Monday, December 12, 2011

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (25 Days of Shitmas, Day #12)

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is a children's film from the early 1960s. In its 40+ years of existence no child has ever gained an ounce of holiday cheer from this movie. Not to say that this film isn’t entertaining (because it is) or that the film wasn’t made for children (because it was), but the makers of this picture decided to intentionally add fear, despair and violence into a story aimed at prepubescents. Instead of injecting some Christmas spirit, they mainlined a needle full of psychedelic weirdness.“Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is a candy colored play with toys for props and children as its stars. Sadly, the candy coloring gives the sets a sticky, disgusting appearance and the fake, oversized props add a sense of sick claustrophobia.

The film follows two children across the solar system. The story moves them further and further away from their home with no promise of return. The adults that surround them project a Lewis Carroll sense of madness. They care so little about the children’s wellbeing that young audiences of the 60s must have been terrified. I guarantee you, after leaving the theater the youth of America formed a much stronger distrust of their parental units.

The convoluted story starts abruptly in the North Pole. Santa Claus is broadcasting live from his workshop. Television sets from across the world show the new toys Santa has for the good boys and girls of Earth. This broadcast reaches so far that the children of Mars are also watching. These green skinned young-ins’ are confused by the jolly old beardo because Christmas does not exist on Mars. Martian children are blasted with advanced math and science at a young age and are never given a chance to be kids. Like Spartans they are thrown into the military and forced to live a life of war and obedience. Now, the message of unending laughter and exuberant joy from Santa Claus has put the children of Mars into a trance. The Martian adults don’t know what to do. They seek advice from “The Wise Old Man of Mars”, an 800 year old Asian guy with a fake beard bought at Party City. The wise old head tells the alien grown ups something they could have never figured out, ‘Your kids need more love and attention’. But what the adults hear is, ‘STEAL SANTA CLAUS!’

One of these green guys is Kee-Mar, the leader of Mars. Kee-Mar decides to lead a team of Martian soldiers to Earth and hijack Christmas.

Once on Earth the Martians kidnap two children (Billy and Betty) and force the little scamps to give up Santa’s location. These two doe-eyed 8 year olds seem pretty cool with the abduction and lead the Martians to the North Pole.

At the Pole, Billy and Betty secretly head off to warn Santa about the Martian threat. After a brief search for the kids on the Martian space ship, Kee-Mar calls for a surgical strike against Santa’s workshop. Three of his Martian minions and Torg their robot assassin follow. Kee-Mar just assumes the two Earth babies will get lost in the freezing terrain of the North Pole and die. And they almost do! Billy and Betty survive the cold, but are too late to help Santa. They were very close; the fight with the polar bear took longer than expected. So, the Martian assault squad easily snatches the fat man and they all take off back to Mars.
“But what do we do with the Earth children now that we’ve completed our mission?” Good question evil, mustached Vol-Dar. Answer? Kee-Mar decides never to let Billy and Betty go back to Earth. The captive kids resign themselves to die old and alone on the Red Planet. That is not good enough for Vol-Dar, who is shaping up to be the proper villain of the film. No, Vol-Dar want to kill Billy and Betty. Kill them immediately and dump their bodies into space. AND HE TRIES! During Vol-Dar’s attempt to murder the children Santa intervenes and saves the day with some mysterious off screen Santa magic.

Back on Mars we are introduced to Drop-O, the outrageously annoying comic relief. Drop-O has an intense need to change his voice and pop out his eyes with every line of dialogue. Every time he speaks you question the existence of a merciful god. This ‘slow’ Martian also has a hard-on for the Santa-man and wants to help him get back to Earth.

While that bullshit is happening Billy and Betty are introduced to their Martian counterparts. The Martian children are polite, educated and speak only in turn. The two Earth kids decide couth is stupid and teach the Martians some good old fashion Earth spitefulness. The little ones join together and help Santa make toys; spreading immaturity, materialism and entitlement to all the children of Mars. Santa Claus through all of this seems pretty laid back. Even though Christmas is quickly approaching on Earth and he is an eternal captor of the Martian High Command, Santa diligently works away without a care in the world.
Vol-Dar on the other hand creates a rebel army and attacks Santa’s new toy shop. Our bad guy thinks he has captured the real Claus, but has actually kidnapped Drop-O (which is great because his intention is to murder Santa on the bare rocks of a cave!) Alas, Vol-Dar decides one more raid on Mars HQ will get Old Saint Nick, but his team is ambushed by the unified army of the Earth and Martian children. These sugar rabid babies drop on him like dirty VC in a Southeast Asian hellhole. Vol-Dar is defeated with foam balls, bubbles and the laughter of children. Any hope of a happy ending is thwarted. Drop-O is crowned the Santa Claus of Mars in an unspectacular ceremony and Santa and the Kids of Chaos and Anarchy are given a free ride back to Earth.

The creative process of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" must have been full of honest excitement and good will, but the end product is just exploitative and bizarre. The opening title cards look like soiled pieces of wrapping paper, daring the audience to open the dirty package to see what's inside. The movie is both visually garish and horribly murky. The movie makes no attempt to suppress the cackling volume of the production design or the performances. “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is the perfect Shitmas film. It terrifies, entertains and confuses the viewer all at the same time. God bless the 60s, a time when drug addicts and weirdos were in charge of children’s films. Merry Shitmas!

The End

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