MST Week: Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1991), or Road House Is MY Favorite Movie, Too!

13 07 2009

I’m SO glad I decided to do this! Mystery Science Theater 3000 is my all time favorite TV show, and since they showcase films, it’s a loophole for me to do what I wanted to do anyway. First, a little backstory. You’ve probably seen MST3K on TV before, while either skimming through the channels on a Saturday afternoon in your youth or by some other mishap where you ran face to face with COMEDY. It’s the show with the silhouette of the guy and the two odd-shaped robots sitting in a movie theater watching shitty movies and heckling them. If you’ve ever had cable before, you’ve probably peeked in on one of these yuk-fests but had no idea what was going on and switched it. Well, if you’ve never sat through an episode, I HIGHLY recommend you watch it. Why? Well, if you’re reading this, you most likely, as I, like to see bad movies get the ribbing they deserve. This show takes that simple concept up a notch, giving step-by-step commentary on every single minute of a film’s shittiness. While peppered with host segments where, in between key parts of the movie, we see the cast in all kinds of fun sketches, the main gist of the show is to berate these horrible and little-seen B movies using an ASTOUNDING variety of cultural, historical, musical, and film references.

So what is the concept behind the series? WHY does the guy and the two goofy robots have to watch these movies? Well, fortunately, the theme song explains the entire thing!!!!!!

Seriously, that’s the premise of the show. They should do that more often on TV, where the theme song encompasses the entire concept!

The show originated in Minnesota for St. Paul local programming. Its smart writing, funny banter, and serious harshness to the movie itself made it an instant success, with the ratings for the small local network going through the roof! Running 2 hours with commercials and costing a ridiculously small amount of money to produce, Comedy Central picked up the series in 1989 after only one season on local broadcast to fill up their 24 hour time slots. Throughout the first couple seasons of the show on basic cable, Joel and his puppet protegees would slowly learn to get better and better at what they did, their skill with riffing on these flicks increasing by the episode. By season 3, when today’s episode first premiered, they were getting pretty damn good at what they did. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is the MST take on a Holiday special, complete with a horrible Christmas movie and even a song sung by Crow the Robot!

But this isn’t any ordinary movie. This is one of the weirdest Santa-themed movies I’ve ever seen. It’s fucking nuts. Made in 1964, it’s about a Christmas Eve where Santa is abducted by Martians who want jolly old St. Nick for their own children. Martian children are super-smart and supremely Vulcan-like, but it becomes apparent to some of the older Martians that they do not enjoy life at all. All they want to do is watch TV programs from our planet and watch us have fun. This upsets doting Martian father Kimar, who asks an elder spaceman what to do. When he tells him that Martian children must have fun to become happy again, Kimar does what any father would do; pull together a team of Martians to go to Earth and kidnap Santa Claus for his depressed kids! Arriving in a random city in Anywhere, USA during the holidays, he confronts two average Earthling children, Billy and Betty, as to his whereabouts. They spill the beans as to Santa’s North Pole hideout (great job, kids!) and are kidnapped as well, so when Santa is eventually captured, he has someone to hurl unfunny bon mots at. Santa and the kids are taken to Mars and forced to work in a toy factory to help Martian children have fun again. Can Santa warm the hearts of the young and old alike on the red planet? Can he get Billy and Betty safely back home to Anywhere, USA for Christmas day? And can he stop some of the more sinister Martians on the planet, set in their old-timer ways, from brutally murdering him?

The film is a mess. Even for a $200,000 movie, this is simply embarrassing. The sets look like they could fall over at any minute, the Martian make-up is, while hilarious, extremely ineffectual, and it’s just plain weird for a kids movie. No discernible talent (with the exception of a young Pia Zadora), and a lack of any real story to tell really throws this one over the edge, and I am left wondering if someone made the movie based on the title alone. Director Nicholas Webster, in the middle of an opium binge, must have heard from a whispering demon in his waking nightmare, “Santa, no… Don’t kill the Martians… Don’t kill them… Santa, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and decided to make a film based on his disturbing hallucinations. It’s pretty abysmal, and I can’t really see a whole lot of saving graces to this washed-out crater of a Christmas story. Well, apart from the catchy theme song (“Hooray for Santy Claus!”).

What you’ll find, though, at least in my experience, is that the weirder and worse the movies are, the better the episode is. This is an excellent episode for Joel and the Bots. They are on all cylinders here. They’re funny, they play pretty dark with the kids movie material, and, most importantly, they’re creative. They’re really getting a feel for what they wanted to accomplish as a comedy here, and you can tell the definitive vision that permeates the episode throughout. From the hilarious Invention Exchange (every early episode featured Dr. Forrester pitching an idea for an invention to Joel and vice-versa), some hilarious sketches (“Let’s Have A Patrick Swayze Christmas”? Awesome!), and some terrific riffing, this one rates pretty high with me. I could watch this one over and over, and if you know me at all, you know I usually do. Check this one out, if you can, or just watch the whole episode on YouTube (you didn’t hear that from me). It’s awesome. The movie I have to give a paltry 2 Kimars out of 10. It was bad; really bad. But the episode itself gets a big thumbs up as well as 9 Patrick Swayze Christmases out of 10. Hooray!

Tomorrow we continue the MST Week with some more MSTie history from yours truly, as well as another classic episode called Cave Dwellers! Until then, I leave you with another primo clip from this badass episode! And if the review doesn’t come until extremely late on Tuesday, pardon my celebration, but tomorrow’s my birthday! So don’t be bashful if you feel like sending me some digital cake and presents through the information super-highway!




2 responses

20 07 2009

It’s in my top 10 episodes, just outside my top 5, but contains what I think may be my favorite exchange in the series’ history (paraphrased):

JOEL: So what do you want for Christmas?
CROW: I want to decide who lives and who dies.
JOEL: Oh, I don’t know…

20 07 2009

Indeed! Joel was such a subdued father to the Bots. If he were my dad, I would get away with just about ANYTHING. He looks too sleepy (or high) to discipline them.

I loved this one a lot. I honestly think I might like the Mike X-Mas special, the Mexican Santa Claus movie, a little more, but I didn’t want to get too obscure considering that one isn’t out on DVD. But Santa here is so charmingly dumb compared to the Mexican one that I often flip-flop between favorites!

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