There’s much to hate about Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: the fluffed cues, blown lines, and children’s theater acting; costumes that aspire for children’s theater (upon arrival at the North Pole, the Earth kids are chased by guys in a polar bear suit and cardboard “robot” gear that’d get laughed off any respectable porch on Halloween night); the semi-Surrealist toys vs Martians vs Santa vs bubbles climax, which was apparently scored by a jack-in-the-box from hell; and Dropo, oh Dropo, perhaps the most loathsome character to ever appear in a major motion picture, and yes, I’m including Jon Doe from Seven.
But what’s most striking about it – and what seems to have fueled so much mocking fodder from its multiple riffers – is the sheer joylessness of the enterprise. There’s no warmth to the movie, no good cheer or happiness, and (at risk of bathing in bathos), ne’er a hint of what makes the season special. Christmas is only considered through the lens of Santa Claus, Professional Toymaker; he’s brought to their planet to manufacture goods, and once he’s done that, he’s basically sent on his way, without even the lip-service to the Real Meaning of Christmas that even the shittiest holiday movies manage to work up.
In other words, it’s a capitalist Christmas movie, and small wonder; according to Medved and Dreyfuss, producer Paul L. Jacobson made the film because “There is a great void when it comes to Christmas films for children… Except for the Disneys, there’s very little in film houses during the season that the kids and recognize and claim as their own.” In other words, it was an exploitation film, as nakedly such as any Bruce Lee lookalike vehicle or Halloween rip-off, and Jacobson knew that regardless of quality, there was a potentially desperate audience that could he could re-hook, Christmas season after Christmas season. And if you think he was wrong, I’d like to sell you these DVDs of Fred Claus, Deck the Halls, Four Christmases, Christmas with the Kranks, and Jingle All The Way.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is streaming free on YouTube and Archive.org.