Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (A 25 Days of Shitmas Post from "Headless" Screenwriter Nathan Erdel)
Santa Claus Conquest The Martians (1964)
Oh, Droppo… what a film.
A regular target of MST3k, Rifftrax, and the like, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, while being an incredibly silly – or, even, that useless, meaningless criticism, “bad” – film, is also a highly entertaining Christmas sci-fi film… as well as a film that did mark a few historical milestones. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians marks the film debut of Pia Zadora, as well as being the first documented appearance of Mrs. Claus in a feature film. Yet… who am I kidding? While both of the above facts ARE true, we’re not here to talk about Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (from here on out, SCCTM) as a historically significant film; we’re here to talk about SCCTM as a ridiculously, relentlessly silly film that deserves to be a part of any cinephile’s Christmas viewing list.
(Art Via Andrew O. Ellis)
The plot of SCCTM is more straight forward that one might imagine. On the planet Mars, the Martian children do not experience the traditional joys of youth that Earth children enjoy; instead, they act as adults, with none of the frivolity or play of childhood. After consulting with the Martian elder, Kimar (short for King Martian), sets out with other Martian men: the villainous Voldar, his cronies Stobo and Shim, and Droppo, described at the beginning of the film as “the laziest man on all of Mars, to kidnap Earth’s Santa Claus, whom the Martian children have become familiar with through watching “Earth programs,” thereby giving the Martian children their first Christmas, and, through that, a childhood.
What follows is a technicolor nightmare of indulgences, in which the Martians land on Earth and kidnap two Earth children, Billy & Betty, whom the Martians believe will lead them to Santa Claus. Well, faster than you can say “waterboard,” Billy sells out Santa (to be fair, uninformed of the Martian’s plan), and the Martians lay siege upon the North Pole, Billy & Betty in tow. The Martians unleash an attack robot, freeze Mrs. Claus and the elves with a ray gun, and take Santa into captivity.
The film takes its first real turn into some serious shit when Voldar, in order to protect the Martian culture, betrays the orders of Kimar and attempts to EJECT SANTA AND THE EARTH CHILDREN INTO THE OXYGEN-LESS VOID OF SPACE. Holy shit, that got dark quick. Luckily, Kimar stops this space atrocity before it is too late… which endears him to Santa??? Santa agrees to bring Christmas to the Martian children, to build a toy workshop on Mars, and to appoint a Martian Santa in his place.
The rest of the film doesn’t try to rein in the utter nonsense that the first half lays out, and, instead, ramps up the madness. Between Santa Claus wordlessly meeting the Martian children and then belly-laughing with them for a minute straight, to a case of mistaken identity that is both very obvious in execution and in its end goal, SCCTM maintains its nearly breakneck lunacy to its final frames, where (very, very mild spoiler) Santa names Droppo his successor, and then returns back to Earth… presumably to plot retribution??? This final point is not entirely clear, as the film never tries to reset the apple cart by amending the actions of the Martians against Santa, who is clearly in the deep throes of Stockholm Syndrome.
All in all, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians remains a wonderful product of its time, where the notions of camp and irony hadn’t squeezed all the fun out of earnestly-trying-to-be-good bad movies. This is no lazy Sharknado; this is a film that really, really tries… from stretching the presumably meager budget to the extremes, to the awesome, rollicking theme song. Sure, SCCTM isn’t a “good” film, arguably, but it’s a wonderful example of the “so good they’re bad films” that seem to be extinct in a cinemascape of “too cool for school” irony. While it’s hard to imagine that SCCTM would, with no irony, be at the top of anyone’s “Top Ten Christmas Movies” list, it’s also hard to imagine that someone would have such a callous heart to not find something to smile at during it’s 80-some minutes of running time.