STARRING: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Donna Conforti

1964, 80 Minutes, Directed by: Nicholas Webster

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians doesn’t exactly fall into the “so bad, it’s good category”. It’s bad all right, but what often makes for a “so bad, it’s good” movie is that the viewer often goes “what on Earth convinced them (the film-makers) that that would be scary/ funny/ exciting/ whatever?”

Sure, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has a plot written by a five-year-old: the Martians kids (see pic included!) are morose and surly from watching too many TV broadcasts from Earth. (Actually this sounds like most Earth kids too, but anyway . . .) In a case of circuitous logic, the Martian adults decide that the solution to the problem would be to introduce rampant consumerism and spiritual emptiness into their kids’ lives. Yup, we’re talking about Christmas here, that great Capitalist . . . er, sorry, Christian holiday here. However, to make Christmas a reality they don’t need cheaply produced goods from Third World sweatshops, no, instead they need Santa Claus himself . . .

Thus they send off a mission to Earth to kidnap the jolly old oaf. Only problem is that there seems to be a Santa on every street corner. So the Martians decide to kidnap two Earth kids (a boy and his sister) and make the kids show them the way to the North Pole. Much easier to consult a map you’d think, but anyway. Soon a kidnapped Santa is off to Mars in a hokey-looking spaceship and a subplot about a disgruntled Martian traitor with an obligatory villain moustache kicks in.

"Better than Mars Needs Women, but worse than Teenagers from Outer Space!"

See? I told you the plot might as well have been written by a five-year-old. Except unlike, let’s say Battlefield Earth, it was written for five-year-olds Battlefield Earth in contrast had a plot written by a five-year-old for a film intended for adults! And it is for this reason that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians doesn’t make for an enjoyable bad movie in the way Wild Women of Wongo and Queen of the Amazons does. One never goes "what on Earth made them decide that would be funny?" because it is after all difficult to laugh at something that was intended for small children in the first place.

Made for a mere $200,000 (it was shot entirely in an abandoned airport hangar in Long Island, NY to save on costs) the film also extensively used stock footage of U.S. Fighter jets to pad the running time. (Interestingly enough the same footage was used by director Stanley Kubrick for Dr. Strangelove that same year.) Throughout the years the film has gained such a reputation for being a bad movie classic that it even found its way into more respectable film reference works such as Leonard Maltin’s for instance (try finding Gog in that same guide one day). Its reputation was cemented when it was featured as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the TV show that lampooned bad movies.)

Is it that bad? Well, like I said: it was intended as a kiddies movie in the mid-1960s and on that level it probably hits the mark. (Apparently it did some good box office business I suppose that kids didn’t know any better back then.) It wasn’t really intended for adults, who’d be quite bored like I was after the first twenty minutes or so. Of course, today’s more media savvy kids used to more slick and professional entertainment like Shrek and The Incredibles would obviously also be bored stiff with it.

However, I can see the same goofy and silly story working on a pantomime stage setting for smaller children. (After all, the production designs and special effects of the movie are on the level on a children’s pantomime show in any case!)

Better than Mars Needs Women (another cheapo movie that uses endless USAAF stock footage), but worse than Teenagers from Outer Space, you’d be renting this particular Christmas movie for your kids at your own risk however . . .

(I wasn’t even going to mention how this movie features now-faded starlet Pia Zadora as one of the Martian kids, but I suppose that I simply had to.)



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