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Case Number 24751: Small Claims Court

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Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber // 1964 // 69 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // October 31st, 2012

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker will now conquer a martini.

The Charge

SEE: The Martians Kidnap Santa!

SEE: Santa's North Pole Workshop!

SEE: The Fantastic Martian Toy Factory!

SEE: Earth Kids Meeting with Martian Kids!

SEE: Spaceship Journey from Earth to Mars!

SEE: Santa Turn Mars Robot into a Mechanical Toy!

The Case

Got all that? Good. Now you don't have to SEE Santa Claus Conquers the Martians at all.

A Christmas movie for people who hate Christmas, a children's movie for people who hate children, a movie for…well, for people who hate movies: the legendarily bad Santa Claus Conquers the Martians makes it Blu-ray debut.

In the early '60s, terrible children's films were being imported from other countries by the likes of K. Gordon Murray, including the mind-boggling lump of Christmas coal, Santa Claus (1959). As a counter strike, U.S. auteurs and hucksters starting putting out their own cheap-jack kiddie fare (as opposed to the comparatively high-quality kiddie fare of the '50s, like tom thumb, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, or anything Disney).

Thus, we get the home-grown abomination of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which proves that American know-how can produce a product just as sad and misguided as our international competitors. It's a film so bad that the world has spent decades mocking it, which of course, means it's developed its own cult.

I like nothing more than a good cult film, but Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is nothing like a good cult film. It's been taken to task by the Medved brothers and the Golden Raspberry people, famously picked apart by MST3K, and is an auto-answer when the subject of bad movies comes up. It is terrible, but it's also tedious; I'd never seen the thing before writing this review, and I'm already sick of it.

The story: the children of Mars spend all their time studying and learning; they don't know how to play, and they don't have toys. I don't know if the Martian kids' test scores were lagging behind the test scores of the kids from Venus, or what, but the Martian kids miserable. Kimar (Charlton Heston look-alike Leonard Hicks), the leader of Mars, grows concerned, especially when he sees the unhappy faces of his own children, Bomar (Chris Month) and Girmar (Pia Zadora, The Lonely Lady).

Thanks to what must be the best cable deal in the galaxy, Mars is able to get TV shows from Earth; thus, the Martians are aware of Earth's own Santa Claus (John Call), whose leering and laughing somehow brings delight to all children, particularly those who've never seen one of those "don't get in a car with strange old men" education videos. Being a good father, Kimar scoots off to Earth to kidnap and enslave Santa in service to the green-faced Martian youth.

To find the jolly one, the Martians kidnap a pair of irritating Earth kids (every parent's nightmare!), siblings Billy and Betty (Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti). These lambs unwittingly lead the evil ETs to the unsuspecting Claus, after which they are all tossed in a space ship, where they will forever be mirth-making prisoners of the angry red planet!

Ugh. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is such a cheap and simplistic thing, it's almost condescending. This thing is just dumb and sloppy. Between this and the Mexican-made Santa Claus, the crown for ambition and inventiveness goes to our friends from south of the border. No one seems to be having any fun here; there's no sense of whimsy at all, and the whole thing looks like it was slapped together in somebody's backyard, including the Whammo Air Blaster toys used to double as Martian death rays.

Did you ever see the episode of Bewitched in which Samantha took an obstreperous orphan to the North Pole to meet Santa? Well, that episode looks like a Kurosawa film compared to what SCCtM gives us. Most of the film takes place on the Martian space ship, which looks like it was filmed in a couple of broom closets. The costumes consist of a ratty Santa suit and green leotards, the story just drags on, the dialogue is appalling, the soundtrack pings from holiday treacle to James Bond-like hip (for the atrociously staged "action" sequences), there's a theme song that would make a heretic confess his sins, and the less said about the "acting," the better. This is a film that deserves to be mocked, but doesn't really deserve to be seen.

Kino International's release of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Blu-ray) gives this dreadful movie a pretty dreadful disc. The 1.33:1/1080p full-frame image is Blu in name only. It really looks lousy, with all kinds of flaws, dreadful colors, no depth, no contrast…it's just a crappy looking image. The audio is a negligible PCM mono track filled with hisses, pops, and distortions.

While it might be a blessing in disguise, I should note that the disc's 69-minute running time is around 12 minutes too short. I should also note that I saw this posted by Matthew A at Home Theater Forum, so I didn't just assume the IMDb run time was off. As Matthew A mentions, there are a couple of odd digital wipes that wouldn't have been part of the original film. This suggests that the print was taken from a TV broadcast, with the wipes in place to lead into commercial breaks (or maybe it's the print used by MST3k or Elvira's Movie Macabre). Either way, I can't really complain—12 minutes less of this drek is fine by me. According to HTF, Kino is on track to fix this in an upcoming release.

The main supplement is "Santa's Cool Holiday Film Festival." This consists of around 45 minutes of (I'm guessing) public domain holiday themed stuff. We get a bunch of holiday greetings from folks like Ozzie and Harriet, Shari Lewis and Lambchop, Max Fleischer cartoons, an episode of Howdy Doody (that was also on last year's release of Santa Claus (1959), movie theater greetings, commercials, and other such things. Oddly, this collection of junk is far more entertaining and holiday-friendly than the film. There's also a stills gallery and trailer, which is not a trailer per se, but an ad for the disc.

VCI's supplement-heavy release of the Mexican-made Santa Claus (Blu-ray) last year was a model of digital excellence compared to this.

The Verdict

It's not "so bad, it's good," it's "so bad, it's sad." It's a miserable movie, and Kino has turned out a miserable disc, save for the archival footage.

The fact that it plays well with an MST3k commentary does not mean it plays well on its own.

Really, if this were any cheesier, it would lactate.


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 30

Perp Profile

Studio: Kino Lorber
Video Formats:
• Full Frame (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 69 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Blu-ray
• Christmas
• Classic
• Comedy
• Family
• Science Fiction

Distinguishing Marks

• Archival Footage
• Image Gallery
• Trailer

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