MasterChugs Theater: ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’

Come every year, without fail, around Christmas time, there are three films that I watch. We will go over them this month.

Got your gravity boots on, kids? Get ’em strapped down tight and super-charged, ‘cuz we’re going on a fantastic trip through space, time, and imagination! That’s right, we’ll be visiting amazing sights from Santa’s North Pole Workshop all the way to a fantastic Martian Toy Factory! We’ll see Earth kids meeting with Martian kids! We’ll even see a space-ship journey from Earth to Mars! It’s gonna be a humdinger, I tell ya! Watch out as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!

Aw poop, who am I kidding? Although Santa Claus Conquers the Martians does feature all of those eye-popping sights, it’s not the splendorous fantasia of science fiction promised by its promo posters. To judge by the plot, the writers were likely simpletons or children themselves. The Martian makeup is laughable, the alien technology props are ridiculous and the child actors (with the uncharacteristic exception of a six-year-old Pia Zadora … OK, not really) are wooden in the extreme. It is, in short, a grimy little piece of kiddie film made famous thanks to being a treasured film on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (even being labeled an essential alongside another quintessential bomb, Manos: The Hands of Fate).

It almost feels a bit pointless to attempt a plot summary, but what the hey, I’m game if you are. In brief: Mars is in a bad way. Sure, they’ve got sleep chambers and ray guns and robots, but it turns out in the midst of all that grand technology, they forgot the fun. Their kids do nothing but watch pirated Earth cable, staring slack-jawed at the screen 24/7. So Big Poppa Kimar, who actually appears to have the only children on the planet, seeks the advice of Chochem, their trademark wise man who’s not wise enough to live somewhere other than a swamp. Chochem lays the wisdom out thusly–the kids aren’t happy because there’s no fun, and who’s more fun than Santa Claus? Nobody, that’s who! But Earth just happens to have the one and only (go us!), so maybe Kimar might want to, you know, change that. Don’t ask, don’t tell. But mustachioed rebel Voldar ain’t even trying to hear that, and I’ve gotta say that for a guy who’s clearly taken villainy lessons from Gargamel, he’s sorta got a point–how about, I don’t know, getting your own Santa Claus?

Nonetheless, he’s outvoted and the Martians duly make with the kidnapping of old fatty, along with two American kids because creepy omniscient toy makers apparently don’t cut it as POV characters. Once on Mars, the kidnappers set Santa up with a snazzy new workshop and the Martian tykes cheer up immediately, but at the expense of our homesick Earth brats. Oh, boo hoo. Meanwhile Voldar, up till now my clear pick for smartest character in the movie, catches blithering idiot Dropo wearing Santa’s coat and a fake beard, carefully examines his prisoner’s green skin and antennae, and comes to the only logical conclusion–he’s finally captured Santa Claus! But can he realize his error in time to pull out a win for the side of Evil, or will he just end up covered in silly string and cursing those snooping kids? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie … or masterfully predict the ending.

By far, though–and I mean by FAR–the most messed up player in our little theater of the mind-blowingly absurd is Santa himself. Aside from laughing uproariously at every single sentence spoken aloud by another character, the poor guy’s just dumb as a post. Some of the characters give new meaning to the term dim, but they’re not even in the same league as this right jolly but not terribly swift old elf, who decides it’s a fantastic idea to go on a guided tour of the ship with a guy who’s professed to hating his guts, then thinks it’s some kind of horrible mistake when he’s subsequently ditched in the airlock with the door bolted. You can see it in Voldar’s face, he can’t even believe that worked–you can tell his Plan B was just telling tons of fun there’s cookies hidden in the engine room and seeing what happens. Yep, ol’ St. Nick clearly swapped his brains for the output of those flying reindeer decades ago, but the movie’s conclusion suggests that this might not be such a bad character trait for the job after all. That’s not really a compliment.

Honestly, what more can I say? If you can’t tell what kind of movie this is from the five-word title, kindly remove yourself from this site and keep away from sharp objects from now on. And if you are in fact a fan of the cinematic road less traveled, well, they don’t come much more cult than this, baby. I will advise newbies that this is not the film you want to start your foray into the cult world with … your brain’s liable to explode halfway through. But for seasoned veterans of all things amusingly stupid? You know your mission, should you choose to accept it. Just don’t expect Santa to slip a copy under the tree, I hear he’s still in litigation with the movie’s director over alleged “character defamation.” This movie tries hard to be an uplifting holiday fable for kids, but its failure is spectacular. It is so smarmy and unfunny that if it had a face, it would deserve getting punched.

And that’s why I love it.