The movie opens with a chorus of children singing the song-cum-mantra ‘Hooray for Santy Claus’, which is catchy in the same way that a song played over and over into a terrorist’s ear in Guantanamo Bay is catchy. Look out for the lyrics: ‘You spell it S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S / Hooray for Santy Claus!’ which contain a glaringly insulting error. These happy kids are made to look like spelling-spastics by the song’s rampant disregard for its own rules. Look out for my new song, ‘You spell it J-A-M-I-E A-N-D-R-E-W / Hooray for Jamue Androw!’ A minor quibble, perhaps, but in the end it’s the little things that’ll have you prising out your eyes with a rusty tea-spoon.
So what’s the plot of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians?
The movie’s title makes it all sound rather kick-ass, doesn’t it? Perhaps you’re already wondering how he conquers them. Does he get his hands on an assault rifle and rip into the alien scumbags John McClane-style? Does he bash those green bastards to death with a concrete candy cane? No, not really. In fact there’s no conquering at all. Not even a wee bit of subduing. The film should really be called: ‘Santa Claus is Really Nice to the Martians, Even Though They Kidnap Him, and He Ultimately Leaves Mars On Good Terms With Its People Despite the Behaviour of a Tiny Minority of Baddy Martians Who Want to Kill Him.’ Not as catchy, but definitely more accurate.
The story begins on Earth. A news reporter is at Santa’s North Pole Workshop conducting a live interview with the bearded chuckler himself, a role actor John Call brings to life by channelling both the lion from The Wizard of Oz, and a paedophile.
As we meet him, Santa is overseeing the global production of all toys. Quite a feat, considering his work shop is about the size of a small potting shed and his workforce consists of two dwarves. Two dwarves. That’s it. If magic isn‘t involved then Santa’s a more cruel and brutal slave-driver than all of the pharaohs put together, plus Hitler. The dwarves really should form a union.
One of the toys on the production line is a doll of a Martian, a wee piece of foreshadowing for our impending trip to Mars. Now, I don’t know if it was the poor lighting, the screen resolution on my laptop, or my own latent racism, but that Martian doll looked less like a Martian than he did… well… black. The toy was essentially a sci-fi gollywog. The news reporter picked up the doll and said, with some measure of fear and disgust: ’I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night.’ Of course you wouldn’t, you big Nazi.
So, Anyway, the Martians…
Meanwhile, across the solar system, the live broadcast of this interview is being watched by a duo of dead-eyed Martian kids, who thanks to their nasty TV addiction look like the offspring of a serial killer and Al Jolson. Their dad, Kimar, whose day-job is Martian supreme commander, is worried shitless about them. If he’d been an American dad he would have known what to do: dope the cunts up with beef burgers and Ritalin. Being Martian and ignorant of Earth ways he has to plump for a more locally-based two-prong solution.
Step one: put them to bed and knock them out with a sleep ray, without warning or consent. Nice work, Dad of the Year. Final step: get a crowd of mates together and go out into the rocky wilderness to consult a creepy 800-year-old man. We’d all do the same, and you know it. This old man, of course, needs to be summoned. ‘Dave? Hey, Dave? DAVE, YOU THERE, MATE?!’ No, that would be too easy. In any case the 800-year-old guy is called Chochum. Not Dave. Apparently Dave isn’t a very common Martian name. We’re all learning something today.
So, Kimar and a bunch of Martian elders band together and chant ‘Chochum’ into the unforgiving darkness, until the old fucker appears in a puff of smoke, complete with Gandalf-beard, standard-issue-old-mystic-guy staff and pish-scented wisdom. Chochum delivers his lines like a man receiving a sloppy blow-job as he fends off a stroke, which is pretty fucking funny.
What does Chochum suggest as a way of releasing the children from their torpor? Kidnap Santa Claus, of course. It’s so logical and sensible it’s a wonder they didn’t think of it themselves. So off they fly in their little spaceship, the operation of which is no more complicated than pressing buttons on a child’s fake calculator. The ship itself is a curious piece of inter-stellar engineering, looking for all the world like a burning condom whooshing through space.
The Search for Santa
The Martians reach Earth and begin their search for Santa – using a high-powered telescope, rather than any namby-pamby futuristic technology. To their horror they realise that there are thousands upon thousands of Santas in New York alone. With no way of determining which is the genuine article they do what any military group placed in a similar situation would do: they kidnap some kids. Bloody Martians. Always with the kidnapping! The kids tell the Martians where Santa Claus lives, and they all zoom off to the North Pole to get him.
The two kids, Billy and Betty, are incredibly annoying, and very shit at acting. It’s as if immediately prior to each take the director said to them: ‘The last one was good kids, but this time… NO EMOTION. Brilliant. And remember to deliver your lines in the style of a short-sighted, brain-damaged man struggling to read an autocue.’
Unfortunately, the kids learn not only that the Martians intend to whisk Santa across the solar system against his will, but also that they – being witnesses to the crime – must come, too, never to return to Earth. In fact, as if things couldn’t possibly be any worse, there’s an evil baddy Martian onboard who wants them all dead. His name’s Stevie. Yeah, alright, alright, I’m fucking with you. He’s called Voldar. Fortunately, there’s also a kind-hearted Martian simpleton onboard called Dropo, who succeeds in keeping the kids alive through a winning display of consistently retarded buffoonery.
The action at the North Pole is… shit. Adjectives fail me. It’s shit. The kids escape the ship and run off to warn Santa of his impending kidnap. In the process they get chased by the most unconvincing polar bear in existence. I know the director couldn’t unleash a real polar bear on the kids – some piffling Health and Safety law about not feeding children to large ursine predators, no doubt – but as far as guys-wearing-shit-animal-costumes go, Barney the Dinosaur is more authentically terrifying than this sorry excuse for a polar bear. Anyway, having escaped one near-death experience the kids then fall into the clutches of Voldar’s killer robot, who looks like the robot from Lost in Space if he was built by a class of special needs kids using cereal boxes, and the bin from Oor Wullie.
Don’t worry, though. Before the robot can crush the kids’ heads to dust like a couple of loaves of twelve-week-old bread, Kimar shows up to cool things down. The robot is then sent to retrieve Santa Claus, but is defeated when Santa Claus mistakes it for a giant toy, which inexplicably causes it to BECOME a toy, thereby rendering it harmless. Whoever programmed that robot shouldn‘t have been let loose on a hoover, much less a sophisticated cybernetic life-form.
‘Right, brilliant, my robot can kill a man with its bare hands, withstand gun, rocket and laser fire, smash its way through titanium and destroy whole cities with its nuclearised death beam. Pretty much its only weakness is being treated like a toy by an old man. But how likely’s that, right? I’ll leave that in the programming for some reason. What do you want me to build next? A robot dog that explodes whenever somebody makes it think about Sesame Street? I’m on a fucking roll here.’
Because I’m quickly losing the will to live I’ll speed up this review. Onboard the USS Flaming Spunk Sac, Voldar tries to kill Santa Claus and the kids by trapping them in the airlock and ejecting them out into the cold, remorseless void of space (lovely to see the threat of choking, exploding children in a kids’ film); unfortunately for Voldar (and all of us) they manage to escape through… well, magic. Yep. Santa Claus defies physics, and when quizzed on the specifics of his escape simply tells a few shit jokes, throws back his head and laughs.
Santa Claus then arrives on Mars and cures the Martian kids by… hmmm mmm, you’ve guessed it: telling a few shit jokes, throwing back his head and laughing. Kimar still slings him in jail, though, because he needs Santa to set up a toy workshop for the Martian kids, which he’ll work in until the day he dies. Ho ho ho!
Meanwhile, Voldar isn’t happy that everyone he twice tried to kill is still alive, and so forms an evil clique with a handful of the most stupid people on Mars. Why do baddies in kids’ films team up with complete idiots like this? They end up spending their valuable plotting-and-killing-time tip-toeing around like Panto villains, shooshing their bungling henchman as they do things like constantly trip over stuff and accidentally detonate bombs, always scratching their heads and saying, ’Uh, um, gee, sorreeee bosssss.’ Don’t hire them then, you fucking arsehole! There’s no equal opportunities directive dictating the make-up of your kid-murdering co-op. Employ real, ruthless killers and criminals; not the guys who turn up to the interview drooling with their jackets on back-to-front. Christ, your heinous plans deserve to get foiled.
This time, though, instead of murdering Santa and the kids, Voldar plans to discredit Santa by screwing around with his toy factory, causing it to spit out weird toy hybrids, like tennis racquets with doll bodies instead of handles. The plan doesn’t work; principally because it’s a shit plan. If he wanted to discredit Santa he really should have gone down the paedophile route. Cast-iron. Anyway, Voldar thinks, in defiance of all available historical facts: ‘Fuck it. I’ll just try to kill them all again.’
Santa, Billy and Betty then get to go home, but it’s OK, because Santa leaves the operation of the workshop in the hands of the mentally-deranged Martian, Dropo and a squad of under-age children. Congratulations! You’ve given the people of Mars the Christmas gift of an exploitative sweat shop. Now back to Earth with you, you fat cunt.
SPOILER ALERT: it turns out that Santa was dead all along and the children were the only ones who could see him. Oh, and he was Kaiser Szose.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was a great stepping stone for the careers of its principal actors: a stepping stone into oblivion. After his role as Santa, John Call didn’t act for another seven years, appeared in one more movie, and then died. Still, we’ll always look back fondly at the iconic roles he played throughout his career, like Man With Bushy Hair and Ticket Taker.
Head Martian Kimar was Leonard Hicks’ only film role. He never even went on to work as a movie extra. He just must have thought to himself: ’Fuck movies.’
The two child actors, Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti, went on a drug-fuelled sex-killing rampage in the 70s, torturing their mostly elderly victims whilst dressed as polar bears. Either that or they never acted again.
The only ’star’ to achieve any modicum of success was actor Bill McCutcheon, who played Martian mongo Dropo. Bill went on to have a distinguished career portraying many more on-screen mongos, and ended his days working on Sesame Street, alongside other respected luminaries of kids’ TV such as Chris Langham.