B movies must be judged by their own set of standards. Attempts to compare a movie like Godzilla, which is a high quality B movie, to something like Lawrence of Arabia, a masterpiece of film, will never work. Lawrence of Arabia will win out every time because it is a much better film. Unfortunately there are B movies that reside on the low end of this modified scale and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is one such movie.
I heard about Santa Claus Conquers the Martians years ago when I first became interested in B movies. It is one of the more well-known B movies and so I therefore assumed it was one of the better ones. This, regrettably, was not the case. Don’t get me wrong, I did thoroughly enjoy myself, but that was largely due to the fact that I’m amused by bad acting and terrible looking movies.
Kimar (Leonard Hicks) and Momar (Leila Martin)—King and Mom Martian—are concerned that their children Bomar (Chris Month), a male Martian, and Girmar (Pia Zadora), a female, are watching too much TV and becoming obsessed with Santa Claus (John Call) so much that they barely eat or sleep. Kimar gathers together the other Martian leaders, including the adversarial Voldar (Vincent Beck), to consult their mystical elder Chochem.
Chochem tells the Martian leadership that they must let their children be children (instead of educating them to adult levels while they are still infants) and foster creativity and individuality. In order to do this, they need a Santa Claus on Mars. I’m a little fuzzy on how Santa will provide the creativity and individuality, but we’ll just run with it. Kimar decides that the best way to have a Santa is to kidnap Santa, so the Martians go to Earth to acquire him. Along the way we are introduced to the comic relief character Dropo (Bill McCutcheon) who is the standard, clumsy oaf. While on Earth, the Martians also kidnap Billy (Victor Stiles) and Betty (Donna Conforti) and take them back to Mars, along with Santa, where the two kidnappees help him run an automated toy factory so the Martian children can have toys.
Eventually things come to a head when Voldar tries to kidnap Santa. Instead, he accidentally grabs Dropo, who is pretending to be Santa, and sabotages the toy factory in an effort to overthrow Kimar. I tried to wrap my brain around this, but was forced to stop after experiencing sharp pains and seeing dark spots before my eyes.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen acting this bad in a movie. These guys make porn stars look like Shakespearean actors. The dialogue is poorly delivered and character reactions are delayed at best. Frequently the characters are just standing around, speaking to each other without actually acting. The fight scenes are so badly choreographed that characters are swinging at each other from several feet away and then fall over while the camera shakes. The kids—especially the Martian kids—are extremely wooden, and Santa is completely clueless throughout most of the movie. At one point he can’t remember the names of his reindeer and throws “Nixon” into the list.
Even by B movies standards, the visuals are pretty rough. The Martians in particular are awful looking, dressed completely in green (green body suit with a green shirt and green briefs or boxers) with green grease paint on their faces that doesn’t match the color of their clothing. They’re also wearing some kind of green helmet out of which their antenna. The antenna appear to be made from poorly shaped and painted tinfoil, which makes me wonder if the budget was so low that the creators couldn’t afford a bent coat hanger.
They must have spent the majority of the budget on making the worst looking robot and polar bear in movie history. The robot is essentially a guy in a large box with dryer ducts on his arms and legs, and a bucket on his head, all painted silver. This movie is already ten years after Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still and Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, both of which were awesome looking robots. Even in a low budget film these creators should have been able to do more than they did.
As for the polar bear… you really just need to see it to believe it.
All of the sets were pretty terrible. There was not a single scene that was actually shot outdoors. All of the outside scenes were obviously shot on sound stages. Even the one scene when the Martians first abduct Billy and Betty, which could have easily been shot at a local park, was instead done indoors. The various North Pole scenes look like some alien world from Star Trek, just painted white, dirt included. The cave set at the end of the movie consists of some foam rocks and what appears to be painted cardboard layered to give the appearance of depth.
The Martian spaceship is just as lackluster as the rest of the sets. Most importantly, the viewer never gets to see the outside of the ship, aside from the four legs and ladder seen at the North Pole, and those are pretty lame. The ship’s bridge is amusingly bad. In the corner is the Radar Box, which powers the Radar Shield; and it is labeled, in English, Radar Box. What is even better is that it is basically just a wooden toy box with some circuit boards attached to the lid and one very small bundle of wires running along the inside. This makes it quite easy for Billy to sabotage the Radar Shield. All he has to do it pull out the single bundle of poorly attached wires. The budget appears to be so low that they couldn’t even afford a real double throw switch. When every bad Frankenstein movie set is practically littered with those switches, you would think they could find at least one for a reasonable price.
While this is an absolutely terrible movie, there were a few, very minor points that weren’t quite so awful. While his acting is horrible, John Call at least looks the part of Santa. It would not have surprised me if they had instead chosen a skinny guy with no beard to play Santa, but they didn’t. There is also some pretty good stock footage of the US military, mostly focused on bombers and nuclear missiles. There is, in fact, close to five whole minutes of this footage when the Martians show up on Earth.
As I said before, I enjoyed this movie in spite of how bad it is. That being said, I cannot in good conscience recommend this movie to anyone as an example of good quality, low budget film making. I give it one Death Star.