Note: Due to time constraints and a spotty internet connection, I wasn’t able to get a new review written today. So I dug up a review I wrote in 2009 on another site. I apologize for the recycled content, but as less than 1% of my regular readers have seen it before, I figure it’s better than missing an update. It doesn’t feel as “polished” as my current reviews, which considering I’m aware I still have room for improvement makes it a little strange for me to read. Nevertheless, aside from a few minor corrections, I have left the text unaltered.
Strangely, this film is not quite as gloriously bad as it sounds. Oh, it’s bad all right. But you won’t see Santa Claus strapping on an AK-47 and laying waste to Martian phalanxes. The conquering is, sadly, more metaphorical than that.
Made in 1964, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is obviously meant more for kids than for adults. It opens and closes with a song, “Hooray for Santa Claus”, which spells out Santa Claus’s name, emphasizes that this is the proper spelling, and then consistently fails to call him anything but “Santy Claus” throughout the whole song. And it’s not just my ears hearing it a particular way, as the closing credits show the words so you can warble along, and it’s definitely “Santy Claus” everywhere except where the song tells you how it’s spelled.
The movie stars nobody you’re likely to have ever heard of, save perhaps for Pia Zadora, Bill McCutcheon and Vincent Beck. Most of these people went on to be character actors at best, or just had their careers abruptly end after this film. The acting jobs they turn in go a long way towards explaining this. While none of the acting is outright terrible, it’s all rather hammy; every joke is laughed at more than is merited (which is to say, the terrible jokes are laughed at), every threat is overreacted to, unless the plot calls for them to ignore it (as Santa Claus essentially does when he’s almost jettisoned out an airlock.)
The movie starts with a news broadcast from the North Pole and Santa’s workshop, where the reporter is doing the typical featurette. Santa shows him some new toys, including a Martian action figure that elf Winky has come up with; coincidentally, this is exactly what the Martians in the film look like. One wonders how Winky knew. Anyway, the news broadcast, as with many Earth programs, is picked up by Martian televisions, and the children there, who have been getting increasingly depressed all year, become particularly despondent. Martian society spends almost all of the children’s free time educating them, and they have no toys, and have never played. The leader of the Martians, worried about his own children, goes to the eldest Martian and asks him what to do; the solution, of course, is obvious: Kidnap Santa Claus.
So that’s what the Martians do, along with kidnapping two Earth children who told them where to find Santa Claus (the kids aren’t traitors, they’re just kind of dumb.) The Martian leader isn’t a bad sort, and he wants to treat them all well, but he insists that Santa will stay on Mars forevermore (“Earth has had you for long enough”). There is, however, a Martian council member who is a bad sort, and he wants to keep Mars the way it has been. The conflict of the movie, such as it is, is for Santa and the kids to find a way to defeat the evil Martian, and figure out a way to ensure a Merry Christmas for both Earth and Mars. (It’s a Christmas movie, so you already know they succeed.)
Tune into this movie if you want to see: A newscaster seriously stating the line “Mrs. Claus positively identified the kidnappers as Martians”; an “unstoppable” robot rendered useless by Santa Claus thinking it’s a toy; a henchman foiled by changing a light bulb; and Santa Claus encouraging children to charge, armed with nothing more dangerous than ping-pong ball guns, a violent Martian armed with a presumably-lethal ray gun.