SciFi Classics 50-movie Pack, Disc 4

This disc combines one of the strangest “sci-fi” pictures I’ve ever seen, a fairly typical cheaply-done B-grade flick, and two films derived from the 1954 syndicated TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, which—according to the sleeve—“was cancelled after a single season because the costly special effects made it unprofitable.” Three of the four films have characters named “Winky”—reason enough to group them on the disc. In all four films, the people on other planets speak English—in the first case, because they watch Earth TV, in the second because it’s convenient, and in the others with a “but it’s so foreign” overlay and no really good explanation. (OK, in the fourth, the people on one planet that can’t possibly support human life also speak their own language.) I believe one or two of these have been on MST3K. The first is also on IMDB’s “100 worst movies” list.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, 1964, color, Nicholas Webster (dir.), John Call, Leonard Hicks, Pia Zadora. 1:21

Taken from a copy for TV distribution (the AVCO TV logo appears before the title), the print is good—good color, decent VHS-quality appearance, good sound, very little damage. Now, about the picture… Martian kids are unhappy because they’re educated like grownups from birth, so a group of leaders goes to Earth to kidnap Santa Claus from his workshop at the North Pole. They do, they build him an automated workshop, and much strangeness ensues. Pia Zadora is presumably the big-name star in an entirely forgettable role. The theme song (“Hooray for Santa Claus,” with “Santa” consistently pronounced “Santy” even after it’s been spelled out), repeated at the start and end of the film, was almost enough to send me running screaming from the treadmill. Only “sci-fi” because there’s a rocket (and a tickle-gun, and a freeze-ray) involved. You get Wernher von Green, head of the space program; Mrs. Claus “positively identifying the kidnappers as Martians” (you can tell because they have olive skin and wear hoods with antennas); and a subplot about spaceships attempting to retrieve Santa that is simply dropped after using some stock footage. They don’t get much stranger than this. I can’t imagine ever watching it a second time, but it gets $0.75 for sheer novelty value.

Teenagers from Outer Space, 1959, b&w, Tom Graeff (dir.), David Love, Dawn Bender, Tom Graeff (who also produced and wrote). 1:25.

The blurb says, “The Martians are coming to Earth to raise the Gargon Herd, an unstoppable torrent of giant lobsters.” Well, they aren’t identified as Martians, and there’s no attempt to make them anything but pure human—but from some planet where kids don’t know their parents, there is no joy or love, and there’s a need for a planet to raise the Gargons as a reserve food supply. Why? Because the Gargons start out tiny, then grow to a million times the size, into enormous, vicious lobster-like creatures. They’ll kill everything on Earth, of course, but “what concern are foreign people to the supreme race?” One crew member (a good-looking teenager who turns out to be the son of the Great Leader, of course) objects to using a planet with intelligent life, and escapes. Plot ensues. There’s a weapon that eliminates all flesh from living things (skeletal special effects—or, rather, one skeleton reused several times). There’s lots of life in the 1950s. It’s silly, but it’s not a bad B movie. Decent print quality, good sound (seemingly stereo, but that’s unlikely). $1.

Crash of the Moons, 1954, b&w, Hollingsworth Morse (dir.), Richard Crane, Sally Mansfield, John Banner. 1:18 [1:12]

As cheap TV serials go, this one’s pretty good, with extensive sets and simple but adequate space stuff. The blurb notes “Rocky’s scantily clad assistant, Vena Ray” (Sally Mansfield), but she seems clothed in the women’s fashions of this near future—basically, a loose-skirted minidress with cape, neither particularly scanty nor at all shocking. The science doesn’t bear even crude scrutiny—for example, the “moons” in this case are twin “gypsy moons,” connected by a band of atmosphere and both fully capable of supporting human life, at least until one of them crashes into a planet whose female ruler doesn’t get along with the federation of planets. Good simple fun, actually, including an amusing sidekick (Winky), the stalwart hero (Rocky Jones, Space Ranger), and a kid. Decent print with some damage. $1, as long as you don’t expect credible sci-fi.

Menace from Outer Space, 1956, b&w, same director and cast (without John Banner). 1:18.

The same hostile female ruler (planet Officious?) is involved here as well, but mostly it’s about strange crystalline rockets being fired at Earth, apparently from a moon known to lack metals and clearly incapable of supporting life. Except, of course, that it does: Entirely human life, but on a planet where everything’s crystal-based. Spies, intrigue, general nonsense, and (as in Crash of the Moons) a kindly elderly professor. $0.75—the plot’s neither quite as ridiculous nor quite as interesting as the other one.

I was amazed to note that each of these is available on its own DVD, typically for $7 to $14. The notes on one of the Rocky Jones DVD releases suggest a print in much worse shape than the one used here–and this whole 50-movie set cost $25. Such is life.

5 Responses to “SciFi Classics 50-movie Pack, Disc 4”

  1. Eli says:

    I dunno … I consider “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” to be well-deserving of its Z-grade movie rep — it’s hilariously bad in the model of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and that ilk. And according to IMDb, the movie was Pia’s first movie role, at the age of 10.

    I love these reviews … thank you!

  2. walt says:

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough: SCCtM is, indeed, a really bad movie–I just wasn’t clear that it was intended to be as bad as it is. I guess Pia Zadora was playing a different role than I thought (none of the character names are at all memorable); if she was either one of the little girls, she was also entirely forgettable.

    And yes, I’ve watched both Attack and Revenge of the KTs…and enjoyed them for what they were. Once.

    I’ve done something different at the end of that disc: Instead of flipping back to TV movies (generally a compentent lot), I’ve gone on to Disc 5 of the Sci-Fi box, partly so that the six-disc roundups in C&I don’t come right at the same time. Disc 5 is, ta-da, four Hercules movies, with four different Hercules. Not sci-fi by any plausible reckoning, but 2/3 of the way in to the first one, actually made with some rudimentary Italian cinematic craft.

    I’m glad someone likes the reviews; I can’t resist doing them. By the way, on our last cruise, the ship’s library had three or four of the 50-movie megapacks for loan, along with 300-400 other DVDs (and 3000-4000 books). I guess if you really didn’t want to be on the cruise or were sick, 50 movies would keep you going…

  3. Brian says:

    Now, I’m the kind of person who takes “They don’t get much stranger than this” as an unequivocal recommendation. Even so, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” *is* much better with a large glass of Chambord eggnog at about 2:00 Christmas morning. (Does anyone else have David Letterman’s voice running through your head now?: “Pia … Zadora.”)

    Sounds like the Rocky Jones serial may have been an influence for the Brewster Rockit: Space Guy comic strip. The strip even has a kid named Winky.

  4. Ah, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”! That brings back a happy MST3K memory of Santa’s space station(?) workshop with a voiceover of “Increasingly paranoid, Santa’s obsession with security made life difficult for his friends” as a weird radar dish spins around.

    One thing (likely the only thing) that I personally found touching about the movie was when Santa Claus made some remark about Christmas being Jesus’ birthday. You have Christmas specials with Santa Claus, you have the “Little Drummer Boy” and a few specials with the Christ Child, but you don’t usually see a Christimas entertainment with the two together. Not that that makes the movie any more watchable!

  5. […] UPDATE: As is pointed out in comments, there is in fact a a whole series of 50-packs: mystery, horror, comedy, musical, drive-in, martial arts, historical, dark crimes, pastoral-comical, tragical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical pastoral, robot monsteral-pastoral, santal clausal-tragical, teenageral-historical and so forth. Also, some intrepid/damned soul has reviewed every single item in the SF 50-pack! posted on Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006 at 6:40 pm comments […]