The children of Mars have become obsessed with Earthly, American television programs. With Christmas approaching on Earth, these TV shows have been all about Santa Claus (John Call)… and the martians are upset that their children are so obsessed with mind-numbing “Earth programs.”
The martians decide to head to Earth so they can kidnap Santa and bring him back to Mars for their children. Upon arrival on the planet, the martians first take two overzealous children (Billy and Betty, portrayed by Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti) hostage as tour guides to lead them to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole.
The mission is successful, and back to Mars they all go: the martians, Santa and the two captive children. Things look pretty grim for the human trio accompanying the martians, as one of their captors, Voldar, tries to get rid of them before they even reach Mars. But with happiness and Christmas cheer, Santa and his two little elementary-aged helpers are able to overcome their plight.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was released in 1964 and directed by Nicholas Webster (Gone Are The Days!). The script was penned by Glenville Mareth from a story by Paul L. Jacobson, both of whom have no credits other than this film on IMDb. (Are they even real people? ARE THEY MARTIANS? *Cue Theremin music*) Pia Zadora, destroyer of the Pickfair mansion, makes her film debut here as a martian child.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians opens with my new favorite theme song, which matches the Killer Klowns song in terms of greatness. A chorus of shouting children yells “S-A-N-T-A, C-L-A-U-S, hooray for Santy Claus!”
We soon meet good ol’ “Santy” himself through a television broadcast… on Mars. The martian children are watching a man interview Santa, whose jolly laugh sounds more like “ree-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya!” than the usual “ho ho ho!”
Meanwhile, on Mars, everyone wears green outfits that for some reason remind me of The Wizard of Oz (possibly because they’re the same technicolor shade as seen in the Emerald City) and eats their meals in pill form. But all of those Earth programs have depressed the children, and they haven’t eaten in days! Martian father-of-two Kimar (Leonard Hicks) decides to visit the “ancient one” (Carl Don) for advice.
This is where the corn really picks up for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, though there is a bit that exists from the first frame. The performance of Carl Don as the elder martian is such a gem of a corn-cob. Every time he speaks he sounds like he’s either about to burst into tears or croak.
Carl Don’s appearance is quite short, though, and there’s got to be someone (or a few someones) to bring the corn throughout the rest of the film. Vincent Beck and Bill McCutcheon take on that responsibility as Voldar and Dropo, a very angry martian and a very scatter-brained one, respectively. One key scene featuring McCutcheon has him slipping on a Santa suit over his martian garb and hopping around the room while singing “Jingle Bells.”
Beck as Voldar is permanently disgruntled, not buying into any of the Earthly Christmas cheer that surrounds him. The way he delivers his lines is an exact vocal approximation of David Caruso’s dramatic sun-glass-wearing in CSI: Miami. If this could talk:
…it would sound like Voldar.
Though Don, Beck and McCutcheon bring a lot of the film’s corn, there isn’t much to be seen here that isn’t smothered in ten varieties of cheese. From the dialogue (“I supposed if a martian has a headache he doesn’t take pills, he takes chocolate ice cream! Hehe… he… he.” -Santa), to newscast spoofs about the martians’ ship belonging to the soviets, to a robot that appears to be made of cardboard and kitchen utensils, to Betty asking the martians if they’re television sets because they have antennae, to Santa lamenting over the automated process of the workshop he’s given on Mars… there are thousands of pounds of corn packed on here. There’s even a human-in-animal-suit moment that rivals the weirdness of TV’s Rosie, as a man dons a really awful polar bear suit.
In addition to all of this corn and the cheese-tacular theme song, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians contains what is now my favorite attack scene in any film ever. How do you stop an angry martian who’s trying to ruin Christmas? Attack him with water guns, baseball bats and mechanical toys, of course!
We’re now more than a few days into December, which means we’re getting close to our very own Earthly Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be corny, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the perfect way to celebrate the season.