One Saturday night in some December at some point in the 1980s, I watched Santa Claus Conquers The Martians on a local PBS station. My first impression was not that great. I didn’t appreciate the utter zaniness that this movie brings to the table. Bad acting, cheap sets, odd storyline and a washed out picture. Now, older and wiser, I can appreciate all of those imperfections. Needless to say, this movie has been getting an almost annual viewing for about the last ten years.
First, you have to go into this movie knowing it truly is one of the worst movies ever made. Not on the level of Manos: The Hands of Fate but definitely in the same ballpark. The story centers around the people of Mars worried about their children watching too much Earth television. Upon seeing their fascination of this Santa Claus person and consulting the wise old Chochem (a Yiddish word for genius), the Martians decide to go to Earth to kidnap Santa in an effort to stop the growing sadness the children of Mars are feeling. After all, Martian children never really have a childhood. Kimar (Leonard Hicks) leads a merry band of space travelers to Earth. Well, the evil Voldar (Vincent Beck) isn’t very merry but the dimwitted Dropo (Bill McCutcheon) makes up for Voldar’s lack of holiday cheer. Once on Earth, they kidnap two children, Billy and Betty, to help them find the real Santa Claus. Once at the North Pole, they capture Santa and take everyone back to Mars. Before it’s all said and done, Santa and Dropo save the day from Voldar’s evil plans to stop Santa delivering toys to all the good little Martian children. Dropo becomes the Martian Santa Claus and our Santa returns to Earth with Billy and Betty.
The most expensive scenes in this movie come from stock footage of the Air Force in their pursuit of the Martians (which would also be used in Doctor Strangelove). Very little was spent on the very sparse sets. Yes, that looks like scuba gear doing double duty as the Martian headgear. Yes, the Martian robot was probably a box before it was spray painted silver. Yes, that was one of the most unbelievable polar bears in film history. Yes, the Martian guns are actually Whammo Air Blasters. It’s doubtful any of the cast ever received any award nominations. John Call, who played Santa, was actually in 26 different productions. Most of these were uncredited or minor roles but his last performance was in 1971’s The Anderson Tapes with Sean Connery, so that says something. Leonard Hicks had a less than impressive career with only 3 credits, of which this movie effectively ended his time in Hollywood. Vincent Beck was in some other TV shows and movies. I remember his name from a third season episode of Lost in Space called “Hunter’s Moon”. Some people may think Jamie Farr was among the cast but that was actually actor Al Nesor. I was almost fooled though. I will give credit to Bill McCutcheon’s performance as Dropo. He seems like a children’s show sidekick character. No surprise that amongst his credits is that of Leo the Leprechaun from The Howdy Doody Show.
Really, the reason we even watch this movie today is because one of the Martian children, Girmar, was played by Pia Zadora. A name that means nothing today but she had fifteen minutes of fame back in the 80s due to a couple of sexy appearances in Butterfly (1982) and The Lonely Lady (1983). When it was discovered she actually made her acting debut in this movie, and upon realizing the movie had fallen into public domain, it started popping up on television and cheap VHS copies. Once Mystery Science Theater 3000 covered it, it became a “classic” in most B movie fan’s eyes.
Can I honestly recommend this movie? To the casual viewer, absolutely not. However, if you love bad/good movies, this will probably be added to your annual viewing list. It’s available for free through YouTube or Internet Archive. There are countless DVD copies, all with a poor picture but watchable. There is a new Blu-ray version just released that is supposedly an upgrade. However you get it, check it out. The real challenge will be to see if you can get the theme song out of your head once the movie is over.