The children of the planet Mars are growing restless and unhappy: having watched 'Earth [television] programs,' they realize that something is missiing in their very regimented little lives. The wise Martian leaders decide that what they need is to rocket to Earth and bring back the greatest of fun-makers, Santa Claus. Kidnapping little Billy and Betty on the way, the Martians bring Santa back to their world, where he mass-produces toys using a computerized machine, foils the holdout sourpuss Martian baddie who wants to wreck the plan, and provide a happy ending for both worlds.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is famous among connosieurs of bad cinema for its camp qualities, cheesy special effects, ludicrous storyline, and over-the-top characters. What one must remember, of course, is that this was a movie created solely for children, and on a limited budget. Of course it's silly - but it was supposed to be; it seems to have been one of the early films developed specifically for kiddie matinees. And it's perfectly good filmmaking for kids - assuming they haven't become jaded by ultra-sharp modern special effects. Almost all of the villains are redeemed, and the Santa of this particular production (while a bit goofy) is an incredibly sweet man, who can't say anything bad about the bad guys even when his life is threatened - which is exactly the type of Santa we should have. Mixing science fiction with Christmas was a good idea for kiddie-movie fare, in any case.
I saw this movie as a small child, and remembered almost nothing from it upon seeing it again as an adult. I do remember the Martians being a lot more threatening back then, however; and I recall being horrified that the Martians took pills instead of eating food (which may have been the result of anti-drug propaganda at the time - it was the early 70's, after all).
High (and low) points: The Martians' weapons emit no laser lights or rays of any kind; they just make a slight 'pop' and freeze the victim (in other words, no costly special effects to worry about). The polar bear was very, very obviously a man in a suit. The first meeting between Santa and the Martian kids causes everyone involved to begin laughing heartily, which was kind of goofy, but again, very sweet. And I agree with the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000: Dropo is an annoying little cretin that should be whooshed out the nearest air lock, fast.
By the way: Internet law requires me to state that the little Martian girl was played by future star Pia Zadora. (Was she really eight or nine years old when this was filmed? She seems to have been... um... developing into a young lady even then.)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians - 1964
Direction: Nicholas Webster
Screenplay: Paul Jacobson, Glenville Mareth
Featuring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Bill McCutcheon, Pia Zadora