You know your movie is in trouble when you notice a major mistake in the opening sequence. “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” has two. First, there’s the wretched song that goes, “You spell it S-A-N-T-A, C-L-A-U-S, Hooray for Santy Claus!” Call him Santy if you want, but then don’t spell it out the normal way! Even worse is mistake #2: the opening credits say “Special Toys by Louis Marx and Co.” You’d think they’d try to keep up kayfabe for at least a little while- guess not. By the end of the movie you’ll be able to add a third huge mistake- Santa doesn’t conquer anything or anybody- which leads to the unassailable conclusion that the movie itself is a big mistake. And it is.

"Special toys by Louis Marx and co"

So here’s how it goes down: Kimar (Leonard Hicks), the Leader of All Martians, is worried because his children spend all day watching “Earth programs.” And because he can’t cancel his contract with DirectTV without paying an interstellar disconnection fee, he convenes the Planetary Council to find a solution. An 800 year-old “wise” man tells the Council that Mars’s children are upset because they’re not allowed to have any fun, that “Mars needs a Santa Claus.” The most logical course of action, Kimar decides, is for the Council to fly to Earth and kidnap Santa (John Call). This turns out to be incredibly easy- once the Martians manage to freeze Santa’s busybody of a wife in place, he’s more than happy to go!

Santa "kidnaped" by Martians

But there’s trouble in Martian paradise. For one thing, Earth’s military analysts are able to make a gigantic mental leap, figuring out that two missing children and an unidentified object disappearing from their radar means a Martian strike force has come to kidnap Santa Claus. We get plenty of stock footage of military aircraft as well as “leading space scientist, Wehrner von Breen.” The Martians easily outwit our doofus space force, but there’s a much more sinister problem ahead: Voldar (Vincent Beck), Martian council member and the Paul Wolfowitz of Mars, thinks bringing Santa to the Red Planet will make their children into a bunch of liberal sissies. So when the Council takes Santa back to Mars, he tries tossing Santa out the airlock (Stanley Kubrick borrowed this scene in 2001). Santa escapes with the help of some kidnapped Earth kids and Voldar is forced into exile.

On Mars, Santa uses child labor to build toys for Martian kids. (Why no one thought to just make more TV sets, I don’t know.) He foils a couple more of Voldar’s plots with some help from Kimar’s butler, the irritatingly cheerful Dropo (Bill “Uncle Wally” McCutcheon), and heads back to Earth, leaving Dropo in charge of Mars’s toys, or something.

Santa and a robot

There are some goofy moments, especially when Kimar and Voldar duke it out on the Martian spaceship. But the movie drags on and on, spending precious minutes of my life following Billy and Betty, the kidnapped Earth kids, whine and whine about being cold (at the North Pole), being scared (on the spaceship) and being lonely (on Mars). None of this helps the plot along, unless you use it as proof that TV and toys do make kids into spineless worms, just like Voldar said. Even Santa’s kind of a weiner, now that I think about it, cracking corny jokes and sticking up for Dropo long after the rest of us have given up hope in all that is good and right.

Still, while not a truly great B-movie, a movie about Martians kidnapping Santa Claus is still bizarre enough to warrant seeing it once. Mildly recommended.