A villainous Martian holds Santa at laser-point. image source: Embassy Pictures

Movie Review: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) ***

In “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” the Martians become worried about how boring their children have become since discovering Earth TV. The obvious solution is to kidnap Santa Claus and make him bring joy to Mars. This offers an alternate history United States where reporters have access to the North Pole, and Santa’s failure to hold a press conference as expected alerts the military to his abduction. Or something like that.

We watched this unseasonable classic at the request of my teenager, who’s a big science fiction fan and also has a great sense of humor. They didn’t want to watch the version with MST3K commentary, though. They wanted us to just dive into this low budget sixties-era holiday flick raw. So we did.

First of all, this title is totally misleading. Santa Claus does zero conquering. Santa Claus “smokes” his bubble pipe, allows the Martians to wreck his staff, and complains about what a nag his wife is.

Second of all, has any movie had a bigger asbestos budget? All the snow in this movie suspiciously looks like the makings of mesothelioma. I’m pretty sure that Billy and Betty (the human children) spent half this flick rolling around in huge piles of asbestos. When Billy put an asbestos-covered glove up to his lips, I actually screamed.

But for all the cheesy costumes, poor effects, and over-use of USA military propaganda, this…isn’t a bad movie? I really feel like I gotta reiterate my ethos: If a movie accomplishes what it sets out to do, and it’s not boring or especially offensive, then it’s a fine movie. This was obviously made to amuse children at Christmastime. I think it probably achieved that.

It doesn’t *look* good. But. It’s not like kids back then were watching on 4K widescreen TVs; most of them probably didn’t even have color. You gotta imagine watching this thing so blurry that you can’t tell the “radar box” is a loose handful of wires taped inside of a plywood box. So blurry that the uneven greenish makeup covering alien skin might have looked consistent. The aluminum foil antennae and flimsy costumes literally could not matter less.

We’ll just ignore all that. What you get, then, is a goofy story about Martians making up an excuse to kidnap Santa Claus, and Santa Claus setting up his first franchise location on Mars. You get a cartoon villain with a satisfyingly thick mustache trying to eject children out an airlock! Grown ups act goofy. Children get menaced by a legitimately scary polar bear costume and a robot with dial nipples. Kids defeating the bad guys by attacking them with toys during an acid trip of shaking cameras.

Nothing holds up to analysis, but it’s not meant to. This is basically one of those Marvin the Martian cartoons acted out by a handful of people on plywood sets. It’s kinda funny, very seasonal, and you won’t miss any critical plot developments if you wander to the bathroom.

I’d happily rewatch this camp classic with my family at Christmas if they wanted to, but they don’t. Making a load of inappropriate jokes about Santa “conquering” Martians is only funny once, I guess.

(image source: Embassy Pictures)

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