Release Date(s)1964 (December 4, 2012)
Studio(s)Holland Entertainment Group (Kino Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: F+
- Video Grade: D+
- Audio Grade: C-
- Extras Grade: C
Like a lot of movie fans I suspect, I’ve always had conflicted feelings about Mystery Science Theater 3000. On the one hand, it’s virtually impossible to dislike the show. The guys were very good at what they did and the series was frequently hilarious. And it isn’t as though most of the movies they poked fun at were undeserving of scorn. For me, the problem was entirely self-made. If I’ve only seen the MST3K version of a movie, then I don’t feel like I’ve really seen it. I understand that most people don’t care that they haven’t given their full attention to Manos: The Hands of Fate or The Wild World of Bat Woman. For me, it’s a serious dilemma.
The Santa Claus Conquers the Martians episode of MST3K is one of the show’s best and has been a holiday staple at Chez Jahnke for years. But until now, I’d never given director Nicholas Webster’s original film the attention it so clearly doesn’t deserve. Taken on its own, the movie is even more of a head-scratcher than you might remember. I’m not sure who thought the story of Santa and two Earth children being kidnapped and forced into interplanetary servitude on Mars would make for a delightful holiday adventure the whole family could enjoy.
Of course, the Ludicrous Premise is one of the hallmarks of truly great Bad Cinema. There are two types of performances associated with Bad Cinema, both of which are on display here. First, you have the actors who are trying really hard despite their complete lack of training and/or ability (witness the kids, including a young Pia Zadora). But you also have professional actors who are doing the best they can with an atrocious script and non-existent production values. John Call, who plays Santa, was evidently a respected stage actor throughout his career and I’m sure a fine one. In this, you can practically see the flop sweat dripping from the adult cast members. I would assume there was a lot of drinking between takes on this set.
Kino has (somewhat inexplicably, if you ask me) brought Santa Claus Conquers the Martians to Blu-ray. The screener I received runs 69 minutes and is presented in 1.33:1, neither of which are correct. It’s missing approximately 12 minutes of footage and should be presented in 1.85:1. Kino has acknowledged this error and it should be corrected by the time the disc hits shelves. Obviously I can’t speak for the repressed discs yet but if this is any indication, it looks about like you’d expect. The print isn’t in the best condition and DNR has been applied a little too heavily. This was never going to be a demo disc but it still could look a bit better than it does. The mono audio is OK, nothing great but at least the holiday ear-bleeder “Hooray For Santa Claus” sounds good.
Extras include a re-release trailer and a small gallery of stills. The most entertaining bonus is a 45-minute reel of vintage holiday films, a mixed bag including two Fleischer cartoons, season’s greetings from theatre management, and commercials. These include appearances by Shari Lewis and Lambchop, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Abbott and Costello and Charles Laughton. There’s no background information about these shorts or any way to play them individually, which is kind of a drag. It’s still a fun, retro Christmas treat.
Whether or not Santa Claus Conquers the Martians even needs to be released in HD is open for debate and I wouldn’t want to make the affirmative argument. Necessary or not, it’s here. If you can find it for a good price, it might make a fun stocking stuffer for the cheese-lover in your life.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke