Thursday, December 18, 2008

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Jalor Productions, 1964)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I made the mistake of trying to sit with Charles through another movie, a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 incarnation of the film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I had no idea this movie would actually turn out to be worse than its reputation: directed by Nicholas Webster from a script by Paul L. Jacobson and Glenville Mareth, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians turns out to be a “children’s movie” that any self-respecting child within hailing distance of normal intelligence would have walked out on. The sets look like they were built in a high-school shop class, the costumes as if the filmmakers made their “Martian” attire out of converted pajamas, and the story so perfectly achieves a consistent level of uninspired banality that it contains no entertainment value whatsoever. It also doesn’t help that John Call, playing Santa (the only cast member anyone ever heard of again was Pia Zadora, here in her pre-pubescent years playing one of the Martian kids), sounds like he was drunk out of his gourd through the entire shoot, or that the actress playing his wife looks like a Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottle come to life and is about as animated.

The plot? It seems there’s a civil war on Mars between the people who like the fact that Martian children are dead-serious miniature versions of Martian adults and the faction that wants to teach them to play and have fun, and for which purpose they abduct Santa Claus from earth -— only, as the title suggests, he turns the tables on them. It’s the sort of movie whose credits list a “custume designer” where they obviously meant “costume designer,” and one can only hope that aside from Ms. Zadora all the unfortunate actors trapped in this movie eventually found honest work doing something else. The most (unwittingly) entertaining sequence in the film was a stock shot of U.S. Air Force bombers undergoing air-to-air refueling — the very same stock footage that was used in the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Dr. Strangelove. Imagine: one of the best movies of all time and one of the worst movies of all time using the same stock shots!