I usually review a recent release for Killer B's, but in light of the holiday season I decided to cast a critical eye at 1964's Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Be advised, however, that this is an ASTONISHINGLY bad movie, and only the most seasoned of B-movie enthusiasts should attempt watching it in its purest form as it has been known to cause brain damage. More to the point, it appears to have been made by people with brain damage. As a service to the Cinematical readership I'll be reviewing the version of the film that ran on the late great television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K) and is currently available on DVD from Rhino Video.
For those that may not have seen it (and if not I suggest you remedy the situation ASAP), the show ran from 1989 - 1996 on Comedy Central before switching over to the Sci Fi Channel for 1997 - 1999. The premise was that a man (series creator Joel Hodgson at first, later replaced by Mike Nelson) has been trapped in an orbiting space ship with a handful of homemade robot sidekicks by a pair of mad scientists. Each week said mad scientists force their prisoner to watch an incredibly cheesy old movie as part of a diabolical experiment. The bulk of the show dealt with Joel (or Mike) and the 'bots sitting in the ship's theater adding comments and jokes to the movie, usually to hiliarious effect.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was featured during the show's fourth third season while Joel Hodgson was still host. As with all episodes, this one opens with some sketch comedy which leads into that week's movie. The Satellite of Love has been decked out for Christmas, with Crow T. Robot sporting a Rudolph nose and Tom Servo's bubble gum machine cranium has been replaced with a Christmas snow globe. There's a discussion of what everyone wants for Christmas (Gypsy wants a pony, while Crow wants to be able to decide who lives and who dies). Joel and the 'bots present their invention of the week which is a bunch of new citizens of The Island of Misfit Toys from the Rudolph Christmas special, including the exciting board game version of the movie Roadhouse and Mr. Mashed Potato Head (gross). Meanwhile, mad scientists Dr. Forester and TV's Frank have built a device that turns cool Christmas presents into soul suckingly banal ones.
Once the feature starts unspooling and you hear the nausea inducing theme song "Hooray for Santy (sic) Claus" you'll realize you're in for something truly dreadful, yet by some sort of Christmas miracle, it's made downright fun by the constant stream of embellishments from Joel and his friends. Apparently Mars is populated by a race of superior beings in green tights, capes, and helmets with coat hanger antennae. The Martian children are a listless bunch, never laughing or playing, but recently they've become oddly addicted to TV broadcasts from Earth. It's the middle of Septober on the Red Planet which means its almost Christmas time on Earth, and the Martian kids are fascinated by the jolly fat man in the red suit.
Kimar the head Martian decides to travel to earth and bring Santa Claus back. Two Earth children, Billy and Betty Foster essentially rat out Santa Claus by telling the invading Martians that all those department store Santas are just helpers and the real one lives at the North Pole. Pretty soon the Martians have sicked a killer robot (actually a guy in a spray painted card board box) on Santa's workshop and hit the elves and Mrs. Claus with a paralysis ray. Santa, Billy and Betty are soon on the way to Mars to help spread some Christmas cheer.
Some of the films highlights include an appearance by Pia Zadora as one of the Martian children, a painfully unfunny comic relief character named Dropo, a villain named Voldar with a Snidley Whiplash/pornstar mustache, and a guy in a crappy polar bear suit that must be seen to be disbelieved. MST3K highlights include Crow's new Christmas carol "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas," as well as the lines "Wow, there's a lot of stock footage out there," and "I sure hope that's pudding." MST3K fans have long debated the merits of Joel hosted shows to those hosted by Mike. Personally, I'm in the Mike camp for the most part, but this episode is still among the best the show has to offer.
Due to the problem of securing DVD rights for the films used on the show, it seems unlikely that the series' entire run will ever make it to home video, but many episodes are available from Rhino Video. Also, several of the folks involved with MST3K have recently reformed as The Film Crew (check out my review of their first release Hollywood After Dark here) and are doing humorous commentary tracks to B-movies much in the same vein as the classic series.