Sunday, December 18, 2022

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, through newspaper archives


On Christmas Eve, at noon MST on the Comet Network, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” airs. Although not aired in theaters, or much on TV anymore, the 1964 holiday film lasted in theaters for a decade, and played often on TV for a couple more decades. It has become legitimate cult film. I’m fascinated with the film, its durability and its history as a staple of the Saturday Kids Matinee offerings once ubiquitous in movie world.

As you can see above, we’ve researched Newspaper Archives to find examples of ads, marketing, publicity reviews, etc. to provide our readers, this holiday season, a look at how it once was for this fun, goofy film. -- Doug Gibson

At the very top is an ad for SSCTM from the Sacramento Bee, Nov. 20, 1965. Below it is a review from The New York Daily News from Dec. 17, 1964. The terms "far out" is included to describe the film. Just below is a list of films playing published in the Dec. 18, 1965 Los Angeles Times. SCCTM is playing in several theaters. As my friend David Grudt (who located most of these clips) notes, the film was playing in my hometown of Long Beach, Calif., at The Towne Theater. I was about 27 months old. Maybe my parents took me to the show! Who knows?

Here are a couple of previously published reviews of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The first is from my co-blogger, Steve D. Stones. Read on:

SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS: LITTLE GREEN MEN AND SANTA on MARS! The critics have not been kind to this film over the years. Every time I view the film, I keep in mind that it is intended for children. With this in mind, I am willing to overlook the poor acting, bad make-up and cardboard sets. The title alone is so campy and kitsch that it grabs my attention immediately.

The children of mars have grown bored, depressed and discontent. A Martian father named Kimar, played by Leonard Hicks, concludes that the children of mars have become this way from watching “meaningless earth programs.” The children see a newscaster interview Santa on television from the North Pole and wish that mars also had a Santa Claus. The newscaster complains of the cold outside Santa’s workshop, yet he wears no gloves and his breath cannot be seen as he speaks. This adds to some of the unintentional humor of the film.

Back on mars, Kimar meets with the “council of the wise” at Thunder Forrest. The council consists of Lomas, Rigna, Hargo and Voldar, and seeks the advice of an 800 year old Wiseman named Chochum. Long before Yoda was seen on movie screens, Chochum the wise was seen in this film. Perhaps the two wise men knew each other and trained at the Jedi academy? Not very likely, I’m afraid!

Chochum suggests to the council of the wise that they kidnap Santa Claus from the North Pole and bring him to mars to bring joy and happiness to the children of mars. Voldar, the protagonist of the group, opposes Chochum’s plan. He insists that he does not want the children of mars to play with games and toys and run around joyfully. “The earth has had Santa Claus long enough! We will bring him to Mars!” proclaims Kimar.

Despite Voldar’s opposition, the group is lead by Kimar to the North Pole in a spaceship that looks like a painted toilet paper roll. Shortly after landing, they see two children in a park and ask them where they can find Santa. They kidnap the children so that they cannot run to the police to report Martians coming to earth.

After finally landing at the North Pole, the Martians use their giant robot named Torg to kidnap Santa at his workshop. Torg appears to be made of painted cardboard and ventilation pipes. Voldar freezes Mrs. Claus and many of Santa’s elves with his ray gun that looks like a toilet plunger. Santa is brought to the spaceship and taken back to mars.

What follows for the rest of the film is a series of attempts by Voldar and his henchmen to either kill Santa or sabotage his efforts on mars. For example, in one particular scene Voldar rewires the toy machines in Santa’s workshop so that they create poorly designed toys. On their way back to mars, Voldar locks Santa and the two kidnapped children in a compression room of the space ship in an attempt to open a door and have them sucked away into space. The group conveniently escapes before the door can be opened.

Eventually Santa’s workshop on mars is running smoothly. Voldar and his henchmen are captured and imprisoned by Kimar for threatening Santa and the children. Kimar decides to allow Santa to go back to earth in time for Christmas. A happy ending always concludes any Christmas movie, which is certainly the case with this film.

In his book “Cult Science Fiction Films,” Welch Everman suggests that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is such a terrible film that not even children would enjoy watching it, and would find it “stupid.” I disagree with this statement. Although I did not see Santa Claus Conquers The Martians until I was an adult, I can imagine myself enjoying this film even more so if I had seen it as a five-year-old child. If I had been aware of it as a child, I may have included it in my long list of Christmas films to view every 
December. I encourage you to gather up your family and watch Santa Claus Conquers The Martians this Christmas Season.

And here’s my more brief take on "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."  (I love the above ad from the Nov. 4, 1972 Park Forest (Illinois) Star (Carnal Knowledge on at nights and Santa Claus in the kiddie matinee. — This 1964 film was shot in an abandoned airport hangar in Long Island, N.Y., using many minor cast members from a NYC stage production of "Oliver Twist." It has a catchy theme song, "Hurray for Santy (sic) Claus," that you'll hum afterward. The plot involves Martians coming to earth, kidnapping Santa and whisking him away to cheer up the Martian kiddies. Two earth children are kidnapped along with Santa. Santa and the earth kids fight off a Martian baddie, prep a goofy Martian to become that planet's Santa, and launch off to earth in the spaceship.


We never know if they made it home — perhaps the budget didn't allow that. The acting has to be seen to be believed, but the film has a goofy charm. It was a big hit on the now-gone "weekend matinee" circuit and played theaters for years. Pia Zadora, who was briefly a sexy starlet in the 1980s, plays one of the Martian children. John Call, as Santa, does a mean "ho, ho, ho."


Here is a video podcast Steve and I did for Plan9Crunch 11 years ago on SCCTM. Below is another fun ad, also from the Dec. 17, 1964 New Yotrk Daily News, that shows SCCTM playing at the same theater also showing "roughie" horrors "The Awful Dr. Orloff" and "The Horrible Dr. Hichcock."

Finally, a couple more ads to see. The top is from the Dec. 1, 1967 edition of the Roselle-Register (Illinois). It played at the same theater showing a Best Picture Oscar. Notice Santa Claus Conquers the Martians secure perch as a perennial Saturday children's movie. Below the Roselle-Register as is one from the Nov. 19, 1965 Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, Calif. It's advertised as a "small-fry matinee."

We hope you enjoyed this blog. Again, our thanks to David Grudt for his help.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Ghost Stories for Christmas underscores traditions, celebrations of Christmas past


I've finished reading this absolutely marvelous new anthology, Ghost Stories for Christmas: Volume 1. Compiled by writer Andi Brooks, it's a collection of supernatural Christmas stories published in the 19th and early 20th century periodicals. There are great writers featured, including Washington Irving, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Charles Dickens. But just as much fun is sampling the tales of mostly forgotten writers (William Wilthew Fenn, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Henry Ross ...) , published in mostly forgotten books and periodicals (Routledge's Christmas Annual, The Illustrated London News, Santa Claus: Dupuy's Christmas Annual ...) . Usually to find these stories, you'd haunt Ebay or dusty used book stores, or peruse Google to find digital restorations.

Readers can imagine themselves sitting by a warm fire on Christmas Eve, reading these tales by candlelight or early electricity. Or gathered around a big Christmas table listening, captivated, to an oral rendition of a story in the Christmas edition of Once a Week, or many other publications.Brooks has done a wonderful job of compiling these stories, and Plan9Crunch had the opportunity to interview him. -- Doug Gibson

This blog post includes some original art from the stories, when they were first published.

The interview with Andi Brooks

Provide our readers the research it involves preparing the anthology, how you choose the various stories?

Brooks: The idea for the anthology had actually been in the back of my mind since around 1999 when I found a copy a book called Christmas Past: A selection from Victorian Magazines in a used bookshop. Compiled by Dulcie M. Ashdown, the book is a wonderful collection of festive poetry, stories, games, fancy dress ideas, recipes, articles on how Christmas cards and Christmas crackers are made, and guides for decorating the home, making hand-made gifts and entertaining guests. It is a simply delightful book.

Among the typical Victorian heart-wrenching and heart-warming stories is a solitary ghost story from the 1895 Christmas edition of The Woman at Home, Annie S. Swan’s Magazine by Percy Andreae called, rather appropriately, A Christmas Ghost Story. A romantic rather than scary ghost story, I found it intriguing and decided to seek out more Christmas ghost stories from Victorian magazines and newspapers with a view to compiling an anthology. But, to cut a long story short, a lot happened in the next twenty years to keep me occupied and it wasn’t until I had finished my own book, Ghostly Tales of Japan, last year that the idea resurfaced. In the intervening twenty-odd years, the Internet had firmly become an everyday part of our lives and a researcher’s dream come true.

Whereas back in the 1990s when I was researching Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in London with Frank Dello Stritto we had to physically travel to libraries and archives to source material, now a wealth of material can be found online. Ideally, I would have liked to have visited those libraries and archives again to see physical copies of magazines, newspapers and books, especially to source the illustrations which often accompanied Christmas ghost stories, but living in Japan made that impossible, so I was very grateful for the Internet. To prepare what I was intending to be a single volume, I researched and compiled a list of ghost stories actually set at Christmas time rather than just ordinary ghost stories which appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines and newspapers. Many of the famous stories as we known them now are revisions of the originals made by the authors for publication in book form, but I wanted to go back to the originals as much as possible for this anthology. Scouring online archives, I stumbled across more and more stories, many of which I had never heard of and may have lain unread since first publication, until my original single volume had expanded to five or six. I’ve always enjoyed research much more than writing and become quite obsessive once I begin, so I am sure that I will unearth even more stories. 

Do you think our contemporary vision of Christmas ghost stories is dominated by the classic, A Christmas Carol. Is there a dearth of knowledge of Christmas ghost stories and their long tradition as part of the holiday?

Brooks: A Christmas Carol certainly casts a very long shadow. Ever since its publication on December 19th, 1843, it has dominated the popular imagination as no other story has since or, in my opinion, ever will as the embodiment of not just a Christmas ghost story, but as a story which encapsulates the very essence of the spirit of Christmas. It really was a phenomenon from the very first day, with all six thousand initial copies selling out in just five days and another two editions being published before the end of the year. By the end of the following year it had gone through a remarkable fourteen editions and has stayed in print ever since. Starting with eight competing theatre adaptations running in London theatres just two months after its publication and Dickens’ own public readings, which he continued until one month before his death in 1870, it has been repeatedly adapted to every possible medium.

That’s a tough act to follow, but of course A Christmas Carol is just one story in a rich genre of which there have always been devotes, even as its popularity as a seasonal staple has waxed and waned. However, I think that a wider appreciation of the Christmas ghost story, along with a greater awareness of the tradition, has certainly grown in recent years with more and more anthologies being published and, perhaps more importantly, an explosion of information and the stories themselves reaching an increasing number of people online. I hope that my own anthology and the future volumes in the series will help to continue that momentum and help to introduce readers to some less-trod corners of the genre. 

You mentioned earlier to me you could fill five volumes of Christmas ghost stories. So, in another era, the Christmas ghost story was a staple of 19th century, 20th century periodicals? You even have another Dickens holiday season ghost story by Dickens, about the mean sexton and goblins. Dickens wrote a lot more holiday ghost stories than A Christmas Carol, right?

Although Dickens wrote five “Christmas books,” starting with
A Christmas Carol, not all of them are ghostly or set at Christmas. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year (1844), set on New Year’s Eve, features the spirits of some church bells and their goblin attendants. The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home (1845) tells of a family and their cricket guardian spirit. The Battle of Life: A Love Story (1846) has one scene set at Christmas, but no supernatural elements. The last of Dickens’ Christmas books, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time (1848), the story of a man’s encounter with a ghostly doppelgänger of himself is set at Christmas. Despite the lack of ghosts in his Christmas books, Dickens was a great lover of ghost stories, and wrote some fine examples of his own, one of the best known of which is probably The Signal-Man. Contrary to his reputation as a Christmas ghost story writer, however, he wrote few genuine supernatural tales set during the festive period. He often included ghostly episodes in his stories. One of my favourites is the ghostly section of A Christmas Tree, which is told by ghosts. In the story, Dickens hints that the telling of ghost stories pre-dates the celebration of Christmas by referring to them as “Winter Stories.”

The story which I chose for my anthology, The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton, is one of five ghostly stories featured in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Containing a Faithful Record of the Perambulations, Perils, Travels, Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members, more commonly known simply as The Pickwick Papers. The “true” tale is recounted on Christmas Eve by a reluctant Mr. Wardle at the prompting of Mr. Pickwick after Mr. Wardle’s mother recalls that her late husband had once told it one Christmas Eve many Christmases before. Published on December 31, 1836, it can be viewed as a prototype for A Christmas Carol, with the two stories bearing many similarities. 

I love The Christmas Dinner, by Irving. It takes me back to an old-fashioned Christmas celebration long ago. At Chrighton Abbey is another one that tugs at my heart, what Christmas traditions were long ago. But there are so many stories. I have read about 20 so far. What are some of your favorites in the collection?

Brooks: Although Irving’s The Christmas Dinner isn’t strictly a ghost story, I wanted to have it open the anthology to set the scene and illustrate how ghost stories were once told at Christmas. It is interesting to read that at that time, 1820, people were looking back with nostalgia at the traditions of Christmas past and trying to recreate them. That’s how I celebrate Christmas, trying to recapture that elusive feeling of an old-fashioned childhood Christmas in a simpler, more innocent time surrounded by long departed loved ones. 

I read and re-read all of the stories in my book so many times while compiling it that I came to appreciate and love every single one of them in a way that I never could have by reading them in the usual manner. As I got to the very heart of the stories, I was often taken unawares by the depth of emotion which they stirred. The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell is a shocking reminder that the past cannot be undone and will come back to haunt us in old age. The Earth Draws by Jonas Lie is also a very potent story. But there are two stories which really stand out for me in terms of their emotional impact. After working on the book in the cold dead of night, I could not shake off the feelings of dread inspired by E. Nesbit’s Portent of the Shadow. I think its power lies in the very banality of its setting, an ordinary modern house rather than ancient ancestral pile, and the utter helplessness of the protagonists. The self-sacrifice of Miss Eastwich, the storyteller was also very poignant. The other story which has stayed with me is of a very different nature. I have shed a tear only three times in my life while reading. Most recently was when I read Their Dear Little Ghost by Elia W. Peattie. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, so I shan’t give the story away.

You have tongue in cheek stories, like Real Estate Man of Yore (I love old eastern USA stories) and Dickens' The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton. And then you have eerie gothic holiday tales, such as At Chrighton Abbey, and tongue-in-cheek tales like The Three-Cornered Ghost, and grisly tales like Mansleigh Grange. Were you looking for a balance in moods of the tales?

Brooks: It’s interesting that you should mention Real Estate Man of Yore. Being English, I’m not really familiar with that brand of old eastern USA stories, and I was quite unimpressed by it upon my first reading. I recall actually being dismissive of it. But with successive readings, I grew to not only appreciate it, but to really enjoy it. I think that if I had been compiling a single anthology, I would have been inclined to go for the throat and have compiled a collection of full-on horror stories, but as my research progressed and I started to amass far too many stories for a single volume, I began to appreciate the sheer breadth and variety of the genre, and I decided that I wanted to tell its complete story. I felt quite strongly that every single story, no matter how obscure, deserved to be read again. Having settled on arranging the stories in each volume in chronological order, I next decided, as you suggested, to create a balance of moods. So each volume will contain examples of moving stories, amusing stories, and horrific stories side-by-side. My aim is to create a definitive library of that golden age of the Christmas ghost story which spanned the Victorian and Edwardian eras. 

The Pearl Princess I enjoyed a lot. Many of these authors are very obscure. Did it interest you to look into their biographies, and what else they wrote. I kind of associate this book with going to a very old used bookstore, and browsing, just looking for treasures.

Brooks: Very much so. I researched every single author and their known works. Of course, literary giants such as Dickens, Irving and Stevenson need no introduction, but I still took the time to re-read their biographies and bibliographies because I didn’t want to just mechanically put this anthology together. I wanted to feel as much of a connection with the authors as possible and to understand their motivations for writing the stories and the backgrounds to them in the context of their lives and careers and the times in which they lived. My motivation for compiling this anthology grew out of a genuine love of the genre, so it’s important to me to do it as respectfully and thoughtfully as I possibly can. I know that it’s a clichĂ©, but it really is a labour of love. What is intriguing is that we know so little about some of the authors. For example, Augustus Cheltenham, author of The Pearl Princess, a story which I enjoyed as I know the area in which it is set very well, remains a complete mystery. We do not even know the dates of his birth or death. Just two published stories bear his name. Future volumes in the Ghost Story For Christmas series will feature stories which were published anonymously. It is unlikely that we will ever know who penned them. 

I do love browsing in old bookshops or online in search of treasures. It’s a real thrill to come across something that you’ve never seen or heard of before. When I find them, as with my Bela Lugosi research on the Bela Lugosi Blog, I have a really strong desire to share them so that other people can enjoy them too. I hope that this anthology and its sequels will bring some joy to like-minded people.

There is just one aspect of my research which has frustrated me. I think that the illustrations which accompanied some of the stories on their original publication are every bit as important as the stories themselves. Although I was able to include some of them in the anthology, the ones which appeared in newspapers were often not available in a good quality to reproduce. Hopefully, I will one day be able to source better quality versions for later editions. 

As I said earlier, my search for obscure Christmas ghost stories is ongoing, so if any of your readers ever come across any in vintage newspapers or magazines, I’d love to hear from them. If I can use them, they’ll receive a credit and a copy of the volume they appear in.

Here are a few more illustrations that were originally published with the stories in this anthology: