It never fails that when someone brings up a list of “Worst Christmas Films of All Time“, or, in many cases, worst films of all time, period, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is usually on the top of the list, and I’m here to say it doesn’t deserve the title.
Sure, the 1964 film is a low budget disaster with bad sets, bad costumes, bad acting, and spectacularly bad writing, but aside from that, and, in fact, because of that, it’s a lot of fun to watch. The truth be told, this film is very near and dear to my heart, as it’s one my Dad took me to see, in the theater, as a kid, and probably resulted in my first utterance of, “Gee, Dad, the movie really sucked, but that Pia Zadora kid was kind of cute …”, a statement to be repeated, with frequency, in the ’70s and ’80s.
If we only new then that little Pia would grow up to be, now nearly forgotten, star of stage screen, and half-a-dozen adult magazines, while being famous for pretty much nothing outside of being kinda’ hot and having a husband with more money than god to pay for her career (I think there’s a potential for a Citizen Kane/W.R. Hearst/Marion Davies riff to go on here, but I’m trying to keep this about the Christmas stuff …)
The film keeps coming up, year after year, and I’ve gotta’ believe that anything with this much staying power in the public eye has gotta’ be better than it’s been getting credit for.
The story revolves around a Martian dad, Kimar, and his wife, Momar (no relation to Qaddafi), and their two kids Bomar and Girmar (played by the 8-year old mother-of-all-trophy-wives-in-training, Pia Zadora.) Kimar is concerned that his whacky kids have been watching too much Earth TV, and are becoming too much like Earth Kids, especially after they start asking questions laced with too much interest in human emotion like, “What is ‘tender, loving care?'”
Kimar consults with Chochem, an old Martian equivalent of Yoda, but with better grammar and sentence structure skills (He’s green, 800 years old, and …Hey, do you think? Nah, must just be a coincidence), and decides he needs to put an end to the situation by going to Earth and kidnapping Santa. Naturally, hilarity ensues …
On the way to the all-too-predictable end, where Kimar’s plans are undone and Santa manages to melt everyone’s green hearts, the film is just one non-stop bad gag after the other, including the martians superior ‘weaponry’ which was the result of some kind of product placement deal with Wham-0, makers of the hula hoop, the Frisbee, slinkys, and the Air Blaster, a favorite ’60s toy that was the Martians’ primary weapon throughout the film.
You guys, this is fun stuff. There is a double-edge to this film that is filled with wild-eyed innocence, while at the same time living on the knife’s-edge of the cold-war inspired nuclear terror, and related xenophobia, of the time. It’s a reflection of the World of the 1960s and it’s kind of like a nostalgic joyride with an aftertaste of the darkside…One with parallels to our World today.
The thing you have to put into context was the strange times during which this film was released. It came out less than a month after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and only a few months after the Bay of Pigs fiasco…The entire World was on the edge of nuclear war, and were it not for the chemically-enhanced bravado of President John F. Kennedy, who was being held together by cocaine and cortico-steroid injections, we might have well found ourselves trading nukes with the Soviets. This was a period where, despite global tensions, the citizenry of the United States was still basking in the glow of the wide-eyed optimism of the Eisenhower era that would only end, the following November, when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
This film is a direct reflection of a very strange time in this Country’s national character and mindset, and because of that I believe it is a classic bit of Americana.
You can pick this up “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” for about $8 on Amazon, or, if you prefer, there’s a Mystery Science Theater 3000 version available starting at about $50, used.
My recommendation for a Holiday Fun-Fest would be to host an XBox Live streaming party with the Netflix version, and do your own commentary with friends and loved ones. Preferably one that involves lots and lots of adult beverages.
There’s also a full-length version available on YouTube, which is linked. Also, I just cut a new music video version of ‘Hooray for Santa Claus’.
Here’s a few geeky facts about the film:
- This was Pia Zadora’s film debut and, quite possibly, her best performance. Ever.
- “Chochem”, the Yoda-esque Martian sage, got his name from the Yiddish word for ‘Genius’. (Cough.)
- The film’s theme song, “Hooray for Santa Claus” is a surf-rock classic written by Milton DeLugg, a veteran Hollywood composer who also did the music for a bunch of Chuck Barris game shows including “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show“
- The trumpet player on “Hooray for Santa Claus” is none other than the legendary Al Hirt
- Costumes for the film were designed by Ramsey Mostoller, the costume designer for the cult hit soap, “Dark Shadows“. In the film, his credit is listed as “Custume Designer”
- The role of “Dropo” was played by veteran comedic character actor, Bill McCutcheon, whose 50+ year career spanned from early TV, such as “Johnny Jupiter“, to Sesame Street and feature films, such as 1990’s, “Mr. Destiny“
- The same Air Force footage used in the film can be seen in the classic Kubrick film, “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb“, starring Peter Sellars, also from 1964