Most of us have some kind of Christmas movie-watching tradition. I’ve certainly got ones I always watch (Santa Claus is Coming to Town, A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott, Die Hard) and another few here and there that I’ll watch because the family wants to watch them. This year, given my inexplicable love of cruddy or weird movies, I thought I’d add a couple of other holiday films to my watching list: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) and the Mexican Santa Claus (1959). Both were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (eps 321 and 521, respectively) but it’s been a few years since I’ve watched those episodes and I thought I’d torture myself by watching them raw. Boy, these are two stupid movies, but which one’s the stupidest? Let’s compare.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians concerns a group of Martian parents who are worried their children are watching too much Earth programming. When the kids (who number exactly two in the film, including a very young Pia Zadora) see an interview with the for-reals Santa Claus, they whine about the lack of Christmas on Mars. So, a group of Martian dudes go down to earth to kidnap Santa, but, wouldn’t ya know it, they can’t tell which is the real St. Nick and which is one of the world’s countless imposters. To aid in this, they kidnap a couple of Earthling kids to help them determine the real one. When they do that and bring everybody back to Mars, one of the Martians (the token douche Martian) repeatedly tries to kill Santa and the kids for corrupting Mars’ youths.
I think the real problem here is with the parenting on Mars. Why do you even let your kids watch Earth programming? Doesn’t Mars have a comparable PBS analogue? And why do the kids of Mars have such a hold over the parents? So they want Christmas? So what?! Just tell the kids, “No,” and be done with it. If they’d be more vigilant about what the little whiners are watching, they’d never have been in this mess in the first place. Second major problem is that all the Martians refer to things as “Martian-this” and “Martian-that.” I don’t think I’ve ever called my cell phone an “Earth phone,” though maybe I should start. Also, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea for a villain in a children’s film to spend the entirety of the movie attempting to kill two little kids and Santa Claus. The movie looks like it cost 35 cents to produce and has an inexplicably icky tone throughout. The Martians look like cheap green ass with mustaches and helmets that really makes me doubt the empire of Mars if those are the required headgear, regardless of what the Great Gazoo may have told us. And, perhaps the most egregious fault of all: Santa Claus does NOT conquer the Martians.
Santa Claus is, fittingly, about Santa Claus, who prepares for Christmas in his castle in outer space. Down in Hell, Lucifer sends his chief demon, Pitch, to Earth to make all of the children turn against Santa. Focusing his efforts on only five children in Mexico, Pitch fails to entice a poor little girl to steal a doll but does convince three brothers to break a window. Santa watches this from space and gets his trusted friends Merlin the wizard and Vulcan the Roman god of fire to make him things to use for both giving gifts and helping set these kids straight. Pitch, meanwhile, spends the entirety of the movie attempting to sabotage Santa’s mission.
Let me begin this one by addressing the 800-pound white elephant gorilla in the room: This is a Christmas movie for kids that includes the Devil. THE FUCKING DEVIL! Not only do the Devil and a demon (in traditional red-horned, black-goateed majesty) feature prominently, but also Merlin from Arthurian legend and Vulcan from Roman mythology, who both live with Santa Claus in outer space. Santa is given magical implements like a flower that allows him to disappear. Why a flower? No reason at all! And I get this movie was made in Mexico for Mexicans, but to say that Santa somehow does the entire rest of the world on Christmas Eve and then ends in Mexico City is even more jingoistic than we’d be.
So, which movie is worse? Well, they’re both pretty interminable. Martians is the less competent (barely), but the other is much more confounding. I really don’t know if I can say for sure which is worse. I think, at the heart of it, it really comes down to whether I find Martians or Satan more objectionable in a Christmas movie, both trying to kill or corrupt children. I can’t say, for sure. I had an equally shitty time watching both of them. If you’re interested in watching these movies, please heed my advice: Don’t attempt without Joel, Mike, and the bots. And maybe watch Die Hard two or three times instead.