4 Cult Christmas Movies to Confuse the Whole Family

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Santa Claus stands with two children and two people dressed as green alien beings.
A heartwarming moment from ’Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.’

Every winter, scores upon scores of schmaltzy seasonal movies get spewed upon the public in an opportunistic deluge that rarely results in anything memorable. This year, there were at least 170 (!) and all of them — every single one — were aimed at the broadest (blandest?) possible audience. Meaning: They were boring.

For those of us who want Christmas movies that don't revolve around (a) romance, (b) coming home to a small town after living a big city, or (c) saving a local business, viewing options are few and far between. Which is why this year, I decided to lean into a few Christmas movies from bygone years that are so bizarre, you’ll wonder what your eggnog’s been spiked with.

Even better? All are available to stream for free. Hold onto your shelf elf!

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Promotional green, white and red poster advertising 'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.' It features a rocket in the center, Santa and human children on the left and alien children and one adult on the right.
Aliens from Mars use laundry baskets too, you know.

Before we get into it, I should probably mention that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is one of the worst movies ever made. You will marvel, throughout its 80 minutes, that people agreed to be in it and that entire teams of presumably rational humans worked on it.

Why am I telling you to watch it then? Because this is a sci-fi period piece that also happens to be as child-friendly as it is excellent fodder for a drinking game. (Drink every time someone fake-laughs at one of Santa’s “jokes”! Drink every time you notice weird, thinly veiled sexism! Drink throughout the last 10 minutes lest you feel like you’re on a bad acid trip!)


Some background: The extraterrestrials in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians are from Mars, they have green food coloring all over their faces, poorly constructed antennas on their helmets and they have names like Dropo and Lady Momar. This advanced, unjustifiably snooty species is in possession of a variety of alien accoutrements including “the tickling ray,” “sleep spray” and “retro rockets.” Despite this, their kids are depressed, refusing to eat and sitting around watching human TV all day, much to the chagrin of their food-pill-popping parents.

Concerned, Kimar, leader of the martians, consults with an 800-year-old sage named Chochem who tells them they need “a Santa Claus” to cheer up the kids. So the martians head to Earth, kidnap two children (named Billy and Betty because: 1964), fly to the North Pole and try to hunt Santa down. There are very low-budget encounters with a polar bear and a robot named Torg, as well as a brilliantly terrible slow-motion karate chop fight.

(L) A human dressed as a polar bear. (R) A very primitive, 1960s-era robot.
Hi-tech special effects from the 1960s courtesy of ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.’. ('Santa Conquers the Martians.')

Other things happen. Everything is low stakes. Weird, aggressively soundtracked sections promoting the U.S. military occur. At one point Santa mourns the advent of automation. (He's super into child labor, you see.) Oh, and the theme song is a banger.

You can watch this car crash, in its entirety, below. It is quaint and your children will laugh at it for all the wrong reasons.


Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)

A human dressed like a white rabbit, behind the wheel of a car, being cheered on by three children cheering him on from the back seat.
The Easter Bunny from this Christmas movie, arriving to eat your soul.

The premise of this one is that Santa winds up trapped on a beach in Florida (the horror!) because his reindeers couldn’t take the literal heat and bailed on him. After talk-singing like a booze-fueled William Shatner, Santa responds to his predicament by luring random children to his side, Pied Piper style. (Nothing creepy about that at all.)

The kids bring a variety of animals to see if they can pull the sleigh, including a mule, a hog, a sheep, a cow, a horse and a human man wearing a gorilla suit. When everything fails, rather than make any effort whatsoever to get his sleigh back to the North Pole, Santa decides to sit around and tell the children stories instead. What follows is a quietly sinister rendition of Thumbelina, that includes terrifying mole people and — oh good! — a child marriage.

Once the (frankly astounding) movie-within-a-movie is over, back on the beach, a giant white rabbit shows up, roaring up in a giant red car full of kids. (This movie stands as a testament to the lackadaisical attitude towards parental supervision that ran amok during the 1970s.) The rabbit is in possession of all of the comforting charisma of Frank, the man-sized bunny from Donnie Darko. He pledges to get Santa home in his car and ... that's it. That's the end.

If you only watch one of the unhinged Christmas movies on this list, make it this one:


Santa Claus (1959)

A promotional movie poster that shows a painting of Santa alongside a photo of a live action Santa arguing with a man dressed like the devil and covered in red body paint.
And now: A 'Santa Claus' movie that has absolutely nothing to do with Tim Allen.

If you’ve ever wondered who would win in a fight between Santa and Satan (their names are similar), then this is the movie for you!

In this one, Santa lives in a crystal palace on a cloud floating above the North Pole. He laughs all of the time, prompted by nothing at all, like Laughing Sal or a serial killer. His sweatshop workshop is inhabited by children from around the world who are forced to wear official national dress to work every day, and sing in the languages of their homelands every time Santa (the tyrant) plays a white organ.

One day, a toy that looks like Satan shows up in the workshop. Naturally, Santa sets it on fire. This sends a signal to a whole army of dancing devils down in hell. Satan then sends one of them up to Earth to defeat Santa and try to get random children to do evil deeds. (One of the kids chucks a rock at Santa's forehead and it is genuinely hilarious.)

In the battle between Santa and Satan, remarkably it’s Santa that ends up looking like the bigger creep most of the time. All the devil does is sabotage chimneys and tell kids to steal things. Santa, on the other hand, has a bunch of invasive monitoring equipment in his workshop, including a “teletalker that knows everything” and a machine that can see inside small children’s dreams. (WHAT.) At one point, Santa fires an arrow into the devil’s butt. By the time Santa has the cops called on him for breaking into people’s houses, it kinda feels justified.

Could the filmmakers have worked a bit harder on the movie title? Sure. Could they have made the devil a little bit more evil? Absolutely. Could we have avoided an entire sequence where a small girl stands in a sea of dry ice surrounded by life-size dancing dolls wearing masks of terror? One would think. But this Mexican classic is still more entertaining than anything that came out on Hallmark this year.

You can watch Santa Claus in full below:


The Magic Christmas Tree (1964)

A young boy of about 12 stands next to Santa Claus and a tinsel-covered tree.
A boy, a Santa and a magic Christmas tree. Must be ‘The Magic Tree’!

Mark is a young boy with the same energy as a middle-aged father of four who works in construction. One day, he makes the fateful decision to go and visit an elderly woman who’s rumored to be a witch. (She’s wearing a grey wig and her cat is named Lucifer, so ... foregone conclusion.)

After falling down and hitting his head, Mark wakes up and the world is suddenly in color, Wizard of Oz-style. The witch gives him a magic ring with a seed inside it that enables Mark to grow a magic tree that will grant him three wishes.

One night, Mark’s entire family leaves him unattended (because: 1960s), so he goes outside and has a chat with the sexually ambiguous talking tree that sprang up moments after he planted it. Soon, Mark acquires magic powers that he uses out on the street for hijinks and chaos. (Weirdly, some of the people involved in said chaos appear to be driving the ice cream bunny’s giant red car. Coincidence?) Then Mark makes Santa Claus come over and bogarts him, preventing him from visiting other kids' houses for the rest of the night. This, for some reason, really aggravates a giant. (And no, it doesn’t make any sense in the movie either...)

There are consequences, lessons and probably a mild concussion involved — which contributes to the feeling of being hit over the head repeatedly while watching it.

If you get all the way through this one, you probably deserve three wishes of your own:

Merry Christmas, weirdos!