Every family has a favorite film to gather around the TV and experience during the holiday season. For some, it's A CHRISTMAS STORY, others hold IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE dear to their hearts. But lost in the shuffle is an incredibly enjoyable, yet hopelessly inept little low-budget gem entitled SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS. This is my family's annual favorite, and fans of this "classic" can now revel in the fact that it has arrived full-blast on blu-ray disc.
The children of Mars fall into a bout of depression after viewing "Earth programs" starring Santa Claus and his North Pole workshop. Kimar (Leonard Hicks), the leader of Mars along with his wife Momar (Leila Martin), listens to words of wisdom from a thousand-year-old prophet and embarks on a quest to kidnap Santa Claus, ensuring that every Martian child's Christmas will be bright. After abducting two Earth children, Billy (Victor Stiles) and Betty (Donna Conforti), and forcing them to lead the spaceship to Santa Claus, the jolly old soul (John Call, who looks and acts drunk for the entire running time of the film) falls victim to the Martians' Whammo air blasters and their giant robot Torg!! Back on Mars, Santa's hard work at a special mechanized workshop is endangered by the evil mustachioed Voldar (Vincent Beck, memorable on episodes of “Gilligan’s Island" and “The Monkees”). And don't even get me started on Dropo (Bill McCutcheon, later a regular on “Sesame Street”), "the laziest man on Mars" who somehow manages to pass himself off as Santa despite sporting a huge antenna on his head!!
Imagine seeing SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS in a kiddie matinee every Christmas!! While not nearly as insane as the Mexican import SANTA CLAUS (released on blu-ray by VCI last year), MARTIANS still manages to boggle the mind in its scant 81-minute running time. The Martian people wear giant antennae on their heads, have green makeup smeared all over their faces (most of the time it's dripping off under the studio lights), and eat their food in pill form. ("And a special treat for the children, chocolate layer cake pills.") As I mentioned before, Santa Claus is a jovial old soul, but any adult viewer and many a young viewer will be hard-pressed to explain his drunken behavior. Cracking lame jokes, facing danger with a "fiddle dee dee," and giving long-winded speeches at the drop of a hat, he still manages to be as funny as he aims to be for all the wrong reasons. The child actors are likable enough, but it's obvious they were trained on the stage (the two leads were recruited from the childrens' chorus of OLIVER!, as was John 'Santa Claus' Call, who played a doctor in the play). And I defy you to get the theme song "Hooray for Santy Claus" out of your head! A 45 RPM record of the Milton DeLugg theme was issued along with a comic book based on the film; both items collect top dollar among collectors today.
Nicholas Webster's off-the-wall kiddie klassic gained a resurgence in popularity in the mid-1980s when Pia Zadora (seen here as 'Girmar', a Martian girl) won a Golden Globe and continued to appear in big-budget sleaze epics. John Waters gave it a glowing review in one of his essays, and he watches it every Christmas. But the film should really be appreciated for its other qualities: some pretty inventive art design despite a criminally low budget, lots of Air Force stock footage, a catchy Milton DeLugg score, an aura of fun and bewilderment, and a final showdown featuring a bubble machine, toys that attack, wild kids, and an insanely laughing Santa Claus!! SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS was shot on Long Island (reportedly in an old airplane hangar), just a stones throw away where these words are being typed (other “bad” movies with scenes shot on Long Island include FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER, THE FLESH EATERS and WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON!). Anyone who is an avid TV gazer will recognize character actor Ned Wertimer as the lively TV reporter Andy Henderson, as he played the doorman on “The Jeffersons” for nearly a decade.
Originally released theatrically by Joseph E. Levine’s Avco Embassy Pictures, SANTA CLAUS has somehow fallen into the public domain and has been subject to a handful of budget DVD releases, most of which utilize a faded transfer which is missing the opening bars of the theme song and several credit titles, including the title card. Although this blu-ray presentation is not perfect, it’s the best the film has ever looked oh home video by a long shot. Presented in a 1080p transfer and framed at 1.33:1 (which looks most appropriate), the print source is uncut (with the full opening Avco Embassy logo intact) and colors come through on screen vivid throughout. The print source has its share of debris and speckling, and the image is occasionally a tad soft, but the transfer looks acceptable overall. The mono English audio is also fine, with no noticeable defects. Original pressing of the discs contained a print running only 69 minutes, but Kino immediately recalled that run and the newly pressed discs now run the proper 81 minutes.
The best extra on the disc is a 45-minute Christmas-themed “archival reel” consisting of nostalgic animation, short films and cinema adverts from previous decades. Most of it in very nice quality, highlights include a nice rendering of the classic original “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” cartoon and a nice black & white bit featuring Abbott and Costello and Charles Laughton. The trailer included here is newly designed one for this blu-ray release, and the still gallery just features a handful of ordinary black and white and color shots from the film. We would have loved to see a reproduction of the aforementioned comic book here, but… Even so, fans should not hesitate to grab this disc up ASAP before the 25th of December! "Hooray for Santy Claus!" (Casey Scott and George R. Reis)
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