Santa Claus conquers the Martians… Rifftrax demolishes the movie

by Mark Burger

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Even the title is funny. The movie? Well, that’s another story….

This Christmas season, however, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is about to get a whole lot funnier and a whole lot crazier — because the popular “Rifftrax” team has something very special in store for its fans.

On Dec. 5, NCM Fathom Events once again teams up with RiffTrax and IGN to present RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which will be screened at almost 600 theaters nationwide and locally in Greensboro at the Brassfield Cinema 10 (2101 New Garden Road) and Greensboro Grande Stadium 16 (3205 Northline Ave.), and in Winston-Salem at The Grand 18 Winston- Salem IMAX (5601 University Parkway).

The show begins at 8 p.m. Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett have reunited to provide outrageous, ongoing commentary on this self-explanatory 1964 cult catastrophe, in which Martians abduct Santa Claus (John Call) from the North Pole and spirit him to their planet so that he can spread Christmas cheer to the green-skinned denizens of Mars.

Beginning with its unforgettable theme song — “S-A-N-T-A, C-L-A-U-S, Hooray for Santa Claus!” — this low-rent, farcical fantasy was long a TV favorite during the holidays. I remember watching it as a kid on New York’s WNEW Channel 5. It’s safe to say even now that I’d never seen anything like it. After all, does It’s a Wonderful Life have Martians in it? Even Santa Claus: The Movie didn’t have Martians in it, although it did have Dudley Moore as an elf.

In addition to Call’s turn as Kris Kringle, the cast includes Bill McCutcheon (as a comic-relief Martian named Dropo), Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Victor Stiles and, in her screen debut, little Pia Zadora as a Martian moppet! Director Nicholas Webster toiled mostly in TV, but later revisited the red planet in Mission Mars (1968), which lacked Santa Claus.

“I’m excited to be revisiting this gem, not only because it promises to be a lot of fun, but also because it just wouldn’t be the holidays without those beloved yuletide characters Kimar, Voldar, Hargo, and of course that shockingly stupid Martian, Droppo!” said Rifftrax creator Nelson in an official statement.

For 11 years, Nelson, Murphy and Corbett were part of the core team of the cult series “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” in which the crew of the Satellite of Love — stranded in outer space — was forced to watch transmissions of the worst movies ever made on Earth, which they commented upon with ribald wit and addlebrained insight. Indeed, “MST3K” made mincemeat out of both Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Mission Mars during its run.

Not only did “MST3K” amass a sizable worldwide following, but it also drew attention to scores of movies best forgotten. During its lengthy run, the series earned two Emmy nominations (both times for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Variety or Music Program), and in 1993 received the prestigious Peabody Award.

With the cancellation of “MST3K” in 1999, after 197 episodes and even a feature film released in 1995, the series lives on in syndication — as well as in the hearts and minds of its fervent fans.

But in 2006, Nelson reunited with Murphy and Corbett to continue the tradition with “RiffTrax,” a series of downloads presented in the same style as the earlier series, with running commentary. These were followed by a series of live events that proved so popular that the “RiffTrax” screenings were born. Previous Rifftrax offerings have included Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), the indescribable Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966), George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 sci-fi blowout Starship Troopers, which proved so popular that encore screenings were scheduled. !

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Tickets at Greensboro Grande are $12.50. Tickets at Brassfield are $11.50 (general admission), $10.50 (senior citizens) and $9.50 (children under 12). Tickets at the Grand 18 are $12.50. For advance tickets or more information, visit