RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

RiffTrax Live - Santa Claus Conquers the MartiansSynopsis: Many have forgotten (or choose to forget) the Santa/Martian wars of 1964: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians bravely attempts to set the record straight. Martian parents Kimar and Momar become concerned that their children Bomar and Girmar (are you picking up the “mar” theme? BECAUSE IT’S VERY SUBTLE!) have become too attached to television programs from earth. Their solution is brilliant, if a bit of a non sequitur — they launch a plan to kidnap Santa Claus!

The nasty Martian villain Voldar (his face is coated in green oil and he has a huge mustache, therefore he’s evil) captures two Earth children, Billy and Betty, who don’t hold out for even a minute but rat out our fattest, jolliest elf without a struggle. Voldar takes Santa and the children prisoner and heads off for Mars. Only the bravery of Billy and Betty and the bumbling of a stowaway and “the laziest man on Mars”, Droppo, can foil Voldar’s evil plans!

Throw into the mix Santa and the Fairy Snow Queen, an insane short featuring a pixie named Snoopy, a horrific life size Jack in the Box, and a lion who is oh so proud of his candy eating ability, and you’ve got one of our funniest live shows to date. Please join Mike, Kevin, and Bill for RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!

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RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians 7.0

eyelights: the wacky short film presentation.
eyesores: its few belly laughs.

“Hey, you guys at all worried that Santa will wind up conquering us?”
“Nah!” “No, why would you ask?”
“Ah… just a crazy idea I had…”

‘RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ is the tenth live performance by the RiffTrax gang. Staged at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, TN, on Thursday, December 5, 2013 and broadcast in cinemas across the United States, it was the crew’s second Christmas programming after the ‘Christmas Shorts‘ one from four years before.

To me, nothing says Christmas like a good skewering courtesy of the RiffTrax crew – and, beforehand, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew (who, in fact, slammed this very movie back in 1991). Their knack for finding stunningly horrible full-length and short features pertaining to the holiday season, and riffing them, is without peer.

As has become customary with the recent shows, this one is a disappointingly no-frills affairs: the pre-recorded intro is voiced by Mike himself, and Bill MCs the opening. While Mike, Bill and Kevin are without a doubt very funny and entertaining people, the shows I’ve preferred didn’t rest entirely on their shoulders; they switched it up.

The one and only pre-feature presentation is a 1951 short film called ‘Santa and the Fairy Snow Queen’. It’s a 20-minute slice of nonsense that finds a so-called “Brownie” (or elf, really) recounting the story of the Snow Queen bringing all the toys in Santa’s workshop to life – including the traditional and very popular Christmas Candy Lion.

Um, yeah…

Obviously, that doesn’t go quite as planned (not that the plan was clear in any way shape or form): apparently, the Queen screwed up in bringing the toys to life, because now Santa can’t deliver them – so she has to bring them back to normal. Or so it seems: the Snow Queen has such an accent that you barely understand 20% of what she’s saying.

Meanwhile, the Brownie (who will later be dubbed “Snoopy” by Santa himself!) is so gratingly spritely that she makes Mr. B Natural seem butch in comparison. She was actually quite cute, in fact, and it makes you wonder why they used women to portray what is ostensibly a male character in the ’50s. Women’s lib? Or homophobia (boys can’t be swishy!)?

As for Santa? Well, he’s a giant in comparison to all the other players in this fine piece – as evidence by the HUGE “shoe” that they walk by from time to time. But no need to be afraid that he’ll crush the toys: he just sits there sluggishly, apparently doped up on codeine. Santa is really just a bystander in this pointless and joyless short.

But it’s very funny in the twisted hands of Mike, Bill and Kevin.

Before the feature film, they each relate what they take out of the picture, which Bill claims despairingly that have seen “11 million times”:

  • Mike wonders about their headgear; is it part of their body or not?
  • Bill sees the astonishing megastar power of the cast.
  • Kevin says he obsesses on their weapon, essentially a Wham O Air Blaster.

‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ is 1964 motion picture that finds Santa Claus kidnapped by some Martians, as they try to bring his magic to the glum kids of Mars. In the process they not only railroad Christmas for all Earthlings, they also kidnap a couple of siblings as well. But trouble is brewing in the Martian ranks…

Only Santa can save the day! (or course)

The picture doesn’t bode well from the very beginning, starting with truly horrible animation credits featuring a crappy-looking Santa (which Bill accurately describes as being crab-like). Thankfully, the Santa in the picture is one of the most credible ones that I’ve seen on film or television; John Call is quite convincing in the part.

Oh, sure, this Santa is condescending and aloof, but at least he’s no a frickin’ “Martian”, with their stupid-looking TV screens on their foreheads, tube protruding from the side of their helmet in a loop and antennae. Oh and tights. Really tight tights that make you wonder if they’d… ahem… tucked it back. And HUGE diamond-shaped badges on their left breasts.

Wow. Talk about uninspired: human in a crap costume with green facepaint. Well done, guys.

If the sight of these tight-trousered douche-bags isn’t enough to make you wince, their complement is completed by Droppo, a goofy and severely unfunny character that is the most annoying comic relief ever. Or until Jar Jar Binks, perhaps. He’s not funny, not even cute, and makes one think of Rob Schneider. Think Deuce Bigolow, Martian Gigolo.

Meanwhile, Voldar, the villain, is a grumpy, large-mustached (it kind of looks like overgrown nose-hairs) Martian. In some ways he looks a bit like Geraldo Rivera, and has just about the same level of credibility. He disagrees with the plan of making the Martian kids jolly and his whole shtick is headbutting with the Martian leader, Kimar.

Yes, Kimar. And Droppo. And Bomar, Momar, Hargo and Rigna.

Martian names, quite clearly.

The humans are no better. While Billy isn’t all bad, his sister Betty is a complete idiot: at one point she asks the Martians if they’re televisions (You know… because they have screens and antennae on their head. Haha… urgh). And later, after being kidnapped, she tells Billy that they need to escape before they get kidnapped (Say what?).

The production is exactly the kind of garbage you’d expect from a sixties children’s picture, with make-do sets and costumes, for the large part. Aside for the Martians’ get ups, and their suppository-shaped ship, the most telling example is a “bear” that chases Billy and Betty in the Arctic cold, leaving Mike to quip: “A wild furry!”

Nice!

Although its title suggests that there may be some action involved at some point, ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ is short on excitement. The closest thing to suspense is when the villain tries to eject Santa and the kids in space – and that was a cop out. No, Santa only conquers the Martians in the sense that he befriends them in the end.

Hurray for Santy Claus!

While I really enjoyed MST3K’s take on ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’, for some reason the RiffTrax version didn’t really do much for me. The lines are funny, they really are, and they’re well-thought out, even clever at times. But, somehow, they didn’t hit their mark with me. I can’t figure it out, even after watching it twice to be 100% sure.

Combined with the stage show, which is lacking in pomp and theatrics, it leaves one less than impressed. It’s still a great show to watch by any standard, but it’s one of the lesser RiffTrax live shows that I’ve seen thus far. I guess that the downside of being so good at what you do: the bar is set so high that sometimes even you can’t reach it.

Still, it’s RiffTrax, which is always good fun. And it’s some of the best Christmas counter-programming that one can get. So it’s well-worth watching.

“Have a holly jolly ass whoopin’!”

Dates of viewings: December 22-25, 2014

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