Scraping the Barrel: #88, ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’

Thousands and thousands of films are made every year. And while some of them are destined for Oscar glory and widespread Metacritic acclaim, others wind up scraping the barrel on the IMDB Bottom 100. What makes these films so universally despised? Are they all really that bad? And, seriously, what’s the deal with From Justin to Kelly? We’ll answer all these questions (and hopefully more) with “Scraping the Barrel,” in which we review the ENTIRETY of the bottom 100, in order.

In today’s installment, Ryan Poynter takes a closer look (when he’s able to uncover his eyes) at #88, 1964′s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

(Editor Note: We realize the Bottom 100 has changed slightly since we began this series. Our master list was frozen in July 2013.)

The Gist: Santa spreads Christmas cheer to a planet of kidnapping Martians in a film that takes the world’s two least-compatible genres and smashes them together.

Those Who Shall Be Held Responsible: Directed by Nicholas Webster; Written by Glenville Mareth

IMDB Stats: #88, 2.4 rating

The Straight Dirt:

Here’s an interesting observation:

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is available on YouTube in its entirety. The link I used — uploaded back in 2010 — has just over 76 thousand views; that’s the most of any version of the movie I saw. Elsewhere on YouTube, there’s a one-minute clip of a tortoise having sex with a shoe (a Croc, no less). It has 2.5 million views. Obviously an instant classic. Just around the block, yet another video — this time, it’s nearly two minutes of a monkey masturbating (I promise I didn’t watch the whole thing). Here? 4.7 million views. That speaks volumes, and I just feel sorry for everyone involved. When you create a film that loses in viewership to a sultry scene between reptile and footwear or the private endeavors of a lonely primate, you’ve chosen the wrong career.

This isn’t the first time Santa’s been embarrassed on the big screen. Truthfully, Hollywood has never been all that kind to our favorite northern Ho-Ho-Hero. For as long as Saint Nick and film have co-existed, the Man in Red has been churning out cinematic disasters at a pace dwarfed only by his innate toy-making abilities. Sure, there have been a few highlights — but every success begets two more failures. (For every The Santa Clause, for example, we get The Santa Clause 2 and 3.) Even still, this film is on a different plane entirely. It’s an otherworldly kind of bad. If Santa really did exist (sorry if you didn’t already know), he’d have fed himself to the elves by now. There’s no coming back from this.

The idea behind this blunder is fantastically stupid: On Mars, little green children sit behind a television set watching programs broadcast from Earth. On a popular newscast, a reporter interviews Santa from the North Pole, where he and his elves work tirelessly to prepare for Christmas. The children, unsure of what they’re seeing, are captivated by Santa’s charm and whimsy. They suddenly lose interest in all things Martian. Their parents — full-grown Martians who, strangely, look just like humans in motorcycle helmets — notice this apathy and formulate a sure-fire plan to correct it: kidnap Santa from Earth and bring him back to Mars, where he will spread joy and laughter to all future generations of Martians. For intelligent beings capable of advanced technologies and interspace travel, this plan is surprisingly shitty.

More surprising, though, is that this film was ever made to begin with. In order to be produced, someone had to come up with this idea. OK, I guess that seems plausible. But then what? Someone else agreed to direct it. Teams were chosen to film, edit, and manufacture it. An entire cast of actors signed on to have their names and faces attached to it. All of these people — save for a few children, who will be given the benefit of the doubt (although they too should know better) — were fully-developed, consenting adults. Why did nobody stop this shipwreck? It’s a sobering thought. Thankfully, it was released in 1964, so most of the people responsible for its creation are dead now.

To set their plan in motion, the Martians blast off for Earth in what amounts to a really big trashcan with some legs glued on the bottom. (Looks like we’ve been doing it wrong for a while now.) Soon enough, Santa is abducted — but not without some issues. The Martians clearly aren’t educated in Earthly geography, so actually finding the man proves to be difficult. They’re thrown off for a while by a few bell-ringing imposters until, eventually, the men from Mars scoop up two youngsters, Billy and Betty, to help them find Father Christmas. (Google Maps didn’t exist back then and the Martians clearly didn’t have enough Earth-coins to afford an atlas, so I guess this seemed like the next best option.) Next stop: The North Pole.

After landing, Billy and Betty escape the spaceship and head off for Santa’s Workshop. “We’ve got to get out of here and warn Santa!” Billy crows, with all the fervor of a high school student popcorn-reading Hamlet in English class. On their way, they’re deterred briefly when a polar bear attacks. (This thing looks like a Disneyland mascot on bath salts. I’d be scared too.) The children duck into a small cave for a while until the bear gets pissed and leaves, only to pop out and immediately get spotted by a patrolling Martian robot. They’re captured again and escorted to Santa’s Workshop, left with no time to warn old man Claus of the approaching abductors.


When they arrive, the two parties clash. The elves rush to Santa’s side (waist, really), eager to protect him from capture. The Martians dispatch them quickly with stun rays disguised as expensive hair dryers. Pretty clever. Santa, for fear of seeing his entire workshop of helpers temporarily paralyzed by men in green pantyhose, agrees to go to Mars.

From there, things get worse. Despite what the title of the film may lead you to believe, Santa Claus does no conquering of any Martians while on Mars. There are no space battles. Nobody dies. There is a fistfight, but it’s between two Martians, and it looks to have been choreographed by a comatose yoga instructor who got hired by mistake. These guys throw punches with arms like generic action figures. It isn’t exciting; it’s barely even a fight.

Instead, Santa does exactly what the Martians ask of him — with the help of the children and a fancy toy-making machine, he works at making a gift for every Martian kid on the planet. This, as you might imagine, turns Santa into somewhat of a celebrity on Mars. Everyone loves him, save for one Martian — Voldar — who believes things like fun and laughter have no place in Martian culture. Bah humbug. He aims to kidnap Santa and return him to Earth before he has the chance to spend all the days leading up to Christmas making toys for a planet full of green people. (Wait a second — isn’t that what Santa wants? Why is this guy a villain?)

Voldar’s plan is thwarted, though, when he’s ambushed in Santa’s Martian Workshop by a pack of aggressive children with toys. He’s hit with cardboard airplanes and foam darts. Kids aim cans of silly string straight at his face. Bubbles pop, spritzing soapy water into his Martian eyes. He’s completely incapacitated. The head Martian, Kimar, comes in to make the arrest. Voldar is sentenced to a Martian trial.

Not long after, Santa finishes making toys for the Martian children. As a reward, he, Billy, and Betty are given safe passage back to Earth, where Santa makes history. Thanks to him, Christmas has become interplanetary. He’s now the first man to go to Mars and back. On top of that, he’s revitalized an entire culture of calloused men and women and turned them into joyful, fun-loving Martians. And, perhaps the most memorable: He’s made two planets full of children very, very happy, and one man — me — very, very sad.


Embarrassing and regrettable; Santa’s drunk text to the film industry.

Should-be IMDB Score: 2.0

Random Quotes:

“Prancer and Dancer and Donder and Blitzen, and Vixen and Nixon…” – Santa, while trying to name all nine reindeer

“You’ll never get away with this, you Martian!” — Billy, in a fit of rage, insults his kidnappers

“I’m not tired. But my finger is.” — Santa, after a long day in his Workshop with the children…

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