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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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21 December, 2011

SANTA CLAUS Vs. SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS---the legacy of K. Gordon Murray




At this festive time of year with Christmas hard upon us and with office parties helping those visions of sugarplums dance in our heads, this is a good time to discuss two of entrepreneur K. Gordon Murray's Holiday film greats.  One is the perennial seasonal favorite, SANTA CLAUS (imported by Murray and released in 1960), and the other is that timeless classic, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964).

SANTA CLAUS lives high above us on a cloud where, using a telescope and a listening device made up of an oscillating fan and a disembodied ear, he keeps his sites on the children below.  Aiding in this is Merlin the Magician and a large group of children from around the World.  When his surveillance system made up of two big red lips tells him that Pitch is trying to ruin Christmas, Santa, unable to leave the North Pole until Christmas Eve, watches helplessly from above.  Down below, a poor child named Lupita longs for a dolly for Christmas.  However, her unemployed parents are so poor they can't even afford furniture!  Pitch tells Lupita to steal a dolly and she almost does.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Billy, the neglected son of wealthy socialite parents, longs for their loving presence.  However, they prefer to drink at a local establishment rather than spend time with their sad and lonely son on Christmas Eve.  Three local boys plan to break into Billy's home and steal his presents.  They also hatch a plan to kidnap Santa and force him to hand over the presents intended for children Worldwide!  Finally, it's Christmas Eve and Santa can leave his outer-space cloud and venture forth to the aid of these children, armed with a magical flower and some sleeping powder given to him by Merlin.  Will Santa dispel Pitch and his evil plans to stop Christmas from coming!?!  Will Lupita get her dolly?  Will Billy's parents learn the evils of their ways?  Will the three bad boys foil Santa's intended yearly trip to Mexico City!?!

From it's opening scene of Santa rocking it on his pipe organ as little children (angels?) sing along to Lupita's hallucinogenic dreams of over-sized taunting dolls to Billy's sleeping parents being delivered back to him in coffin-like boxes, this is without a doubt one of the strangest and most disturbing children's Holiday movies ever made!  In one scene deleted for American import, it shows a long line of hooded and chained lost souls being lead into Hell, their voices filling the air with sorrowful wails.  As of October 2011, it was voted by IMDB users as #54 on its bottom 100 worst movies list.  No box office is available probably because it never had a general theatrical release.  Instead, K. Gordon Murray booked the film for children's matinees where it would be shown once or twice before moving on to the next theater.  It was featured on December 24, 1993 during the fifth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as experiment # 521.

Unlike the above film, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS is not one of K. Gordon Murray's imports.  In fact, there is nothing to suggest he had anything to do with this movie.  However, like SANTA CLAUS, it does take place in space.  The people of Mars, namely Momar and Kimar, are worried because their children Girmar (played by 8-year old Pia Zadora) and Bomar are watching too much Earth TV featuring Santa Claus.  Consulting an old Martian sage named Chochem, he tells Momar and Kimar that the children are becoming distracted and depressed because they have no Santa on Mars.  Therefore, Kimar sends Voldar, Stobo and Shim to Earth to kidnap Santa.  Upon arrival on Earth, they can't decide which one is the real Santa, and which are the store Santas so they kidnap two Earth children, Billy and Betty, to help find the real one.  However, once the Martians have the real Santa, Voldar takes a dislike to him and tries to kill him.  Once on Mars Santa, along with Billy and Betty, begins to build toys.  Another Martian named Dropo takes a shine to Santa and tries to emulate him by dressing up as Santa.  However, Voldar reprograms the toy-building machine and it begins to make unworkable toys.  In addition to that, Voldar kidnaps Dropo (who's disguised as Santa) and takes him to a cave.  However, when Voldar goes back to the toy factory and sees the real Santa, he realizes the gig is up and is arrested along with Stobo and Shim.  Dropo is named Mars' first Santa and the real Santa, Billy and Betty are returned to Earth.

SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS certainly has better production values than SANTA CLAUS.  In addition, because it was American made at an abandoned aircraft hanger on Long Island, New York, it didn't have to be dubbed.  Moreover, it's not as dark and disturbing as SANTA CLAUS.  True that SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS is listed among the 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made in the Golden Raspberry Awards book The Official Razzie Movie Guide and is one of the films included in Harry Medved's book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 used it as experiment #321 during the third season (see S. J. Martiene's excellent review of that experiment in this month's Crypt!) and again in the MST3K spin-off Cinematic Titanic in November 2008.  It has been rumored since 2000 that it will be remade with David Zucker producing and with Jim Carrey attached to play Dropo but that is believed to be languishing in development hell.

So which, in my opinion, should be chosen as The Worst Christmas Movie Ever Made and why?  SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS!  And why?  In one word, Dropo!  The sight of that giggling, mincing, little man-boy rolling around on the floor makes me mad!  Mean mad!  Had not actor Bill McCutcheon, who played Dropo, died is 2002 I'd hunt him down and punch him in the throat!  *A-hem*
Now, let's have a brief look at the man behind the silliness that is SANTA CLAUS, K. Gordon Murray was born Kenneth "Kagey" Gordon Murray in 1922 in Bloomington, IL.  A carny at heart, the smooth-talking K. Gordon used his circus connections to hire the midgets for the 1939 MGM movie THE WIZARD OF OZ.  After marrying his lifelong sweetheart, the couple tried their hand in Hollywood but it was ultimately in Miami that K. Gordon made his most important movie connection in showman Kroger Babb!

Together, they imported a little known Mexican movie titled SANTA CLAUS that, once dubbed into English, made so much money it was the only film in U.S. history to be released profitably for three decades!  And with it, K. Gordon became "King of the Kiddie Matinee" importing and releasing such films as LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND THE MONSTERS (1962), SANTA CLAUS AND HIS HELPERS (1964), THE MAGIC LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE (1965) and SANTA'S MAGIC KINGDOM (1966).  But, there was also a more adult side of K. Gordon.  While he would continue importing children's movies, he also tried his hand successfully at more adult fare such as SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS (1965), WRESTLING WOMEN Vs. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1965), as writer of the surprisingly nasty exploitation movie SHANTY TRAMP (1967) and THE WITCH'S MIRROR (1960/ 1969).

In total, K. Gordon would release 60 movies during a 15-year period.  But, troubles began with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) who confiscated his prints.  Before he could make it to Court to reclaim his prints, K. Gordon Murray died of a heart attack on December 30, 1979.  He was 57—ironically, this was at the same age and on the same date that Murray's father died.

By the time of his death however, the days of the "Kiddie Matinee" were almost over.  The big studios and major exhibitors came up with a contractual clause stating if an exhibitor won a bid on a picture, they had to play it on weeknights and weekends.  This move killed the Kiddie Matinee in one swoop.  However, Murray's fairy tales will live on in the hearts and minds of anyone who's seen them.

Merry Christmas...if that's OK!

MSTjunkie



Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: BLOODY NEW YEAR—aka—TIME WARP TERROR





Title:  BLOODY NEW YEAR—aka—TIME WARP TERROR

Year of Release—Film:  1987



Five teenagers (Suzy Aitchison, Nikki Brooks, Colin Heywood, Mark Powley and Catherine Roman), strangers to each other for the most part, meet at a carnival when one of them is attacked by a rowdy pair of thugs.  The teens escape in a small boat that soon takes them to an island where a long-abandoned (but surprisingly tidy) hotel awaits.  Little do they realize that tragedy hit that very hotel on New Year’s Eve 1959.  And, that the not-so-departed partygoers of that long ago gala event wait for fresh blood.  And, little do they know that the pair of rowdies, along with the carnival's owner, are fast on their heels, seeking revenge!  Will the terrified teens escape the island?  More importantly, at the end of 90 minutes, will the audience members even care?

BLOODY NEW YEAR had a good premise, that of zombies and ghosts and hauntings.  But apparently, it was fed it through the long and expensive process known as suspense-extraction because it's painfully dull!  Passable make-up effects were left to linger a long and painful death by cast members who fail to act or react to them.  Take this scene as an example.  One teen girl turns around to discover her friend has turned into a part-zombie, part-scaly-faced monster.  Her reaction is to stand there expressionless for several agonizingly slow moments before letting out a single scream!  Now, my reaction if I just saw my friend turned into some hideous thing would be to beat feet so fast the heels on my rubber soles would melt!  This is not a singular episode!  The acting was competent but everyone in this movie had the same blank expression.  It's as if reactions and emoting were cash and payday wasn't until a week from Friday!

Special effects can make or break a movie and BLOODY NEW YEAR is no exception.  The special effects in this were actually quite inventive.  From the stop-action duck head newel posts that gnaw at one girl to the attack during which two teens must do battle against common kitchen implements to ghostly apparitions materializing and evaporating again, they belied the low budget.  And a few scenes stood out as highly effective such as the girl being assimilated into an elevator's walls and a Sheik jumping out of a black and white movie and strangling one of the male teens.  The camera work, especially the outdoor work, was above par, too.  The script, though hackneyed today, was for 1987 fresh and inventive with tinges of Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD and Stephen King's THE SHINING without being a blatant rip-off of either.

So, where does BLOODY NEW YEAR go wrong?  For one, it lacks the over-the-top gore of THE EVIL DEAD and the mounting sense of dread of THE SHINING.  The directing by Norman J. Warren, who had given us ALIEN PREY just a short decade before, is flat, lackluster and uninspired.  It's creative touches are hampered by its low B-movie budget and fall short when it should have been going for the gusto.  Parts that should have left one gasping in horror only left this reviewer gasping in laughter.  Reading the imdb user reviews left me wondering what movie they were reviewing.  Certainly not the BLOODY NEW YEAR I sat through last night!  But, in their defense, they were very kind to Norman J. Warren's final film, calling it "completely surreal" and "a bizarre demonic horror film" but at the same time recognizing it's obvious flaws, such as the ill-fitting soundtrack.

Hollywood big shots take notice.  BLOODY NEW YEAR is begging for a 3D remake!  Throw in some young "Twilight"-type stars and you are guaranteed box office boffo!  But, until that time, my copy of BLOOD NEW YEAR goes back behind the doors of the Video Vault, unloved and never again to be viewed.

MSTjunkie
"Merry Christmas ... if that's OK"—Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000

 


Cambot's Voice by S. J. Martiene: EXPERIMENT 9: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS





“Here we are as in olden days ... happy golden days of yore …” Ah, nothing says “Christmas” like a keenly written carol.  And in my house, nothing smacks tradition like watching many of our favorite movies this time of year.  We get in on ALL the holiday fodder:  Miracle on 34th Street, the assorted versions of A Christmas Carol, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, JUST to name a few.   None of those, however, stinks like decade-old fruitcake as our experiment does for this month:  MST3K #321 Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  Sure, it starts innocently enough.  There’s an interview with Santa by a stalwart journalist.  There are Martian children who are sad because they have no Santa.  Did I mention Pia Zadora???  No?  Well, never fear my gingerbread cookies…SHE IS IN THIS MOVIE!!  Well if THAT doesn’t jingle your bells, I’m not sure what will.   Now, the rest of the cast doesn’t have the same “FAME” that Ms. Zadora accomplished.  HOWEVER, the resume of the remaining actors include the following:  The Long, Long Trailer, …And Justice for All, Steel Magnolias, Pirates of the Caribbean:  At Worlds End; and Broadway versions of Oliver! &  Miracle on 34th Street.  EVEN the Polar Bear had roles in Cotton Comes to Harlem and All the President’s Men, as well as FIVE episodes of Dark Shadows under his belt.  Just think what his career might have been had he been cast as a penguin instead.
So buckle your seatbelts kids, as Joel and the gang on the SOL present Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!
Cast (in credits order) verified as complete
...
...
...
...
...
...
...
Bomar
...
Girmar
...
Momar
...
...
...
Andy Henderson
...
...
Chochem / Von Green
...
Winky
...
Stobo
...
Shim (as Joe Elic)
...
Lomas
...
Children TV Announcer
...
TV News Announcer
...
Santa's Helper
...
Santa's Helper
...
Santa's Helper (as Ronnie Rotholz)
...
Santa's Helper
...
Polar Bear (uncredited)

HOST SEGMENT
Crow and Servo sift through an array of Christmas Catalogues.  *Parents, remember, kids know best so give them what they want*  (Crow)  Servo moons over a golf ball polisher.  Joel enters and asks the bots what they want for Christmas.  Servo wants a Ted Williams inflatable bathtub pillow, Gypsy wants a pony, and Crow, *I want to decide who lives and who dies*.  Joel decidedly responds with an *Oh…I don’t know.*   The Mads present “The Wish Squisher” which turns bad gifts into good ones. ..or helps eliminate the gifts that *…chafes a kid's hinder…* (Dr. F.)  J&TB have more gifts that should be on The Island of Misfit Toys, capping with Gypsy’s Mr. Mashed Potato Head doll.
MOVIE SIGN
There are MANY Road House references in this movie.  The opening credit sequence is particularly painful as the theme, Hurray for Santy Claus exuberantly plays throughout the opening.  The Martian children are watching a report from an earth tv station (KID-TV) where our stalwart reporter is at the North Pole to interview Santa.  Reporter Andy Anderson asks Santa if he will be ready by Christmas Eve.  Santa chortles, “We’ve never disappointed the kids yet.  *Except for the poor ones* (Joel)  Mrs. Claus, the Union Boss apparently, chastises Santa for not painting hobby horses, UNTIL she finds out she is on television.  Her reaction is just zany.  Anderson and Santa have a good laugh at her expense.  *We’re having her committed*  (Servo).  They come across a Martian Doll….and immediately switch back to the goings on at The Angry Red Planet.  Martian father, Kimar, is looking for Droppo (who is sleeping under his foot).  “Droppo, you are the laziest man on Mars.  WHY are you sleeping?”  *Because I’m the laziest man on Mars*  (Joel)  Kimar learns the children haven’t been eating and seems to be sad.  Film cuts to the cave of the Martian version of Gandalf, Chochem.  Chochem explains that on earth it is time for “The Christmas”..  *I had Jell-o today* (Crow reciting one of the repeated riffs throughout the series whenever an old man was on screen) *Hey, just in case, where are your nitro pills?* (Crow)  After a long dissertation, Chochem tells them the children need to be children.  This leads to the decision to KIDNAP SANTA CLAUS!!!!!  Oh, all except for dissenter, Voldar; the evil Martian.  Presently, their space ship takes off and they are on earth.  All of the occupants of the space ship spot ALL of the Santas on earth.  *Santa is within ALL of us* (Servo)  By now, the military has gotten involved, and plans to shoot the UFO down have begun.
HOST SEGMENT
J&TB are decked out in caroling outfits so they can belt out a rendition of Crow’s newly written song *There’s no tradition like a new tradition* (Crow)  Enjoy “ Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas”
MOVIE SIGN
The Martians land, the media is clueless (the only smack of realism in this flick), and we are introduced to our two tiny protagonists, Betty and Billy.  Kimar enlists them to help find the “REAL” Santa.  *great kid, you just fingered Kris Kringle* (Crow).  Droppo gives the kids a tour of the Martian space ship.  The kids have to hide and the Martians get ready to blast off.  Kimar wants to use a robot to help them get Santa.  Billy and Betty overhear and exit the ship to warn Santa.  *These are like cheap versions of the Lost in Space sets* (Joel).  Voldar announces the children have escaped; evident by their footprints.  *Hmm child tracks..two, three days old” (Crow)  The kids are getting cold and tired *Betty, have you ever seen the movie, Alive* (Servo) They run into a cave and get accosted by a Polar Bear….umm yeah… *IT’S SANTA BEAR* (Crow)  Both kids are complaining about the cold.   *We’ll freeze to death and become little kidcicles* (Joel)  The Martian’s robot comes after them next and captures them. Billy cries, “You won’t get away with this, you MARTIAN!” *Santa’s gonna cut you man.  Santa’s a blade man, man* (Crow)  The Martians finally make it to Santa’s place and kidnap him.
HOST SEGMENT
The Bots are depressed about the movie.  Joel comes in with a bunch of movies that he tricked out of Frank.  He has Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty, and then some movies…It’s a Wonderful Life with Marlo Thomas, Miracle on 34th Street with David Hartman, and a bunch of movies about curmudgeon-y old men and old women who learn the true meaning of Christmas.
MOVIE SIGN
The newspapers are reeling about “SANTA CLAUS HAS BEEN KIDNAPED BY MARTIANS”  (sic)  The media is still clueless, but Mrs. Claus identified the Santa-nappers as Martians.  NASA gets involved….  *Before this decade is out, we will bring Santa back from Mars* (Crow as JFK)  The Martians are enjoying Santa’s humor; Voldar is not amused.  Santa is with a remorseful Billy and Betty.  Droppo is serving dinner (in pill form), but the kids don’t want any.  *Droppo plays broader than Larry Storch* (Joel)  Voldar takes Billy, Betty, and Santa to the air lock to kill them.  Billy knows too much about the spaceship.  *I like you that’s why I’m going to kill you last*  (Joel)  The trio are trapped!  *Now, what would MacGyver do* (Joel)  They escape up the vent.  Kimar and Voldar have an altercation while Droppo announces Santa and the kids are missing.  The three walk into the control room.  *Santa Claus, you have a nasty way of surviving* (Crow)  They’ve landed the spaceship and two of the Martians (caroling, no less) discover that Voldar has escaped.  Everyone becomes acquainted with each other; the earth kids meet their alien counterparts.  Maniacal laughter ensues.  *Santa left his medication at home* (Servo)  *You know it’s the little things that can clue you into drug abuse* (Crow)  The scene changes to the cave where Voldar is hiding and they plan to kidnap Santa….again OR discredit him.  The Martian kids, the Earth kids, Droppo, and Santa are working diligently in the toy shop.  No child labor laws on Mars, I guess.  Lady Momar *Khadaffi* (Servo) made Santa an extra suit….with a beard.  Santa’s finger is tired.  *Oh, Santa…no* (Servo)  Billy and Betty are sad because they are homesick.  Droppo aspires to be Santa, tries on the second suit, and goes to  toy factory because his finger IS NOT TIRED.  *Watch out nose* (Crow)
HOST SEGMENT
J&TB have Christmas essays.  The entire segment is excellent, especially Gypsy’s part.  Please watch the clip below.

MOVIE SIGN
SOMEHOW, Droppo’s disguise fools the villainous kidnappers. *It’s Joseph Biden, Howard Metzenbaum, and Ted Kennedy as you’ve never seen them before*  (Servo)  *Something stupid this way comes* (Crow)  Lady Momar cannot find Droppo and Santa’s extra suit is ALSO missing.  *He’s probably at the bar* (Crow)  Santa and the gang head to the shop and believe Droppo is playing hide and seek.  *It’s not funny Santa.  He could be seriously hurt.  EVERYTHING’S a joke to you!* (Crow)  They decide to go to work instead; but something is awry..all the toys are mixing up.  SABOTAGE!!!   Back at the villain’s cave, Voldar is ready to get revenge.  Kimar tries to arrest Voldar, they say they have Santa…..Kimar takes control of the situation…and then SUDDENLY….a Three Stooges movie breaks out.  A round of “HO HO HOs” for everyone, and Santa Claus declares Droppo, The Santa Claus of Mars.  The Earth trio leave.  Closing credits have Servo singing along with the Hurray for Santy Claus theme and since he is misbehaving, Joel must admonish him.  Santa’s face pops up near the end of the credits.  *Filmed in Christmas Card Vision*  (Joel) 

HOST SEGMENT
 There is another round of caroling and then, STOCKING TIME!  Gypsy gets a picture of Richard Basehart.  Tom gets food, Play-Doh, plastic toys; and Crow’s stocking has *a breathable cotton panel*  Not to be forgotten,  Joel’s sock contains a letter.  Dr. F and TV’s Frank exchange gifts.  Dr. F. gets a watchband, and TV’s Frank gets a copy of Final Exit.  Neither are happy with their gifts, but wouldn’t we be shocked if they were?

That wraps up this month’s movie and brings an end to the year 2011.  I want to thank my colleagues, The Unimonster and Bobbie for allowing me to be a part of this endeavor each month.  It’s been a great joy for me --  Merry Christmas, my friends.
And to all of you:
Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas everyone and may 2012 be a blessed and wonderful year!!