December 11, 2008 | Comments ()

By Brian Prisco | | December 11, 2008 |


There exists a unique class of films that are cinematically terrible, absolutely world class wretched, and yet, they have become cult classics. Rocky Horror Picture Show, by itself, is a godawful movie. The plot is retarded, the acting fiendishly over the top, and the special effects look like they were done with construction paper and a Maglite. Yet, because of the crowd of fanatical crossdressers parading in front of and swearing horribly at the screen, it has become a legend. It’s gleefully twisted fun to watch, because it’s so insane, so ludicrous. Not every movie we love to watch is rote with quality. In most years, if you were to watch the top five best picture nominees back to back, you’d be ready to mix a Clorox Colada. Or as Lady Clevername has been heard to sing, “So have a cup of cheer! No. The detergent.” In our sumptuous buffet of filmology, we must add a few plates of cheesesticks and chicken wings. Which is where we can enjoy our Ed Wood, our John Waters, our campy crazy fucking fun stuff.

I offer to the buffet Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a 1964 children’s film of such dubious quality it makes most critics worst movie of all times list, as well as a deserving chop shop treatment at the hands of Tom Servo and Crow during an “MST3K” episode. It’s a terrible movie. It really and truly is awful. Even the copy I watched through my Netflix Watch Instantly account actually has fading colors and ripples of burnt out filmstock, like you’re watching a drive-in copy stained with Mr. Pibb, Dr. Pepper’s less than savory country cousin. When I recommended it to my brother, he text messaged me throughout, asking if I’d had a recent head injury, what sort of cold medications I was on, and finally, lapsing into a silence that was only punctuated with one single text: “IM shitting in a box for UR XMas gift.”

The absurdity is what makes it so enjoyable as a movie to put on when friends are over. A DVD version of double-dog dare. It’s so wretched you stare at it rapturously, unwilling to believe it can possibly get stupider. You become as witty as the Rocky Horror audience shouting about Oprah’s heavy, black and pendulous breasts, or Mike Nelson berating Manos: The Hands of Fate. You will marvel at the fact this movie was legitimately made, with the premise that Martians kidnap Santa Claus to force him to bring laughter and joy to the miserable Martian children of Mars. It’s a twisted masterpiece because it exists. It was made. Not just some mad poet spouting on a street corner or some angry painter splashing acrylics over Polaroids of her ex boyfriends’ public regions. This took a group of hundreds of people several weeks or months to construct. This movie’s not just art, it’s a fucking cult of insanity.

We open on Santa Claus being interviewed at the North Pole by a less style-conscious Charles Nelson Reilly wannabe in a fur coat. Claus is busy training his army of bearded Munchkin also-rans in crafting wooden toys that wouldn’t be out of place under an Amish tree or below the sacks of oranges the Dutch hang to beat misbehaving youths. Santa looks like the old Dumbledore if he were smoking Gandalf’s weed. He spends the entire movie laughing deeply and touching people. Especially children. Of course, Mrs. Claus looks like Frau Blucher (whinny!), so it’s hard to blame Ol’ Saint Nick for stepping out on the town for some Pa-rump-pah-pum-pum. One of the enterprising midgets glued a Scuba Steve kit on a GI Joe doll slumming in boxer shorts, and spray-painted it green (because elves only work in primary colors and this Cold War era pick’ll be damned if one of the Reds or Yellows gets in the way). And that’s supposed to be a Martian? Where’s the exposed brains in jars? The Ben Stein accent? The Space Jam?

Cut away for no good reason to Mars, where everything looks like Dr. Evil’s television den, and green grease-painted children are ensuring that they will have no future generations of acting talent by dying of horrible lead poisoning in the name of bad cinema. The Martian’s costume consists of: a) a pair of tight shorts and a full body jumpsuit that makes them look a cross between Richard Simmons and one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men and b) a motorcycle helmet with a bedazzled scuba mask glued the top next to the unexplainable television antennas and giant novelty bendy straw stuck on as well. It’s what you’d expect would happen if you let slow-witted Girl Scouts run a dive shop. Of course, characters are easily identifiable with simple costume enhancements like a huge porn moustache, a big jaunty cape, or boobs.

Apparently, Martian children are depressed, and by the fit of those jumpsuits overweight. They spend all their time watching Earth television and taking pills. Sadly they are exactly like 21st century Earth children. Mars gathers all of its leaders to have a summit with the old wise one, Chochem. All of Mars is controlled by four dudes, one of whom appears to be John Candy’s Turkish masseuse from Who’s Harry Crumb? and the evil one who looks and acts like John Michael Higgins in For Your Consideration. He’s one sixteenth Choctaw. Anyway, they chant, and through the magic of Cinescope, an actor appears who’s somewhere on the bearded robe cycle between Yogurt and Miracle Max. Only instead of a healthy Yiddish phlegm gargle, this guy speaks in a warbly old man voice. He tells them they need someone like Santa Claus to spread the joy of toys to the Martian children. This obviously translates to KIDNAP THE FAT JOLLY ONE!

We find ourselves back on earth with Billy and Betty, a Rockwellian Hansel and Gretel who need Ralphie to deliver eye justice post haste. They spend their times napping in the woods and listening to transistor radios. The Martians kidnap them with their devastating sci-fi hairdryer/plunger guns. They force the children onto their spaceship where the kids meet Droppo, the retarded Martian. He’s not so much retarded as fat and unkempt. He spends most of his time doing an imitation of Don Knotts as a walrus. Which is appropriate, as the little turncoats lead the Green Invasion directly to the North Pole. The action cuts back to actual footage of military airplanes circling to prevent the attack. I was waiting for Ralph Wiggum to start singing Yvan Eht Nioj. The lesson to learn is, whether communist, terrorist, or alienist, don’t fuck with the Red White and Blue.

Of course, the aliens are too slick, what with their giant lightbulb encrusted wooden radar box cleverly labeled Radar Box. The ship is expertly piloted by Nordic Track to the North Pole, where the aliens land, and promptly let the children escape into the frosty air. Let’s recap, cold war fans. The US Military is stupider than Martians who are stupider than two small children. Hooray for America!

I know your thinking this movie can’t get any better, but by god, we’ve reached the North Pole, and the finest sequence in the film. The Martians release the robot Torg, who looks nothing at all like he was constructed from pots and pans in my Italian grandmother’s kitchen. Torg staggers off after the children, who have taken refuge in a cave from … the mascot of the Richmond minor league hockey team. Actually, it’s supposed to be a polar bear, but it’s clearly a dude in a furry costume who menaces the children before running away. Which opens them up for attack by Torg. The children are recaptured by the Martians, who then send Torg to attack Santa. Santa disables Torg just by thinking he’s a toy. Back off Jesus, Santa’s got telekinesis. All you’ve got is water-based skills. Santa is bravely defended by his elves, one who actually picks up a baseball bat. He must have been one of my ancestors. But alas, the wee ones are no match for the Martian hairdryer/plunger technology, which with a pop sound, makes people do theatre games. The elves freeze. Mrs. Claus freezes. Santa thanks the Martians for finally shutting up the missus. Oh, spousal abuse, are you never not funny?

Santa and the Bobsey Twins are whisked off to Mars. En route, Voldar, the bad alien, tries to release Santa and the children out of an airlock. But Santa uses his magic creepy laughing-hugging powers to shoot them up a chimney (air duct — even in a fucking crappy Christmas movie, the heroes have to escape in a ventilation shaft!) and are saved! For now.

I’ll allow you to enjoy the rest of the film, which involves Santa not actually engaging in battle with the Martians, but conquering them with uncomfortable fondling and laughter. Suffice it to say, you can easily fight off the Martian threat with soap bubbles and squirt guns and cheaply made Japanese toys.

This movie begs to be remade for once. It would benefit from a campy re-do, though there’s something outstanding about seeing it in all its shady, poorly crafted glory. It’s even got a horrendous ear worm of a theme song “Hooray for Santy Claus,” that involves jaunty brass playing over the shrill shrieking of a children’s choir led by Pia Zadora. It’s sure to fill your holiday season with a fresh nog of whatthefuck? Because why should the entire season be pleasant?

Brian Prisco is a burger whisperer from the hills and valleys of North Hollywood, by way of the fiery streets of Philadelphia. When not casting his slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in an attempt to make sense of this crazy little thing called love, he can be found with his nose in a book in an attempt to make a grown woman cry when he beats her in the Cannonball Read. You can pick a fight with him via email at .com or decipher his crazy ramblings at The Gospel According to Prisco. Hail Discordia!

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Santa Claus Conquers the Martians / Brian Prisco

December 11, 2008 | Comments ()




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