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Saturday, 24 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#24: 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians'

It's all Pia Zadora's fault!
All of it! all encompassing obsession with 'Trash Cinema' and all it entails; all the hours spent ruining my eyesight and sanity, all the money I've spent (Griff: surely you mean 'wasted'?), all the days spent scouring small ads and records fairs (in the days before Amazon, or even the internet)....just looking for that elusive gem of cinematic cat-litter to add to my ever expanding collection.
It all began with Pia Zadora....on Christmas Eve 1983, and the first ever showing on British TV of 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians'. What clouds fell across my eyes that night that I would never see clearly again?
Let's go back and take a look.....
So it was Christmas Eve 1983, which was a Saturday, and Ray and I decided to go to Edinburgh that day for a bit of shopping. I had only been up to Edinburgh on my own once before but knew where the main shopping area was. This was in the days before I ever even thought of going to Glasgow. I had my first ever Christmas pay-packet (of sorts) and knew exactly what I was going up there for; an album by Jean-Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfield (I was still in my 'Stranglers' phase) called 'Fire And Water', a book on Horror Movies back in the day when Horror films were still respectable and not the 'torture-porn' franchises we have nowadays, and a book which Barry Norman had talked about on Film 83 called 'The Golden Turkey Awards' which dealt with the very worst of Hollywood. Barry had even showed a couple of clips from 'Godzilla vs The Smog Monster' and 'Rat Pfink A Boo Boo' so my interest was immediately piqued.
We had been looking forward to this visit to Edinburgh for weeks, so I won't embarrass Ray here by revealing how he spoiled the entire day (and didn't even make it to the last train stop!!) and how I had to condense my whole day in Edinburgh to about 15 minutes, but in which time I still got the three items I had been after.
So I got home that afternoon, listened to my new album, read through my Horror Films book, but decided to leave my Golden Turkeys book till later that night as Channel 4 were about to start running a series of films called 'The Worst Of Hollywood', presented by Michael Medved who was one of the co-writers of the Golden Turkeys book.

The rest of my family went along to the midnight Carol service that night, leaving me with the film 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians' and my new book about bad movies. To say it was one of the most pivotal moments in my life is a bit of a massive understatement. To read about all of those bizarre, ludicrous movies whilst actually being able to watch one of them as it played out sent something adrift in my psyche. For the rest of my life I would become obsessed with the most terrible, most outlandish, most mindbending, most outre surreal movies imaginable; not just watching them (which sometimes, admittedly, is a chore in itself), but reading all about them, studying them almost.
That's not to say that 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians' is all that bad a movie. You usually find that, that the films with the worst reputations turn out to be nowhere near as bad as you are led to believe. Take 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' for example; that used to have the mantle of 'Worst Film Of All Time', but to be honest it's not even the worst Ed Wood film, and in actual fact is quite entertaining.

The basic plot of 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians' has the children of Mars feeling pretty down as there's not much fun to be had so, after viewing the happiness of children on Earth at Christmastime, they decide to kidnap Santa Claus and bring him to their home planet where, hopefully, they think he'll dispense the same good cheer.
The kids (one played by Pia Zadora, actually acting more capably than in the ridiculous career her sugar daddy bought for her) are overjoyed by Santa, as is friendly adult Martian Dropo, but evil Martian Volgar captures Santa and holds him to ransom etc etc. Cue Kids and Dropo overpowering Volgar and releasing Santa back to Earth while back on Mars Dropo becomes a Santa-like figure to the children. Earth rejoices as the real Santa returns.
Sure the acting is ropey at best, and the costumes and make-up are awful, but the Mars sets now look very retro-chic and there is a genuine sense of joy in the film-makers intentions, so it's not all bad. To be honest, I can think of far worse children's films than this; 'The Wonderful Land Of Oz' or 'Jimmy The Boy Wonder' for example.
So that was it!
From that night onwards I would be obsessed by the worst and weirdest of Hollywood; be it giant monster movies, Spaghetti Westerns, 60's 42nd Street Grindhouse Exploitation, Drug Movies, Sexploitation, Mexican Horror movies, ultra low budget genre name it. The worse its reputation, the bigger my desire to check it out.
We here at the ~Streetlamp~ all have our own default settings when it comes to movies; Griff can barely even watch B-Movies preferring 'decent' films, Ray likes a fair amount of Sci-fi, Horror and genre movies and will tolerate some of the shite I let him see.
But me....I'm like a moth to a crap movie flame; tell me it's the most tawdry, badly acted, badly scripted, special-effects-by-glue-and-string rubbish about a giant Italian cowboy terrorising a spaceship full of 60s burlesque strippers, and starring Julian Sands and Danny Dyer....and I'll be first in the queue.

And all because of a Christmas Eve, 28 years ago today, spent with Pia Zadora!


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