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Blogvent Day 22 – Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964,USA)

22/12/2011

Director: Nicholas Webster        Starring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Bill McCutcheon

Just when I thought I’d seen the weirdest Christmas films I was likely to see , this charming little film was brought to my attention by a couple of different people. A peculiar Christmas/sci-fi B-Movie mashup which combines Santa, Martians, alien invasion, kidnapping and social commentary it is very possibly the single strangest Christmas film that I have ever seen.

Concerned at the behaviour of Martian children, who seem to becoming more distant and less interested in life on a daily basis and are more interested in watching video transmissions from Earth than participating in Martian life the Martian’s overlord Kimar (Hicks) realises Earth kids are happy and outgoing because of Santa Claus (Call) and so he hatches a plot to kidnap him from his North Pole workshop in order that he can bring toys and joy to Martian children instead. Of course such a scheme was never likely to go off without a hitch with two human children being caught up in the plot and when Kimar’s treacherous henchman Voldar (Beck) decides that he doesn’t want Mars to fall under the influence of frivolous human customs, he mutinies and attempts to put an end to Santa once and for all.

It’s as mad as a bag of spiders and there’s no mistake. This is almost Ed Wood level film making, a rough assemblage of shonkily put together scenes and stock footage with melodramatic exposition and ropey acting. It’s bad, but in a really satisfying way. Cardboard sets, seriously non-special effects (the Martian war robot is a particularly spectacular highlight), earnest and terrible yet hugely entertaining acting, demented plot – this has the lot, in spades and is all the more charming for it.

There’s a serious message underneath it all about kids deserving a childhood and not being forced to grow up too quickly (the primary issue the Martian kids have) and the role the Santa Claus myth plays in this. It explores the widening generation gap between parents and children and the angst that accompanies it and somewhere amongst the wobbly sets and ropey colourisation it feels like there is actually a strong idea behind it all.

John Call’s performance is actually pretty good as Santa Claus, filled with plenty of festive cheer and a mischievous disregard for the evil intentions of some of the Martians toward him. He pulls it off quite admirably considering the bizarre circumstances and his performance is a definite highlight of the film. The most annoying thing about it is the character of Dropo (McCutcheon) who presumably was the inspiration for Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels based on his level of irritating behaviour. Intended as comic relief but just proving an annoyance he doesn’t really need to be there, bar to set up a couple of dramatic points with his dribbling incompetence (there would have been other ways) and I did feel myself itching to give him a slap every time he appeared on screen but thankfully his presence is not huge and, due largely to the irritation the other characters feel for him, spends much of his time being banished to other rooms.

On balance I’d say this was quite a daring attempt at film making. It’s certainly one of the most original stories with a festive theme I’ve encountered so far and much like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space it makes up for its lack of technical achievement with its no holds barred enthusiasm and skewed outlook that manage to keep it watchable. Demented? Yes. Polished? No. But it really doesn’t matter when it’s this much fun.

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