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Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!
In 1964, possibly the strangest Christmas movie ever made assaulted the American public. It was, of course, the tale of Santa Claus avoiding murder at the hands of the Martian people. Now, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a film that most bad movie lovers have probably already seen. Mystery Science Theater 3000 had an episode dedicated to it and, hell, even America Online (you know, the huge company that uses the symbol of the Illuminati as their logo) put the whole movie online last Christmas for everyone to see. And yet...I feel this year I would be remiss if I didn't review a film that's mere title wounds my soul...not to mention I haven't seen anyone truly convey the mind-blowing brain-exploding terror that is the film's climax. This may be a kids' movie, but the flick ends in a drug-induced delirium of violence. You'll see, trust me on that.
Of course, like most movies with great titles, the name of the film really doesn't have too much to do with the plot of the movie. Sort of how Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh (it's a movie, no joke) didn't have pharaohs nor any bloodsucking in it. The story's pretty much about how Santa brings Christmas to Mars. It's kind of got a weird capitalism conquers communism vibe to it, but only if you decide that all things "warm and Christmas-like" are invariably tied to capitalism and that "a Martian society based off logic and a distinct lack of toys" is communist. As implied, the political metaphor sort of fails the very moment you see Martians pleasuring one another with a "tickle ray." I'm getting ahead of myself, but please enjoy Jolly Old St. Nick's adventure on the red planet....
...but first. You know it's going to be a bad movie when there's a typo in the opening credits. I'm going to go out on a limb and say whoever got paid to produce the credits was paid far, far too much. If you can't see the typo, you might have a career in Hollywood making far, far too much money. Alright, let's do this.
The main thing you have to take for granted in this film is that Santa Claus is real. I don't mean that in a "he lives in the secret world of children's imagination" kind of way. This film may have some fantasy qualities to it, but Santa is very, very real. Reporters go to his workshop to interview him and the United Nations hold an emergency conference when he's kidnapped. So Santa is just about as real as the President or even Oprah. Also, he smokes a pipe like a crack fiend. Not that he's smoking crack (which would explain the film's finale), but just that in this modern age where smoking has been demonized to shades of super-ridiculous retarded, it's almost jarring to see a children's icon enjoying himself a good old puff of cancer. Of course, this isn't the only part of the movie tainted by the era you and I live in. For instance, remember when toys that were fun were also super dangerous? Lawn darts or those ballerina fairies that kept getting lodged in children's eye sockets...those were the days. With that in mind, I wonder what bodily harm Santa's going to be leaving in kid's stockings this year?
"You see, Andy, this toy rocket uses REAL jet fuel."
There's so much to comment on when Santa gets all excited about a toy filled with military grade combustibles. Is Santa trying to hurt children? Is he some sort of Darwinist, culling society of the children too stupid to know not to play with small ballistic missiles? Maybe this is just Santa's way of smuggling weapons into North Korea. "Hello, Kim? It's me, Santa. The North Koreans have been so good this year that I'm going to give toys to everyone. So that'll be 100,000 Hasbro Stinger Missiles, 50,000 semi-automatic popguns, and 1000 anti-tank fun packs, right?"
I wonder what's happening on Mars?
Umm. Ok. We've got a guy dressed like the Great Gazoo poking someone with a stick. I'm not sure what's going on here. Let's pan down.
Oh, he's having an orgasm. :blink blink: The Martians, besides having a thing for wearing the color green and having television antennae attached to their heads, also have random futuristic technology. The scientific marvel being used above is the "tickle ray"...something Martians use to wake up people. You know, because just poking him with the stick would be SO primitive. I really don't want to think too much about what you and I would do if we had a tickle ray. God knows it would make parties more fun. I'll leave it at that. Let's get into the plot.
Santa Claus is killing Martian children. That's not explicitly stated in the film, but it's implied like hell. In the picture on the left we have two Martian children watching Earth television. They don't eat or sleep and the Martians don't know what to do. Apparently the children have been stricken ill with Christmas Fever and their only hope is if a brave squadron of Martian soldiers can kidnap Santa Claus and bring him back before an entire generation of Martian youth die with vision of sugar plums dancing in their heads.
Trivia Time: The Great Gazoo Tangent
Earlier a few of you might not have known what I meant when I said the Martians dresses just like the Great Gazoo. The great Gazoo was a character introduced on the Flintstones and is a pretty good example of what happens to a show when it's "jumped the shark" (passed its prime) and desperate to not be cancelled. Gazoo was an alien that was banished to prehistoric earth after he created a doomsday machine that would destroy the entire universe. He was magical and could only be seen by Fred and Barney. The weird thing is that the great Gazoo was actually introduced one year AFTER Santa Claus Conquers the Martians came out. Now, I'm not going to say that the Martians in this particular movie are original, but take a look at what one of the most successful animated shows created the year after Santa went to Mars:
The Great Gazoo first appeared on television October 29th, 1965. Same skin, same cape, same helmet, same antennae, same LOTS of stuff....the only thing new here is that Gazoo wears gloves. I don't know if this is just what ALL aliens wore in the mid-1960's, but it is a weird coincidence. It also gives weight to the theory that the show's writers were completely out of ideas by introducing things straight from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Seriously, I can't even pretend that was a good idea. (Oh and to continue the tangent because I learned something awesome while looking up pictures of the Great Gazoo: Did you know that the Flintstone's cartoon was originally sponsored by Winston cigarettes? Fred and Barney would appear on television and talk about how much flavor was packed into each carton. I wish I were joking. Later Winston cigarettes pulled their sponsorship of the show, because Wilma got pregnant with Pebbles. Apparently it wasn't cool for cartoon characters on a kid's show to have babies but it was alright for them to sell cigarettes. I don't get it either.)
Great Gazoo aside, let's look at the subplot:
This is Billy and Betty. They're Earth children who are captured by the Martians because they need them to tell them where to find Santa Claus. In the above picture they're hiding in the "Radar Box", which was apparently labeled by the same people who decorated the Bat-Cave. I'm not sure what a radar box is, but I suppose if the kids are hiding inside of it they must have let all the radar out. Man, science was so easy back in the 1960's when public school consisted of football and pretending you didn't know what equal rights were. Billy and Betty are pretty much the equivalent of a styrofoam peanut in this film. They take up space and make sure nothing important gets hurt. Like the plot (which is beyond hope at this point already). The kids end up running around like the friend of a friend at a furry convention who doesn't know what's going on (because everyone, except for them, is wearing a funny costume).
The Martians send in their robot to capture Santa. Of all the resistance I was expecting it to meet, I was not expecting this:
Midgets with baseball bats got Santa's back at all times, apparently. There's no real fight scene, but the fact that all the elf "extras" grab baseball bats the moment someone breaks into Santa's Workshop tells me that Santa's security is much more brutal than I was expecting.
In case you were wondering, Robot > Midget. The robot's wearing oven mitts which helps even out the equation, but in this kind of confrontation there really can be no other outcome except crappy robot crushing the life out of Santa's Little Helpers. The Martians pull out ray guns that force people to pretend that they're frozen and fly away with Kris Kringle in their flying saucer. Santa's been kidnapped and now he's on his way to Mars. Luckily for him he's got Betty and Billy with him.
Once Santa gets to Mars, you start realizing Santa's not really "conquering" the planet so much as introducing it to the materialistic happiness that only toys can bring. Ah, the joys of globalism (planetism?). We learn that Martian children are really scary when they're laughing (this becomes important later) and that Santa is an engineering genius. Mr. Claus creates a giant machine that can create toys. Of course toys in the 1960's were limited to "doll, ball, bat, and teddy bear", so don't be too impressed.
Say hello to Voldar. He's the "evil" Martian (the other Martians are a bit militaristic but still want Santa to save their children) who wants to kill Santa Claus. You know he's the evil one because he's got the moustache. I don't know why, but people with facial hair are almost invariably the bad guy in movies like this. I'm not exactly sure what I mean by "movies like this" so I'll move on. Voldar apparently can't just murder Santa Claus once he's on Mars (though he did try to push him out an airlock before the flying saucer landed...to no avail). It has something do with the "Gods of Mars" or something who are protecting Santa while he's visiting the Red Planet. I don't know if he said "Gods of Mars" but I've rewatched him talk about it about 30 times and I still can't hear anything except "Gods of Mars" so we'll assume there are Martian deities blessing Santa's holiday on the red planet. Since he can't just put an ice pick in Santa's eye (which is how the Easter Bunny died, funnily enough), Voldar decides to do the next best thing.
I don't know about you, but making Santa's toy-making machine put teddy bear heads onto the bodies of baby dolls doesn't strike me as the next best thing to murder. The mismatch doll head scheme doesn't get the desired result, so Voldar has to resort to defying the Gods of Mars and be a bit more direct.
Voldar pulls out his Whammo Air Blaster (I mean Laser Ray Gun) and prepares to vaporize Santa Claus like a fat bowl of jelly in a microwave. Santa sits there like a James Bond villain, listening to Voldar prattle on until it becomes very clear that Mr. Kringle was prepared for just this eventuality.
In case you can't tell, that's Voldar being attacked by children with baseball bats. The final scene is a nightmarish montage of toys being thrown at him and kids generally going crazy. The kids swing bats at him, shoot arrows at him, and wind-up every toy car they can find. It's the classic "kids save the day" ending, only it's really disturbing and filmed as if it's part of an acid trip. Here's one reason it's particularly horrific:
Martian children swinging baseball bats are the thing of NIGHTMARES. As creepy as the above image is, I don't think it does justice to the true freak out awfulness of the finale.
That, on the other hand, conveys it quite nicely I think. :shudder: You might also want to know that the above spastic child is a very young Pia Zadora. This was her first film and dear GOD it could only go up from there. Pia Zadora fans (all 3 of you), I'm so sorry you had to see this.
With Voldar beaten to death by children (I like to pretend), Christmas having been delivered to the Martians, and a new Santa assigned to Mars, St. Nick takes off in a rocket and returns to Earth to bring Christmas joy and mirth to everyone (in the Western world, for the most part). This movie is pretty weird but probably golden if you're into freebasing before watching a holiday special. As I leave you to enjoy your holiday of choice, let me just say that there need to be more "Santa Conquers" movies. I'd like to see Santa Claus versus Atlantis, or maybe just Santa Claus conquers the Middle East. Now THAT would be splendid, wouldn't it? While you're making that Christmas wishlist, make sure you don't forget the tickle ray.
...because everyone needs a rod that stimulates the pleasure centers of their brain.
Particularly for Christmas.
Looking for more Christmas ramblings from Jared?
Nothing says "I wish I were Jewish" quite like a Killer Santa double feature.
copyright 2006 jared von hindman and jared hindman. All images are use via Fair Use laws and are the property of their respective owners. So don't sue me. Have a great holiday...whatever it might be. By the way, this is article 69. If you're a pervert and you're thirteen-years-old, I'm sure you're glad that I pointed that out.
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