Friday, December 16, 2005

Howdy, kids. Sombrero Grande here. Welcome to a new feature for the Masked Movie Snobs: The Anti-Classics. What’s an “anti-classic,” you ask? Masked Movie Snob Mil Peliculas coined the term to describe a movie that’s not only so-bad-it’s-good but manages to achieve the special distinction of being so-very-bad-it’s-great. That’s an anti-classic. And now I present to you the first in what may hopefully become a series for the Masked Movie Snobs with multiple Snobs all offering up their personal favorites, this is a holiday anti-classic I can’t help but trot out several times a year for a hearty chuckle:

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

The Story:

Martian children are hooked on watching Earth programs on their TV sets and the Martian elders are worried. After seeing a “news special” where a supposedly amusing TV reporter drops in for an exclusive report at Santa’s Workshop, the Martians decide they need Santa on Mars to help cheer up their listless children. Several Martians set off in a hokey spaceship and end up hovering over New York where they spot numerous Santas on street corners collecting for charity. Confused as to which one is the real Santa, the Martians kidnap two Earth children who provide the one piece of information the Martians apparently repeatedly missed in the news broadcast: Santa lives at the Earth’s North Pole.

The Martian ship lands at the North Pole and the children escape, are chased by a so-fake-it’s-not-even-funny polar bear, and end up getting captured once again by the Martians. The Martians then use a giant robot (the kind that looks like it was hand-made from cardboard boxes lying around someone’s house) to break into Santa’s Workshop. Apparently the robot used up its usefulness to the plot at this point because it then “thinks it’s a toy,” freezes and isn’t even mentioned again for the rest of the film. The Martians then kidnap Santa and the children and head back to Mars.

One member of the Martian crew, Voldar, (you can tell he’s the evil one because of his enormous mustache, suitable for twirling while laughing deeply) doesn’t want to bring Santa to Mars because he thinks the jolly old elf will make the citizens of Mars even weaker than they have already become. “Mars used to be the planet of war!” he complains. Voldar hatches a few hastily assembled schemes to do away with Santa and the kids, but the protagonists, of course, survive.

In the end, Voldar is thwarted by the children (both Earthling and Martian) throwing toy balls at him while wind-up soldiers march aimlessly in cut-away shots. It is decided that Santa would be better off back on Earth and in his place on Mars a bumbling Martian screw-up named, of all things, Dropo (as in, “I just Dropo-ed this movie out of my butt”) is given Santa’s extra costume and extra beard (huh?!) along with the job of running Santa’s all-mechanized Martian Workshop. Santa and the kids head back to Earth just in time for Christmas Eve but we never witness if they actually make it. Instead we get the ghostly image of Santa’s face imposed over the stars, perhaps implying that they all died and Santa’s now in Heaven. Merry Christmas. And then there’s a sing-along.

Why is this movie an Anti-Classic?

While some might question whether or not Santa Claus Conquers the Martians could actually be an anti-classic seeing as how its target audience is children and therefore it’s not going to take itself too seriously, any enjoyment that comes from the film comes from things other than what the filmmakers intended to be enjoyable, making it unmistakably an anti-classic in Sombrero Grande’s book. What kinds of things, you ask?

First off, as with many anti-classics, the title doesn’t fit the film. Santa never “conquers” anything; in fact he’s overly amiable to his Martian captors at all times. Yes, there is Santa Claus in the film, and yes, there are Martians...so, in that respect, the title is merely 60% correct.

The costumes are bad even for a 1960s children’s movie. The Martians (in true anti-classic style) look just like Earthlings but with green tights, green face paint and green helmets with wire antennae. The polar bear costume looks like something rented for an elementary school play. It screams, “man in suit!” and whispers, “I might be a polar bear.” The costume is not even laughably bad. It immediately reaches the stage of going past the audience laughing at it to the audience sitting silently, jaws slack, mouths gaping in sheer disbelief with the thought, “you’ve got to be kidding,” jumping around in their heads like a carousel horse. The only costume that’s actually pretty decent is Santa’s...but it’s not like good Santa costumes are very hard to come by. The “Custume Designer” (that’s how it’s spelled in the credits, folks...seriously) probably rented the Santa suit from the same costume shop as the polar bear suit and got a two-for-one deal. Oh, and there’s also the robot mentioned earlier that really isn’t worth mentioning again...so much so that even the movie didn’t mention him again after the Santa’s Workshop break-in scene.

The Martians seem to be obsessed with more than just Earth programs on television. Everything on the Martian spacecraft is written in English and there’s even a clock right at the front of the ship which reads “Earth Time.”

There’s an old Martian, reminiscent of the Old Man from Scene 24 in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, named Chochem who should have been called “Mr. Exposition” and speaks very slowly for what seems like half of the film.

Any intentional comedy in the film is either of the Jar Jar Binks silliness variety (particularly from Dropo and the on-location North Pole reporter) or of the everyone’s-laughing-on-screen-so-I-guess-it-was-supposed-to-be-funny variety. As for unintentional comedy, here the film really shines with lines like the deliciously inappropriate out-of-context, “I’m not tired, but my finger is,” or the classic line to trot out at dinner parties, “Dropo, you’re the laziest man on Mars.” Also there’s Dropo’s totally random little dance he does for no reason at the end of one scene (which I couldn’t help but rewind and rewatch over and over again the first time I witnessed it) and a gaggle of other so-awful-they’re-wonderful moments in the film that I won’t spoil for you.

So how can I watch this masterpiece, you ask? Well, if you enjoy Mystery Science Theater 3000, there’s a hilarious riffing they do of the movie in a two-disc DVD set released by Rhino called “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Essentials”. There it’s paired up with an episode exploring the hands-down worst movie ever made--Manos: The Hands of Fate (hey, at least Plan 9 From Outer Space was in focus!)--and a 30-minute blooper reel. It’s a Christmas gift your recipient will either love or abhor you for. So what are you waiting for? Forget about Rudolph and Frosty and enjoy a true holiday anti-classic this year!


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