“Martians, upset that their children have become obsessed with television shows from Earth which promote the virtues of Santa Claus, start an expedition to Earth to kidnap the one and only Santa. While on Earth, they kidnap two lively children that lead the group of Martians to the North Pole and Santa. The Martians then take Santa and the two children back to Mars with them. Voldar, a particularly grumpy Martian, attempts to do away with the children and Santa before they get to Mars, but their leader Lomas stops him. When they arrive on Mars, Santa, with the help of the two Earth children and a rather simple-minded Martian lackey, overcomes the Martians by bringing fun, happiness and Christmas cheer to the children of Mars.” (courtesy IMDB)
I have for you this week a true classic of children’s cinema that did for kid’s movies what Mad Max II The Road Warrior (1981) did for car insurance. A film that asks the oft-mooted question “In a battle between Santa Claus and Martians, who would win?” Sadly the answer is right there in the title, so the more spoilerphobic of you may want to turn away from the screen as I write the name of the film. So without any further ado I will now discuss Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964).
The more astute of you may have realised by now the Martians are devoid of their usual weaponry: Tripods, death rays, etc. They must have all been in the shop when they kidnapped Santa. In fact, as Martians go, they’re sort of puny and whiny, not so much warriors as bureaucrats, really. That’s why they’ve held off invading Earth, they know they’d be in awash of liability claims. And we can see some not-so-subtle propaganda here. The socialistic Martians have lost the ability to have fun, so they need Santa to show them a good time, like the capitalist whore he is.
Speaking of which, the Louis Marks credited in the titles as supplier of the toys in the film is no relation to Karl Marx. He is, instead, the man who realised you could sell cheap non-branded toys to kids en masse through the five-and-dime stores, thus making his fortune. He’s also credited with the invention of the Rock’em Sock’em Robots, so should the Martians decide to conquer Earth, Santa could use fifty-foot-tall replicas of the Rock’em Sock’em Robots to take out the tripods – that would have been far more interesting than this film.
Now I’m sure the cinematically astute of you are watching this movie and thinking to yourself, “I’ve never seen these people before in my life!” and you’d be mostly right. The two kids never worked again, the news-reader that looks like Dick York but isn’t got a role in Highway To Heaven, and that’s about it. And John Call, who played Santa, had a career before this film, but didn’t work again afterwards until The Anderson Tapes (1971). So this film has been responsible for either stagnating or destroying the careers of everyone involved, with one terrifying exception.
Yes, the one exception is Pia Zadora, who plays one of the Martian kids – typecasting, if you ask me. Zadora was lucky enough to continue her on-screen career – one hesitates calling it an acting career – by marrying a very rich man who could produce all her films. Audiences who sat through the likes of Butterfly (1982), The Lonely Lady (1983) and Voyage Of The Rock Aliens (1987) were not so lucky. Pia Zadora was such a bad actress, that when she appeared in a Broadway production of The Diary Of Anne Frank and the Nazis showed up at the front door, the audience rose as one and shouted out, “She’s in the attic!” That’s how bad she was. Her husband held her in such high esteem, that when he heard she was pregnant he said “At least she’ll have someone her age to talk to.” So you can see, she was pretty much The Joke That Walked Like A Woman, but we shouldn’t focus on her bad attributes, as she had at least two positive ones.
But more on the film. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians was made in an aircraft hangar, which was an unfortunate decision as a DC10 had to make an emergency landing and took out the elaborate sets that had taken six months to build, that’s why the on-screen sets look like hastily-built crap. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it. Gene Lindsay. who played the polar bear, later appeared in All The President’s Men (1976), so he’s the one person associated with this film to come closest to an Academy Award – about twenty feet away.
It’s interesting there is a polar bear in this film, and it’s interesting because the director worked on a show that was an unholy union between Aaron Spelling and Rod Serling. It was called The New People, about a plane that crashes on a deserted island and the survivors have to build a new society. The story of their struggle to create a new civilisation would examine many contemporary issues, kind of like a cross between The Twilight Zone and Fantasy Island. Remind you of any other show involving a plane crash and a polar bear? No? I’m lost, too.
Finally I should mention the title that was a forerunner to what I like to call self-evident theatre. That’s where people could know what the film was about by just knowing the title. So say goodbye to the obscurity of titles like A Clockwork Orange (1971), Naked Lunch (1991) and Gidget (1959) – I mean, what the hell are they about? – and welcome the new age of self-evident cinema, which which has such films as Dude Where’s My Car? (2000), Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992), Snakes On A Plane (2006) and Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961). Anyway, let’s go back and see what Santa Claus does with those pesky Martians – oh, that’s right, he conquers them.
Finally, painfully, we crawl across the finish line of another movie review for Horror News. Please try to be back next week – on time – for Dario Argento’s Creepers (1985). No, that’s not his shoes, it’s the film called Phenomena, only shorter. Till then, toodles!