale with a commendable sense of naivety that more than makes up for its shoddy production values. This Christmas classic champions a universal message about the importance of family values and goodwill for all, even for Martians. I’ll drink to that.
Take a Drink: each time Santa Claus chuckles for no particular reason.
Take a Drink: whenever you see some footage that looks like it was pinched from another film.
Take a Drink: every time somebody who’s meant to be ‘frozen’ actually moves.
BONUS CHRISTMAS EGGNOG! for the entrance of Torg, the crappiest robot ever.