Now That’s What I Call Kino #15 – The Original Christmasploitation Genre

Christmas movies are an easy cash grab, let’s not lie to ourselves. You can make a quick buck at the box office or become a cult classic that is shown every December until the end of time. It’s an easy way to create a franchise too (ala Nativity series) and Christmas films themselves are relatively cheap to make. It explains why our TV channels are inundated with Hallmark Christmas Movies to watch, but before this era of Christmasploitation, cheaply made films exploiting Christmas traditions, scenery etc., there was another type of low-budget Christmas film that blossomed throughout the 50s and 60s.

Shot in cheap studios abroad or abandoned aircraft hangers, these movies looked to focus on Father Christmas himself, rather than white couples comprised of a city girl and suburban gent. Santa has one job though, and works for one day a year, so there are little opportunities to expand his story somewhat. So like any great studio you get the writers to think of innovative concepts, like Santa Claus having to battle a demon sent by the devil himself to turn the children of Earth evil. Santa Claus (1959) doesn’t just stop there though; Santa’s grotto is no longer located in the North Pole, but in outer space, with dozens of children standing motionless whilst performing carols. Santa is now a god-like figure, standing above these segregated and culturally inappropriate children representing different countries. He plays his piano joyfully, confiding within his best friend Merlin the Wizard on how to save Christmas from Lucifer. It’s weird. It defies explanation. And its absolutely terrifying presence is irreversible when hand-drawn puppets come to life, haunting various children in their dreams. At the end it’s less Santa and more a man dressed in red spandex and face paint whispering into people’s ears – the true meaning of Christmas indeed.

Santa holds a puppet figure of Pitch, the devil.
Santa Claus (1959). Image Courtesy of IMDb.

But whilst these films were a dime a dozen, they also broke new ground in Christmas film lore. Another cult classic, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), is the first film to feature Mrs. Claus alongside her tubby hubby. It’s fairly apt from the title alone that this is no White Christmas (1954). In similar fashion to Hallmark in picking ideas out of a hat, this time Santa is kidnapped by Martians who are jealous of Santa and want their own jolly fellow to deliver presents to the children of Mars. Shot in a grand scheme of two weeks, the attention to detail is evident with the TV antennae and smudged green face point being enough to separate the Martians from regular human beings. Whilst many others have been lost or just kicked to the curb, these two have become the most renowned cult classics for Christmas b-movies. Also, thanks to appearances on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, they have their own fan bases, watch-a-thons and so forth. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians alone has had a comic book adaptation, a musical and at one point had rumours of a remake featuring Jim Carrey.

So if you’re bored of Macaulay Culkin this Christmas and want to watch some brain-melting TV movies that aren’t just white heterosexual couples, then these are just a sample of a genre that is too comical to miss out on.

Header Image Courtesy of Den of Geek.