- Year: 1964
- Director: Nicholas Webster
- Starring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck
There are a lot of bad Christmas movies out there, and there are a lot of bad sci-fi movies out there. In 1964, Nicholas Webster decided that the people of earth needed a bad sci-fi Christmas movie because that didn’t exist yet… or something like that. Anyway, this led to the legendary disaster Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
The movie starts with the song “Hooray for Santa Claus,” which could have easily made my tournament of the Worst Christmas Songs for one terrible lyric alone (“He’s fat and round, but jumpin’ jiminy/He can climb down any chimney”). The music, including this gem, was composed by Milton DeLugg, who composed the music for Chuck Barris’s game shows. When you think about this opening song without the lyrics, it makes perfect sense. There’s even that game show-esque pencil animation going right along with it. If it weren’t for these opening credits though, how would we know who designed the film’s custumes?
We then start with something every kid wants to see in their movies—a newscast. (The newscaster even sounds like frequent Chuck Barris host Geoff Edwards, which interests no one and I’m not even sure why I’m pointing it out.) It’s then revealed who’s watching the program.
These children have started obsessively watching earth programs, including this exclusive interview with Santa Claus. The interviewer is clearly introduced as Andy Henderson, and yet Santa keeps referring to him as Mr. Anderson. Unless this is some weird prequel to the Matrix, Santa might have gone a bit too heavy on the eggnog. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is also notable for being the first film to feature Mrs. Claus… and she does absolutely nothing of note. At one point, the Martians freeze her, and Santa more or less says, “Well at least she’ll shut up now.” She also appears very flustered by the TV cameras and laughs a really, really bizarre laugh.
Now to be fair, Santa has the laugh of a psychopath in this film.
It seems odd that the director of this film seems to know absolutely nothing about laughing as he seems to be an expert when it comes to humor… albeit entirely unintentional humor.
Meanwhile, Alien Charlton Heston is worried about his children watching too much TV and not being serious enough about life in general.
Seriously, what are with these costumes? I get the movie has no budget, but this greenface is surely offensive to a race that may or may not exist, and the beer helmets are just an accident waiting to happen. Anyway, Alien Heston goes to see the planet’s great guru Chochem (seriously, they have Yiddish on Mars?), who exists solely to explain what Christmas on earth is all about.
I’m starting to think this movie was actually made for Martian children, because this scene goes on way too long. Chochem’s speech convinces Heston to go to earth to kidnap Santa Claus, along with the help of his assistants: Frank Zappa…
And two others so inconsequential they don’t warrant pictures. When the five of them travel to earth, they make the cliched mistake of thinking every mall Santa is Santa Claus. Unsure which one to take, they land next to the two worst child actors in history and ask them where the real Santa Claus lives. However, Frank Zappa is not satisfied with letting the kids go free, so the Martians kidnap the children to go with them to the North Pole. His reasoning is “They’ll tell the authorities,” because the cops would surely believe two young children who reported they saw aliens. The movie also spends an inordinate amount of time on newscasts about the alien ship and the military preparing via stock footage. It’s like this is the Christmas movie Ed Wood (thankfully) never got around to making.
While the Martians scope out the North Pole and prepare to kidnap Santa, the two children, Billy and Betty (those are their actual names, not just some default ones I’m making up) are attacked by a man in a very bad polar bear suit…
And a hilariously stupid-looking robot.
The Martians then use the robot to go into the workshop to kidnap Santa. The elves are furious, with one of them saying “You can’t take him now. It’s too near Christmas.” So if they kidnapped Santa in April or something, the elves would just be all “Yeah, sure take Santa, he’s a lousy boss anyway. Just bring him back by Thanksgiving.”
Alien Heston and his minions take Santa to Mars, but on the way, Frank Zappa tries to kill Santa and the children by sending them out of the airlock. Zappa isn’t a fan of bringing cheer to the Martian children and instead wants Mars to return to its war-torn roots (Knowing this movie’s level of intelligence, it is surely just a lucky coincidence that Mars was the god of war).
When they get back to Mars (we really only see Mars from indoor locations, so the Red Planet moniker is kind of a faith thing), Heston puts Santa in charge of making toys for the Martian children. Gomer Pyle, who isn’t considered a good Martian for being too happy and not liking the whole war thing, finds himself enjoying helping Santa out and even tries on Santa’s suit.
Alright, I get why Santa has a back-up suit, but why does he have a FAKE BEARD? What, did the Martians just have a fake Santa beard laying around? Well no, because they just learned who Santa was. Does Santa have a fake beard just in case he shaves on a whim? I want answers from this cheesy sci-fi Christmas film!
And here’s where it gets stupid. I’ll forgive everything up to this point if they don’t…. Yep Frank Zappa mistakes Gomer Pyle in a Santa suit for the real Santa Claus, even with his green face and alien hat, and takes him away. They get into some really poorly choreographed fistfights over the whole thing, Santa Claus goes back to earth with Billy and Betty, and Gomer Pyle becomes the Santa Claus on Mars. Thankfully, they never show the part where every Martian street corner has someone trying to imitate Gomer’s annoying laugh and mannerisms, because that would be too much even for this film.
So is this the worst Christmas special of all time? One of my biggest issues with the thing is Santa Claus is inexplicably stupid. Alien Frank Zappa is one of the most obviously evil villains in film history (with matching mustache to twirl and all) and Santa’s like “No kids, I don’t think he’s evil. Let’s trust him.” The five-year-old kids are smarter than Santa! How is he supposed to conquer the Martians with that level of intelligence?
Well he doesn’t conquer the Martians at all. The title was clearly just a cheap ploy to sell tickets, because it’s a blatant lie. Please explain to me how in this movie Santa Claus conquers any Martians, and don’t you dare say he captures their hearts and minds. If he grows to like them at all, it’s clearly through Stockholm Syndrome (hey it worked in Beauty and the Beast). Santa never really does seem all that broken up about being kidnapped. Technically, the Martians conquer him, and when he gets out, it’s not really through his own doing anyway, but only because Gomer Pyle is good enough to be Mars’ Santa.
Yeah, this is the worst one so far. It’s definitely got so-bad-it’s-good moments, but it also has ridiculous amounts of padding (and not just on Santa’s suit) and really annoying characters. It’s worse than fruitcake.