Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Original Bad (VERY bad) Santa

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Starring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, and Vincent Beck
Director: Nicholas Webster
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Aliens kidnap Santa Claus (Call) and bring him to Mars so he can bring toys and holiday cheer to their depressed, television-obsessed children. But evil and conservative forces want to stop him from tainting Martian culture with Earth-based Christmas nonsense.

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is a stupendously bad movie that fails on just about every level. The idea of Santa Claus converting grumpy evil Martians to the Light Side through the force of good cheer and Christmas spirit is a great idea, but since we never get a sense of why they would want to resist the Christmas Spirit to begin with, the idea remains stillborn.

Then there's the problem with the pacing of the film, with even the busiest scenes having a feeling of being padded. The story flow is also disorganized and rambling with the various scenes and events of the picture barely feeling connected to each other, and in some cases it is almost as if characters forgot what happened in the scene immediately prior.

The final nail in this film's coffin is that it's another example of a movie where the ideas and creative visions were bigger than the film's budget out accommodate. This is particularly evident in the sad, painfully cheap sets of the Martian space ship. The Martian costumes and make-up aren't much better, as they put viewers in mind of an Al Jolson black-face performance rather than Martians.

The only halfway decent thing about the picture is John Call as Santa Claus, although even he cant' rise above the awfulness of the material and often seems confused and even a little bored. He mostly pulls off the jolly Ho-Ho-Ho of the traditional idea of Santa and he delivers a number of rather funny lines effectively... unlike Vincent Beck, who, as the evil Santa-hating Voldar, manages to kill most of the Funny in his laugh lines. (Although Beck does sport one of the funniest mustaches to ever appear in film.)

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is a holiday picture to avoid as strenuously as your aunt's homemade fruitcake!

Trivia: Pia Zadora made her first screen appearance in this film. She plays a little Martian girl who befriends Santa.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The S-U-I-C-I-D-E Song & Dance Number

If you're inclined to shout "alluha akbar!" or make excuses and justifications for death-worshiping freaks when you see stories like "Car Bomb: Christmas Jihad in Stockholm," don't watch this scene cut from "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead."

(This post was part of a Cinema Steve-wide celebration in honor of Jihadists everywhere.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Save this one 'til it's the last movie on Earth

Last Woman on Earth (1960)
Starring: Betsy Jones-Moreland, Antony Carbone, and Robert Towne
Director: Roger Corman
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A crooked business man (Carbone), his wife (Jones-Moreland), and his young attorney (Towne) through a fluke survive a mysterious disaster that kills every living thing on the surface of Earth's northern hemisphere, perhaps in the entire world. They attempt to forge a life on the now deserted planet, but how long can two men tolerate each other with just one woman between them? Not very long.

There isn't much more to this film that that paragraph. If I told you that one man kills the other, and the remaining couple lives happily ever after, I wouldn't be spoiling the film, because that's the outcome that's set up early on, and it's an outcome that's never in any doubt.

The cinematography and acting is serviceable for a film which was probably written on the back of cocktail napkins, for which much of the dialogue was probably ad-libbed (the only explanation I can think of for inexplicably repeated lines within the same scene), and which was only made because Creature from the Haunted Sea wrapped a few days early and director/producer wanted to squeeze as much work out of the cast and crew he had brought to Puerto Rico as possible.

But for a movie that was probably made in a single-digit number of days, it isn't all bad. The characters are interesting in a community theater one-act play sort of way, and the story moves along at a quick pace. While there isn't a whole lot that happens in this film, you can still watch it and not get bored. Antony Carbone is particularly interesting as the crooked business man, mostly because you know that he's going to kill someone before the film's over. The only question is who.

That's not to say that it's necessarily worth watching unless you're interested in what an "artsy" Corman film might look like, or if you want to check out the humble beginnings of the writer of "China Town". But in the final analysis, this is yet another Roger Corman production where the poster art is more interesting than the film itself.