The perennial problem with Thanksgiving is the holiday’s utter lack of suitably themed holiday movies. True, we have Trains, Planes and Automobiles, and then there’s Thankskilling, I guess. Really, though, that’s it. I’m so starved for seasonal films that I’ve taken to watching The Nightmare Before Christmas in November (since it’s not quite Halloween and not quite Christmas, but something in between).
Christmas, however, has the opposite problem. There is an absolute glut of holiday films detailing every facet of the season. The best of these are rewatched ad nauseum every year – Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, The Santa Clause – so much so that even lesser efforts (such as Elf and The Polar Express) are sought out to help mix up the holiday movie roster. There is respite, however, for the listlessly unchanging Christmas movie lineup, since the holiday’s omnipresense in the film industry has lead to a series of truly bizarre, enigmatically entertaining and generally unwatched gems. My favorite of these a-typical Christmas films is the timeless classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
When the children of Mars grow disobedient and morose, Kimar, the planet’s ruler, concludes that it is because of their obsession with Earth television programs, especially those featuring Santa Claus. After consulting Chochem, the eight hundred year old planetary elder, Kimar concludes that the Martian children need Santa Claus to bring joy and wonder into their lives. Leading a bold expedition to Earth, he kidnaps Santa and brings him back to the red planet. Treacherous Voldar, however, sees this as an opportunity to overthrow Kimar and rule Mars in his stead. He not only sabotages Kimar’s plans for a Martian Christmas, but also schemes to kill Santa Claus.
There is not enough space in one article to adequately enumerate everything that’s wrong with this train wreck of a film. It’s not just its stock, retro science fiction trappings, which include food pills and tickle rays – seriously, there is an actual “tickle ray” used in the film. It’s not just its non-existent budget, which directly results in the excessively unconvincing space scenes. It’s not even the wholesale failure of the film’s set, costume and makeup design to produce anything close to a reasonable portrayal of Mars, let alone Martians: the terribly-rendered green-face, mono-green clothing and bulbous green helmets with adjustable antennas make everybody look like a cheap knockoff of The Great Gazoo.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians‘ problems stem from its untenably bad script, which in turn makes it far more memorable and entertaining than the majority of the superior quality Christmas films that it competes with for shelf space. Stop and consider just how absurd of a premise this is: Santa Claus – that jolly old elf that gives out free toys to well-behaved children – is kidnapped by Martians whose end-game is nothing more substantial than wanting their kids to finish their dinner and go to bed on time; along the way, he is forced to look after two Earth children who were also kidnapped and helps thwart a planetary coo by his abductor’s chief rival.
While the plot may be absolutely nonsensical, the worst writing is reserved for Dropo, Kimar’s presumably brain-damaged nanny. It takes the idea of a bumbling, incompetant man-child to an even more illogical extreme than Frank and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber. He is so stupid, that he actually forgets how to sleep, and spends his time at work, when he should be tending to Martian king’s children, practicing how to sleep, so that he can remember how to do it later that night. And that’s his character in a nut shell: a soft-headed simpleton who invariably fails at whatever task is actually assigned to him.
The weird thing is, though, that there is actually a good story to be made from this premise. Imagine a holiday-themed Galaxy Quest, where Martian children watch Earth-produced tv shows and movies about Santa Claus – the benevolent spirit of the holiday who brings joy and cheer to all of the good children of the world. Despondent at the fact that they lack his holiday magic on Mars, they refuse to obey their parents, who grow increasingly concerned – to the point that they lead an expedition to Earth to capture Santa and bring him back to Mars. War threatens to break out between Mars and the Earth, however, when upon arriving on Earth, the people of Earth seemingly hide the in truth non-existent Santa Claus amongst their global population.
Now, is this better than the premise behind Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? I’d like to think so. But the fact remains that it would not be nearly as entertaining as the schlock that director Nicholas Webster actually put to screen.
Understand that I do not recommend Santa Claus Conquers the Martians because it is a good movie. In fact, I recommend it because it is exactly the opposite of that: an awesomely-bad film that is so obviously terrible on its face that it should never had been greenlit, let alone been written, cast, filmed, edited and distributed with genuine earnestness. What is lacks for in quality, however, it more than makes up for in sheer entertainment. It is essentially a Christmas themed The Room.
So if you find yourself tired of the usual holiday fair this year, give Santa Claus Conquers the Martians a try. It certainly stands out against the typical Christmas films that get shipped around at this time of year. And, thanks to having lapsed into the public domain, you can find this on not just Netflix, but Youtube as well.