Don't Open Till Christmas
The gift of terror that just won't wait.
Year of Release: 1984
Running Time: 86 minutes (1:26)
Director: Edmund Purdom
Edmund Purdom ... Inspector Harris
Alan Lake ... Giles
Belinda Mayne ... Kate
Mark Jones ... Detective Sergeant Powell
Gerry Sundquist ... Cliff Boyd
Kelly Baker ... 'Experience' Girl
Kevin Lloyd ... Gerry
It's Christmas time in London - the season of good will to all men. A time for celebration, a time for family, a time for presents. This year it's also the time for a masked maniac to be let loose on the streets. His intended victims are chosen at random - but they all have one thing in common: they are dressed in the flowing white beard and bright red robes of Santa Claus.
The killer selects different methods to fulfill his grisly task. One Santa has his throat cut, another is axed to death, a third is held face down in a red hot brazier, a fourth is castrated and left to bleed to death. The police are baffled as the horrific death toll rises. Fourteen corpses, and only three killing days left until Christmas.
Don't Open Till Christmas, remindin' us that everyone is entitled to death with dignity - so if you find yourself castrating obese men in a department store bathroom with a straight razor, please pull up his pants before the janitorial staff arrives. It's Christmas people - I really shouldn't hafta say this.
And speakin' of fat guys who leave the bathroom in a state unfit for civilized society, it's that time of year when we empty out our savins accounts so all our obnoxious coworkers and extended family members won't figure out that we can't stand bein' around 'em, and so this year I thought I'd take the opportunity to explain the true meanin' of Christmas. Which, best as I can tell, means doin' your best to help your fellow man; even when your fellow man's a 250lb Mexican Santa Claus who got dragged three miles into the wilds of Chickawalka County by a team of sled dogs who weren't in the mood for his Yuletide bullstuff.
I'll give 'im his due - Skunky Hernandez always goes all-out for Christmas. And even though most years it's only the Grime Time staff and a half dozen cars occupied by bitter single men whose wives left 'em for migrant ranch workers, Skunky drew a pretty good crowd this year on account of the corona borealis ruinin' everyone's holiday gatherins. Archie Winthrop nearly crashed his Cessna into the drive-in screen when he confused Skunky's lighting display for the runway out by Lake Gunkamucka, but other'n that everybody seemed to be havin' a good time.
Mosta the kids were content to pelt each other with snowballs while their folks fogged the windows in their rigs, and Juanita baked coupla hundred Nativity Scene cookies for the little misery monkeys (fortunately nobody noticed she'd bought the set that was recently recalled for not clearly definin' where the donkey begins and the Virgin Mary ends). Billy and me mostly just hung out on the deck of the projection booth arguin' about whether or not chicken nuggets constituted legitimate drive-in cuisine (they don't, just so we're clear, and Skunky oughta be ashamed of himself for puttin' 'em on the menu).
I didn't wanna be there to begin with, but Skunky won me over by FINALLY agreein' to let me show Don't Open Till Christmas as the second feature. That and he'd asked to borrow Apollo for some stunt he had planned and I didn't entirely trust 'im to return my dog in the same condition in which he was received without supervision.
Anyway, what happened was Skunky dressed up as Santa Claus, roped eight dogs together (apparently he'd convinced Cleave Furguson, Duke Tankersley, and five other suckers to lend 'im their pups too), rigged 'em up like reindeer, and had *planned* to pass out toys to the kids while the dogs pulled 'im between the rows of cars. Normally I'd disown the jackass for puttin' fake reindeer antlers on Apollo a la How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but I spoze he's prolly been punished enough at this point.
He meant well, the big dumbass, and he'd made it up through the third row of cars without incident, only he made the mistake of puttin' Duke's ole bloodhound, Gank, in the lead position on the left side, and when they got next to the southeast corner of the lot Gank picked up the scent of some hapless woodland creature who'd ventured too close to civilization and off he went; pullin' the other mutts and a confused, Spanish-screaming Santa Claus along with 'im.
Didn't even get to watch Don't Open Till Christmas on the outdoor screen like God intended. Instead, Duke, Cleave, and me all spent the next three hours drivin' around in Cleave's Bronco followin' sleigh tracks while Billy ran the projector until we finally came across Skunky unconscious next to a rock jack, and the dogs about a mile away raisin' hell at a raccoon they'd treed who was refusin' to come down and be eaten. So if my experience is any indication, I guess the true meanin' of Christmas must be thatcha gotta be there for people no matter how stupid they are. Cause even though God can be everywhere at once, there's only so much even He can put up with.
After we dumped Skunky off with Juanita, me and Apollo drove home to do a cautionary frostbite check on our toes and caught the exclusive reairin' of Don't Open Till Christmas live in my livin' room via VCR. Call me a traditionalist if you want, but I like it better when Santa's *doin'* the killin', and not just bein' on the receivin' end of a pig sticker operated by a David Hess look-alike. That ain't really fair to David Hess though, cause he knew how to direct a psycho-Claus and proved it when he made To All a Goodnight. But I guess when you consider Don't Open Till Christmas came outta England, circa 1984, we're lucky Mary Whitehouse let us see the goll durn thing at all. Not many Christmas slashers comin' from across the pond in those days, so this's gonna be a cultural experience for those of you who just woke up with a bucket of original recipe restin' on your crotches, and to prove the point, I've selected a few societal differences between us and our more civilized, if freedom-challenged cousins from across the pond to put you in the proper mindset. First, if your wealthy girlfriend forces you to perform demeaning flute solos in the London Subway for rent money you can be forgiven for duckin' into an alley with the milf on a shelf. Second, it's okay to launch your psycho kidnapper off a second story mezzanine - but only if you make crossies when you promise not to escape first. And third, England may be the only country where the B movie plots have smaller gaps than the actors' dentition.
The movie begins in an alley where Santa's in the backseat of his magic Volvo stuffin' the stocking of one of his naughty listers, cept while she's kissin' under the mistlechode some BBFC puritan with COPD pulls out a knife and wrecks their bowels and ends their jollies. Meanwhile, a buncha yuppies're at a British disco havin' a Christmas so white it'd make Bing Crosby cringe, til some Scrooge in cultist garb rams his holiday spear-it through another Santa Claus' cookie hole and humbuggers off before anybody knows what happened. This's the fourth or fifth time this's happened in the last 48 hours, so New Scotland Yard calls in the Dean from Pieces (Inspector Harris) and deputy douchebeard (Sgt. Powell) to get a handle on things, and they go interrogate the heiress to the Claus Estate (Kate) and her boyfriend (Cliff), but she swears she never wanted the responsibility and that if anybody knows somethin' about Santa's demise it's those cutthroats at Sears. Then another Santa gets his chestnuts roasted on a hobo fire and still another's skull gets blown off while Harris walks around South Kensington brooding and tryin' to figure out how he went from workin' private security for the Stones to this. While that's goin' on, Kate and Cliff're workin' corners in Soho tryin' to make a pound with woodwind covers of public domain Christmas tunes, until one of Cliff's skeevy friends (Gerry) shows up and invites 'em to his flat for tea and strumpets. Course Kate's one of those girls who's too stuck up to pose in the nude with another broad for an upcoming spread in Cheeks 'n Peaks the night after 'er father's been run through by a lunatic pikeman and splits. Then another Santa goes into a peep show booth in search of nookies and milk and gets stabbed in the carotid by a moral crusader with no respect for the performing arts.
While all this's been goin' on, Krug Stillo's body double keeps callin' up Sergeant Powell and showin' up unbidden in his office danglin' clues about the killer's identity and soliciting advice about where to buy a good afro comb, but Powell doesn't listen to 'im cause he's too hacked off at the prop master for refusin' to even get 'im a desk placard. Then a pack of europunk droogs steal a drunk Santa's Schwinn and chase 'im until he ducks into an underground Pagan sex dungeon where militant Atheists lie in wait with giant medieval pizza cutters lookin' to dole out season's beatings to any hapless symbols of Christmas cheer who may find their way in. Course by this point the police commissioner's all over Harris like snot rockets on a Salvation Army bellringer, and Harris gets so fed up with all the bullstuff rollin' downhill that he goes to the Christmas Bazaar to buy trinkets for the administrative staff while the bobbies prod the boobies from the peep show for information. Unfortunately the bra shucker can't positively ID the weirdo cause he's wearin' a Ronald Reagan mask from Dollar General, so Powell tells 'er to harness 'er hooters and lay low awhile. That ain't gonna work though, cause she needs the jack to pay for breast implants so she can get in on some of that British politician sex Billy Joel was singin' about and blackmail the Speaker in the House of Commons, and so she goes back to 'er pubicle where the psycho's waitin' an he busts through the glass and chains 'er up in his basement for wearin' a leather miniskirt with a 2X t-shirt. She doesn't realize it but this is for her own good, cause in this business you need to either to be the girl-next-door or the cruel dominatrix; not this wishy-washy in-between stuff.
Then the guy goes after a pub-hoppin' Santa who sneaks into a recordin' studio where Caroline Munro's tryin' to pivot to a singin' career so she'll have somethin' to fall back on when 'er rack finally loses its five star sexy rating, and the old rummy completely ruins the set after bein' massacred on a trap door platform that rises up in the middle of the song and leaks vital fluids all over the stage. You've gotta admire the way all these guys refuse to let the tradition of the downtrodden, alcoholic Santa Claus die just because a nut with a Kringle vendetta's on the loose. You'd think after knockin' off more old fat guys than Joe Camel and Crisco put together the guy'd get tired of it, but then he sneaks into the loo at the mall and castrates another one when the poor schmuck goes in to drain his candy cane and completely ruins any chance of the janitorial staff gettin' home in time to watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians with the kids. Then Kate goes to dinner with Harris and when she gets home Jerk Frost is waitin' on 'er and tells 'er all about how he broke outta the quack shack and went on a murder spree to ensure his brother (Harris) has job security and stabs 'er to death even though there's still 13 minutes of movie left and as far as I could tell she was the protagonist. It's gonna take a Miracle on 42nd Street to tie up all these loose ends, but I'd at least stick around for the flashback sequence where a stair tumble leads to a lifetime of regret for the actress who hadn't bothered to shave 'er pits since 1968.
How'd ya like to be the editor tryin' to make a movie outta that mayhem salad? Gallant effort for sure, but it's pretty clear the crew never got around to filmin' the pickup shots necessary to make sense outta this thing. The star, Edmund Purdom (he of Pieces fame), agreed to do the flick under the condition he also get to direct it, and rarely has there been such a clear cut case of "be careful what you wish for" as Don't Open Till Christmas. The movie took almost two years to complete after Purdom abandoned his directorial duties, and it seems as though nobody really knew what was in the can when eventual director Ray Selfe (who also edited) was hired on to finish filming. You'd think the editor would have a better idea than anyone with regard to what scenes were needed to tie everything together, but one can imagine that after such a lengthy period of time it may well have been impossible to get some of the actors back to tie up the loose ends. The missing segues are bad enough, but I think what really makes this flick such a mess is the fact that it lacks a clear point-of-view or even a definitive protagonist. If anybody out there knows who the heck the protagonist is in this thing send me an email, cause as far as I can tell the killer seems the most likely just based upon the fact that we spend more time with him than anybody else. Edmund Purdom (Harris), Belinda Mayne (Kate), and Gerry Sundquist (Powell) all get roughly equal screen time, and are each gifted with the same lack of character development. As if that isn't confusing enough, they kill the front runner (Kate) with almost fifteen minutes left in the flick, reveal the killer's identity in what had, up to that point, been a whodunit, and finish the movie with a flashback that doesn't do anything to explain the killer's vendetta against Harris, and a resolution to the peep show girl subplot that has fuck-all to do with anything. The whodunit aspect is where the pooch really gets screwed here, cause for a whodunit to work you've gotta have functional set pieces, clues that make sense in hindsight, and maybe even a plot twist or two if you really wanna show off your writing chops, and these guys just weren't up to the task. The movie should have been a simple slasher flick set at Christmas, cause you don't have to have your stuff together to make a slasher. Slashers don't have to be smart to be enjoyable; whodunits do. And Don't Open Till Christmas has all the wit of an Old Navy ad constructed from Youtube comments.
I promise not to sugarcoat things so much going forward, so let's tape this thing back up and start lookin' for the nearest Goodwill box. The plot, as previously mentioned, is missing some of those bothersome things like character motivation, narrative flow, and any real sense of time, but other than that it's pretty good. I suppose the short version is it's one of those "stuff happens" flicks where the filmmakers're just rapid firing gore at you hoping you won't notice there's no rhyme nor reason to anything. Characters disappear without explanation (the boyfriend, Cliff, is arrested off screen, then released by the police never to be seen again) others live contrary to their established backstory (Kate and Cliff basically panhandle despite Kate's father having been extremely wealthy), and the killer hates his brother because... he saw a guy in a Santa suit boffing a chick at Christmas... of course! It all makes sense now. Thanks for that. The acting, strangely, is actually decent, and is the movie's one redeeming factor. Purdom is alright in his typical by-the-numbers authority figure role, Belinda Mayne is fine as the distressed damsel moving from one scene to the next with essentially zero impact on the story progression, and Alan Lake is pretty good as the nutbar sociopath as well. The supporting cast is even competent, if not especially inspiring - unfortunately they had an absolutely asinine script from which to work, and nobody on set with the experience to realize things had gone sideways.
Here's who matters and why (besides the immortal Hammer scream queen, Caroline Monroe, of course): Edmund Purdom (Pieces, Absurd, The Rift, 2019: After the Fall of New York, Ator the Fighting Eagle, Nightmare City, The Night Child, Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff, The Devil's Lover), Belinda Mayne (Krull, Alien 2: On Earth), Mark Jones (The Empire Strikes Back, The Medusa Touch, The Girl from Planet Venus), Gerry Sundquist (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982), Kelly Baker (Slaughter High), Kevin Lloyd (Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, Link, Britannia Hospital), Nicholas Donnelly (Lifeforce, Venom), Laurence Harrington (Afraid of the Dark), Derek Ford (Blood Tracks), Dick Randall (Slaughter High, The Mad Butcher), Keith Smith (Body Snatchers).
This flick was the last for several of its cast members, but a couple did live to act another day, and they are as follows: Nicholas Donnelly (Mr. MacKenzie on Grange Hill, Sgt. Willis on Dixon of Dock Green), and Keith Smith (Dick Alderbeach on The Newcomers).
The special effects are plentiful, if only occasionally effective. The blood is too vibrant, and while you can complain about the gouged eyeball and cheesy spear through the mouth, I think it's important to consider how boring the movie would be if every death was nothing more than a few stab wounds to the torso, and accept that even though they're not great effects - an effort was made to do more than the minimum. The fried facial makeup is alright, the axe to the head is fair (and thoroughly gooey), and the dummy falling from the balcony is actually pretty convincing, so I'm gonna give 'em a little credit here on the special effects work. The shooting locations aren't especially convincing representations, particularly the police station interiors that could be just about any type of office ranging from a CPA's office to a law firm. I'm not sure what the dance club was temporarily converted from, but it's far too small to be make a convincing club, and the same goes for the scene alleged to take place at a circus. There is, however, one *very* interesting location, and that's the London Dungeon, which is a tourist attraction set up like a carnival funhouse cranked up to 11 depicting "the capital's most perilous past." The Dungeon remains open to this day and provides the backdrop for one of the flick's better scenes, and frankly, is too good for this movie. The exteriors are better, and provide contrast between the upscale areas of London proper, and the seedier areas where the murders typically take place. It's not as gritty and disgusting as 1980s NYC or Chicago, but the nighttime scenes on the streets do provide some much needed atmosphere and a mild sense of menace largely missing from the rest of the flick.
The soundtrack is a series of half-assed synth tracks with minor similarities to Halloween, but with none of its imagination, suspense, or catchiness. It was the composer's only musical contribution to date, and adds virtually no atmosphere or intrigue of any kind. Don't Open Till Christmas's only musical appeal comes in the form of Hammer scream queen, Caroline Monro, singing "I'm Coming to Get You," which is a strange mashup of disco and British new wave. I have no idea if that's actually her singing, but it seems a pretty random thing to stage if not, and if so, she's not a bad singer. Overall, Don't Open Till Christmas probably shouldn't be opened ever. It's an unfinished, unfocused wreck of a movie that jumps from one murder to the next with no real narrative structure or indication there's someone in charge guiding it to a conclusion. I'd only recommend it to Christmas Horror completionists, and even they will likely regret it.