Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a 1964 Science Fiction film “in which Martians, trying to cure the malaise of their children, kidnap THE Santa Claus (and a couple of Earth kids that got mixed up in the plot) and take him to Mars to create the first Martian Christmas.”
This movie is often listed among the worse movies ever made but I don’t think it’s “bad” so much as “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good”.
I remember watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians on television when I was younger. I actually had this faded memory of invading fleets of spaceships, rampaging robots, and malicious Martians who are overcome by a valiant Earth air force. Well, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians really only has one rickety rocket, one cardboard robot, a handful of inept Martians only one of whom is malicious, and a lot of military stock footage.
It has been years since I last saw this movie. Boy, was I surprised when I re-watched it recently. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the epitome of cheap. The Martian rocket is a clunky looking model. The control room consists mostly of big blinking lights, huge levers, and something that looks like a painted wood box with a lid that has some wires dangling from it. The two kidnapped Earth kids, Billy and Betty, hide inside it at one point and then disable some of the controls by pulling out the wires – and the Martians never notice.
And, wow, is the robot cheap. Did any of you ever dress up as a robot for an elementary school Halloween party? You know, with a big cardboard box covered in aluminum foil? The robot in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is really only a bigger and slightly better version of that school costume. And probably only cost a little bit more. When Billy and Betty are standing transfixed and horrified at their first sight of the robot, I’m not sure if they are supposed to be scared of the robot or just scared that it will fall apart at any moment. Even the guns the Martians use are nothing more than painted toy Whammo Air Blasters.
Then there are the Martians. Somebody bought an awful lot of an horrible shade of green paint and poured it all over these poor actors. Their skin is green, their helmets are green, their clothes are green. Some are deep, swarthy green, some are pale green. But they are all green. And they have antennae. I can not tell it the antennae are supposed to be part of their heads or part of their helmets or what they are used for. They just have two long antennae sticking up from the top of their heads.
And let’s not even mention the polar bear. It looks like a cross between a bear rug and a stuffed teddy bear. It has a big ridiculous looking face and is obviously just sort of draped over some long-suffering stuntman. When it sort of flops around as it is supposed to be chasing the Earth kids, I’m not sure whether Billy and Betty are running away because they are supposed to be scared or because they did not want anyone to see them laughing at the ratty bear.
To be fair, despite the el cheapo budget, sets, and costumes (or “custume” as the opening credits proudly proclaim) some of the acting is not really half bad. The Martian mother and the two Martian children act like they are zoned out in their own little universes (movie fans note: a very young Pia Zadora is the Martian girl), and some of the Martian men are laughably stiff but there are some good moments. The Martian leader, Kimar, tries really hard to be serious and earnest. The bad-guy Martian, Voldar, is definitely channeling a 1960s American idea of a menacing Russian villain. The Martian Dropo is a pretty good comic relief (except why in the world did the Martians pick him to go on this mission?). And the two Earth kids are perfect replicas of the kinds of child characters that appear in many, many movies and television shows of the 1950s and 1960s. They are nice, polite, hold hands, and are spunky but never, ever naughty.
Then there is Santa Claus himself.
Actor John Call looks the part. He’s a pleasantly plump Santa with a nice white beard. He is always jolly and never seems upset even when Mrs. Claus and his elves are frozen or when he is about to be sucked out an airlock. He even laughs about it. But his laugh just seems a little off to me. He’s trying to be a good Santa and sometimes he is but sometimes he just seems a little…..well, weird. Like he can’t quite turn off the “jolly”.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians enjoyed “newfound fame in the 1990s after being featured on an episode of the comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Several other comedy writers and performers have riffed and written about the movie and added to its new life as an “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good” film. And it really IS “so-bad-it’s-good”. When I re-watched the movie, I was astounded and amused and kept repeating to myself: “Wow, is this really what we thought space and aliens and technology really looked like back then?” Older movie fans will get that same enjoyment out of this blast from the past. For younger movie fans the film is a bit more problematic. Some kids will enjoy the adventure and never notice the cheapness. But I think some tech-savvy kids will be totally turned off by the low, low budget and primitive special effects. (Parents: this is definitely a “G” rated movie. There is no bad language except for one scientist referring to “Martian monkeys.” There are some parts that are supposed to be scary like the polar bear and the airlock scene but the bear is so silly looking and Santa is so unconcerned about the airlock that I think most modern kids will not be bothered)
I got a hoot and laugh out of some of the dialogue in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Here are some example:
- Silly Martian Dropo explains that he wasn’t sleeping on duty: “I wasn’t sleeping, Chief. It’s just that I haven’t been able to sleep these last few months. I forgot how. So I was just practicing.”
- Santa Claus assures a reporter he will never use a rocket sleigh: “No sirree! We’re going out the good ol’ fashioned way. With my reindeer Prancer and Dancer and Donder and Blitzen and Vixen and Nixon….ah, Nixon? Now where’d I get that? Oh, consarnit! I get those names mixed up but the kids know their names.”
- When the Earth kids see the Martians, Betty asks: “What are those funny things sticking out of your heads?” Martian Rigna answers: “Those are our antennae.” And Betty responds: “Are you a television set?”
- When Santa Claus first sees the robot and the Martians he says: “Where did you come from? You’re the biggest toy I’ve ever seen! And very well made, too.” Kimar the Martian is disgusted: “By the Great Dog Star! Santa’s treating him (the robot) like a toy!”
- Martian bad-guy Voldar does not think Santa Claus is worth all the trouble: “All this trouble over a fat little man in a red suit.”
- Billy threatens the Martians: “You’ll never get away with this, you…Martian!”
- Santa dismisses the whole airlock episode: “Well, when Voldar “accidentally” left us in the airlock and then came up here and “accidentally” threw the door switch, we knew we had to get out of there in a hurry or that would be the end of us. “Accidentally” of course.”
- Santa complains about using a Martian machine to make toys: “I’m not tired but my finger is. It’s been pressing buttons all day long. Well, I think I’ll go in and put my finger to bed.”
Overall, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a silly movie that is so bad at times that you have to laugh in amused disbelief. The budget was so low and the special effects are so primitive that the film looks like it was made in an abandoned aircraft hanger (which it actually was). Some of the actors really try, others are busy chewing the scenery. This movie was made in a time and features ideas so far removed from our modern world that many viewers will be flabbergasted. But in the end, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, at only 81 minutes long, is an entertaining way to spend some time.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is in the Public Domain. Go to The Internet Archive to watch it online or download it FREE.
Please click this link to watch or download Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (warning: the MPEG4 download ends abruptly about 20 minutes or so before the movie is over).
You can also get Santa Claus Conquers the Martians at this link (and the MPEG4 download is just fine here).