Saturday, December 22, 2007

22nd December 2006: a VERY Santanic Christmas double!

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

USA 1964 colour

aka Santa Claus Defeats The Aliens

Director Nicholas Webster Writers Paul L. Jacobson, Glenville Mareth

Cast John Call (Santa Claus), Leonard Hicks (Kimar), Vincent Beck (Voldar), Bill McCutcheon (Dropo), Pia Zadora (Girmar)

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is a perennial listing in the 50 Worst Movies Of All Time, a hideous kiddies pantomime from 1964 with the “Gee Whiz” and “Wow-Wee” feel of the Howdy Doody School of Children’s Entertainment. Kids on Mars are brainwashed by TV programs, so the Martian Council kidnaps and two little tikes from his North Pole workshop and takes them to Mars, where they meet good Martian Dropo, bad Martian Voldar (who hates ALL children, and so will you!), and two Martian tikelets (one played by future sex kitten and bongo-playing beatnik in John Waters’ Hairspray, Pia Zadora).

There’s a reason Santa Claus Conquers The Martians plays every Christmas - it’s an exercise in infantile regression and tragic tribute to all things crass and bogus about the festy season. The producers obviously wanted its theme song to replace “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” as the most obnoxious holiday ditty ever; this song has been floating around in my head for the last 20 years, and now it’s your turn. “S-A-N-T-A, C-L-A-U-S, Hooray For Santa Claus!”

Santa Claus

Mexico 1959 colour

Director René Cardona (Sr) Writers Adolfo Torres Portillo, René Cardona

Cast José Elías Moreno (Santa Claus), Cesáreo Quezadas 'Pulgarcito' (Pedro), José Luis Aguirre 'Trotsky' (Pitch), Armando Arriola (Merlín)

If you believe the well-tanned Santa in Santa Claus (1959) looks a little like a Third World dictator in a dimestore beard, you could be correct, but at least he pulls off “jolly” well. From the well-manured mindfield of Mexican filmmaker Rene Cardona Sr, the exploitation genius who teamed up masked wrestlers with Dracula, an army of wolfmen and Lady Frankenstein, comes a horror flick exclusively for kiddies.

Some films lose something in the translation after 40-odd years, particularly if they are redubbed and repackaged for a befuddled American audience by Florida specialist in Mex-weirdness, K. Gordon Murray. Santa Claus has the added dynamic of coming from an intensely Latino Catholic country. Here, Santa is an almost Christ-like figure, an omnipotent being watching the people on Earth with his all-seeing “Cosmic Eye” before descending from his castle in the heavens (the Kingdom of God, anyone?) to do battle with Lucifer’s favourite demon - a red bodysuited figure with a pair of horns that would make a matador blush - in the ultimate Mexican cockfight for the minds of the children.

Satan taunts poor kids about their poverty and makes them throw rocks at Department store Santa stand-ins; distraught, Santa turns to Merlin, his most trusted helper, who hands him a swag of James Bond gadgets and pours some magic potion into his baggy red pants. Santa then saddles up his army of polystyrene reindeer who must be back in heaven before morning (or else, presumably, they turn into beanbag filler). For the entire 90 minutes of this Santa/Satan diogesis, Christ is only ever mentioned once - meanwhile the “Saint” part of St Nicholas is somewhat hammered home with the subtlety of a hygiene training film.

Think Santa vs Satan is a bizarre concept? Wait till you see the hyper-real, almost Salvador Dali-esque sets that use every square inch of dry ice in Mexico City, and the enormous Byzantine vagina entrance to Santa’s workshop that looks like it was created by Frida Carlos with morning sickness. Imagine if Willy Wonka’s chocolate river was filled instead with cactus juice, or PeeWee Herman’s Playhouse was funded by the Vatican, and you’ll come close to grasping this South of the Border exercise in religious propaganda masquerading as children’s entertainment. So, from the director of Santo vs The Vampire Women and Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Ape, we present the twisted morality play of Santa Claus.

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