Citizen Shame: The planet without a Santa Claus

Spoiler alert: This column contains plot information from the 1964 film “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

It’s the day after Halloween, which is known in enlightened circles as the start of the holiday season. Christmas carols, flashing lights and probably, like, one half-exciting flurry of snow are on their way, so it is time to fully get in the spirit. For Citizen Shame, that means turning to the Christmas movie to end all Christmas movies: the 1964 masterpiece “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

I had the privilege of watching this classic film in a movie theater in my hometown as part of a late-night screening series put on by the theater manager who liked to get drunk and see how many teenagers he could scar with bad movies. Imagine a normal film screening, then add a low-key dose of sadness and a fair deal of bizarreness and multiply that by 10 — now you get the vibe.

The movie can be remarkably explained by its title: 81 minutes of a half-committed Santa Claus taking a win over some aliens who just want Christmas. Our antiheroes are these Martians, bummed out by their lack of holiday celebration, who decide to take a brief trip to Earth to nab old St. Nick. Sounds like some hilariously fun hijinks will ensue, am I right?

The film chooses not to address what could have been a truly fascinating interplanetary religious discussion or explain why Santa Claus doesn’t give a darn about kids on Mars, but we’ll forgive it because it is working with some pretty high-concept source material.

The real brilliance of the film comes from the villain Voldar, an alien-bro who goes along with the benevolent kidnapping plan only to then attempt, repeatedly, a brutal murder of Santa Claus. This subplot really brings an air of gore and death that fleshes out the family comedy themes the rest of the film deals with.

About half of the scenes in the movie go like this:

Aliens: Let’s get Santa.

Voldar: Let’s make Santa stop breathing.

Aliens: Classic Voldar!

Santa: Ho! Ho! Ho!

The film is famous for introducing Pia Zadora to the world, who would go on to make even worse films, which is statistically impressive. Zadora was 11 when the film was released and isn’t responsible for the final product, but part of me still wants an apology.

For those wondering whether Santa Claus survives or whether the fact that I spent a Friday night watching this film is indicative of an unsatisfying social life, I can answer only the former.

Santa, trapped on Mars making toys, still alive despite Voldar’s dastardly murder attempts, is at a crossroads: become Santa for the Martian children or try to escape to help Earth children.

Everything is brilliantly resolved when one Martian dresses up like Santa Claus, and everyone simultaneously realizes that they can just make their own St. Nick. Santa Claus is quickly jettisoned back to Earth, leaving all to ask the question: “Why?”

Happy intergalactic holiday season, everyone!


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