Rich Copley: The many movie faces of Santa

The Santa Claus of Hollywood isn't always the jolly, gentle, gift-bearing kid magnet of tradition. Sometimes, movie St. Nick is odd or downright dangerous.

rcopley@herald-leader.comDecember 16, 2011 

  • So bad it's entertaining

    For one of the worst movies ever made, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has done pretty well, thanks in part to a subculture that treasures bad, campy movies.

    In the 1964 film, which has four showings at The Kentucky Theatre this weekend, including a midnight screening Friday night, the Martians, who have been eavesdropping on Earth, decide their alien kids need a Santa. So they kidnap the big guy and two Earth children. Not all Martians are into this idea, including one who tries to kill Santa and the kids, and sabotage the workshop he has built on Mars. There also is this little problem that if Santa is on Mars making toys for all the little Martian boys and girls, he can't be doing the same thing on Earth. He's powerful and all, but come on.

    The movie came back into vogue in the 1990s, when it was aired on Comedy Central's Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and this year it was released as part of Elvira's Movie Macabre series. It has had a couple of stage musical adaptations and a satiric novelization.

    There has been talk of a remake, but really, who would want to mess with this film's bad-movie pedigree? After all, the cast included a child actor named Pia Zadora — yes, that Pia Zadora.

    RICH COPLEY, rcopley@herald-leader.com

  • IF YOU GO

    'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians'

    What: 1964 science fiction/Christmas movie

    When: 7:30 and 11:59 p.m. Dec. 16, 1 p.m. Dec. 17, 18

    Where: Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St.

    Tickets: $5 at the door

    More info: Kentuckytheater.com

In the midst of a trio of Christmas classics — White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life — The Kentucky Theatre offered up Santa Claus on Mars.

The 1964 film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has four showings this weekend at The Kentucky.

It's tempting to say, "huh?" But are we really that surprised?

After all, thanks to the movies, TV and literature, St. Nick has shown up in a lot of places other than the North Pole or piloting a sleigh for an evening of breaking and entering to deliver toys to boys and girls around the world.

Last week's holiday classic, 1947's Miracle on 34th Street, was one of them, giving us Santa in New York and on trial. OK, that doesn't seem so strange. After all, the Macy's on Herald Square might be the epicenter of American Christmas commercialism.

Over the years, Santa has gotten weirder, done weirder things and hung in weirder places with weirder people. Here are some of the stranger places where the jolly old elf has shown up.

A Nightmare Before Christmas (film, 1993): In this animated Tim Burton classic, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, kidnaps Santa and attempts to take his place and have Christmas instead of Halloween. But he and his ghoulish cohorts can't quite get it right.

The Santa Clause (film, 1994): Silly Jack. If you want to take over for Santa, what you really need to do is kill him — accidentally, of course. When Tim Allen inadvertently offs St. Nick, he has to take over, spawning this story and a set of increasingly unfortunate sequels.

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (film, 1972): Santa gets stuck in Florida when the reindeer abandon him, and he tries to rally local children for help him get back to the North Pole. You might want to take a look at excerpts from this on YouTube before making any effort to see it. Let's just say it has the ultra-dubious distinction of having a rating of only one star on the Internet Movie Database.

A Kidnapped Santa Claus (novel, 1904): Before he took readers to Oz, L. Frank Baum wrote this story of Santa being kidnapped by demons who were tired of the promise of Santa's visit putting all the boys and girls on their best behavior. In 2009, graphic-novel artist Alex Robinson released his adaptation of this minor Christmas classic.

How Santa Got His Job (children's book, 2002): This book by author Stephen Krensky and illustrator S.D. Schindler has Santa trying out careers including zookeeper, postal worker and chimney sweep before he became the Santa Claus.

Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus (film, 2004): Santa's son (Steve Guttenberg) heads to Southern California to find a wife before he has to take over the family business.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (TV special, 1979): The Three Bears skip hibernation to check out Christmas and end up meeting Santa.

Santa's Slay (film, 2005): Santa's not really all that nice. Wrestler Bill Goldberg plays a Santa who was a demon who lost a bet with an angel and had to be good for 1,000 years. But time's up, and Santa is back to his evil, murderous ways.

Mrs. Santa Claus (film, 1996): OK, it's not the man himself. But Broadway fans might want to check out this story of Santa's wife, played by Angela Lansbury, taking off with the reindeer for a week in New York, where she becomes a suffragette and labor organizer.

Santa Steps Out: A Fairy Tale for Grown-ups (novel, 2004): Robert Devereaux's story of Santa being seduced by the Tooth Fairy definitely is not kids' stuff, but the story and its sequel, Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes, have developed a following.

Santa Claus (movie, 1959): In this Mexican film, Santa has to contend with his anagram nemesis: Satan. The devil sends a minion to mess with Santa's plans. Funny thing is, some of Santa's zombielike helpers are as creepy as the demons in this cult classic. There is a Mystery Science 3000 version of this movie, which just begs for mocking by Mike and the robots.

Family Guy: In 2001, the Fox animated series Family Guy came up with the Santa story that hasn't been made but really should be: "KISS Saves Santa," in which the masked rock band saves St. Nick by playing their guitars to ward off pterodactyls. Seriously, Seth MacFarlane, we need this show. After all, if Santa fight Martians, surely he can team up with the guys who want to rock 'n' roll all night and party every day.

Reach Rich Copley at (859) 231-3217 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3217, or rcopley@herald-leader.com.

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