Since Ensley F. Guffey and I began writing the “Ten Percent” columns for Biff Bam Pop!, we’ve started our posts with science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon’s famous quote that reminds us that “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” We then go on to explore an item of popular culture that isn’t crud; that belongs not to Sturgeon’s 90%, but rather to what we call “the Ten Percent” – that tiny slice that’s worthy of thoughtful examination and that shows the heights of human creativity, beauty, imagination, and exhilaration.
But it occurred to me that we had maybe not created a solid baseline. We’re asking you to trust us that the movies and other things we write about are worthy of the “Ten Percent” label, but we haven’t ever had The Talk with you about the dangers of dreck. So, in the spirit of the holidays, allow me to educate and elucidate. (I had this whole smartypants thing about artistic composition and the uses of negative space to give deeper meaning to positive space, but I scrapped it in favor of what comes next. I think you’ll be glad.)
Let’s start with Santa. Jolly old elf, Santa uses his Christmas magic to find all the good children of the world and leave them elf-made toys. Yay for Christmas morning! But he’s got a flip side – a holiday foil, if you will – who got lost in the Victorian age, which is where so many of our American Christmas traditions come from. Back in the day, it was believed that St. Nicholas could only concern himself with the good tots. He didn’t punish the bad boys and girls, instead leaving that unpleasant task to Krampus, who took his job seriously. Krampus would smack naughty children with switches and rusty chains, then drag them off to Hell in baskets. In a twisted way, this makes sense – you can’t appreciate being on the “good” list (yay! for toys and candy!) if there’s no corresponding “bad” list (boo! for being beaten with chains and dragged to hell, apparently in the proverbial handbasket).
Krampus can be seen to represent Sturgeon’s 90% – not only is the experience awful, it also heightens the rare times a jewel sparkles forth from the gunk and grime. Rather than talk to you about a sparkling “Ten Percent” jewel of a holiday movie, let’s instead look at something Krampus-worthy. Yes, this is going to hurt, but I’m doing it for your own good.
In 1964, for reasons that are probably best left unexplored, Jalor Productions used valuable film stock to capture an 81 minute Christmas movie that, among other sins, launched the career of Pia Zadora, who played a little Martian girl named Girmar. Perhaps if their maiden effort had been something even slightly better than Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (now called “SCCM”), Jalor would have made a second movie. Then again, some holes are simply too deep to climb out of and SCCM would be both the debut and the swan song of Jalor.
SCCM involves the adult inhabitants of Mars getting concerned that their children are watching too much Earth TV. Chochem, a Martian seer, explains that centuries of children being raised in the rigid Martian structure and having every trace of individuality stamped out has led to this generation of Martian children (including the aforementioned Pia Zadora) being distracted from their chores. What Mars needs, notes Chochem the seer (his name is Yiddish for “genius,” by the way) is a Santa Claus-like figure of jollification and fun. Therefore, the Martian leaders decide to go to Earth and kidnap Santa, but not knowing which Santa is the “real” one, they also use a robot who seems to be made from a refrigerator box to kidnap two children to point out the right fat fellow in the red suit.
Oh, and once the kids identify Santa, one Martian (Voldar, who seems like an inept Russian mobster at this point) considers murdering both the child witnesses and Santa, the better to protect the children of Mars from his wackadoodle influences. Hilarity ensues as Santa makes a toy factory on Mars, which the square grown-ups sabotage, but a goofy Martian named Dropo who has been hit by the Christmas bug starts acting like Santa, which gets him kidnapped and threatened. Ultimately, order is restored and Dropo becomes the Martian Santa and the Martian leaders agree to change their ways. Santa and the Earth kids get sent home in time for dinner.
Just how bad is SCCM? Oh, it’s bad. Sure, it features the first appearance of Mrs. Claus (beating out that character’s better-known appearance on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by three weeks), but the film’s story is hackneyed, the acting is wooden enough to be used as flooring, and the entire experience is only bearable because it clocks in at under an hour and a half. Beagles and other members of the hound family will howl at the horrific “Hooray for Santy Claus.” For the love of all that’s holy, in the credits “Costume Designer” is misspelled. If the Krampus was a movie executive, well – SCCM would make a whole lot more sense.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a fine example of the material that is not only not part of the Ten Percent, it’s unworthy to touch the hem of the Ten Percent’s garment. That’s why Ensley and I work to bring you only the best – it’s too easy to get lost in the wilderness out there. (By the way, you can find the whole movie online for free – no one cared enough to protect the copyright. That being said, I care about your well-being far too much to link it here. I would feel that I was contributing to your corruption as a human being. But I will link the title song, so hide your beagles!)
Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz are co-authors of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and of the forthcoming Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe (fall 2016). You can find Dale online at her blog unfetteredbrilliance.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @KDaleKoontz. Ensley hangs out atsolomonmaos.com and on Twitter as @EnsleyFGuffey.