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Don't Open 'Til Christmas (DVD)

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      17.12.2012 11:11
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      A risible Christmas horror movie

      A film only review. The best option for buying this is probably the Mondo Macabro DVD, currently about £14 on amazon.

      This is one of the worst horror films I've ever seen. It is possibly the most abominable Christmas film ever made. But it would be a very boring world if every film was a bland, slick, well-produced piece of Hollywood product. I for one am grateful that no-hoper directors were chugging out pap like this for indifferent exploitation producers who were probably more interested in the poster than the actual film. This is actually a lot of fun if you approach it in the right frame of mind.

      There are quite a few slasher films featuring killer Santas (well, three or four). This one, from 1984, is, to the best of my knowledge, the only slasher film to feature a killer who preys almost exclusively on Santa (or guys dressed up as him). Guys in Santa suits are being bumped off left right and centre. The police, led by Gordon Brown-lookalike Inspector Harris, are getting nowhere. Cryptic tip-offs come from a mysterious journalist called Giles, while suspicion falls on Cliff. He's a tragically 80s wideboy who is dating Kate, whose father was one of the many victims of the Santa killer. Cliff is certainly obnoxious enough to be the killer, but that probably means he's a red herring in a film like this. Crazily, he is a flautist. A flautist with attitude!

      The film is an absolutely wretched piece of work. It had the classic troubled production. The star, Edmund Purdom, also directed it. It seems he was then removed from the director's chair, and a number of other directors had a go at finishing the film off. One of them was apparently Alan Birkinshaw, the director of the legendary British sleazefest Killer's Moon. Multiple directors are not conducive to success, and it's a miracle the film is as borderline-coherent as it is. The end result has plot strands that go nowhere, and the final reveal is garbled - not of who the killer is, you'll have figured that out long before the end, but the inevitable 'why he hates Santa' flashback is an ungodly mess.

      The acting is quite staggeringly bad. Edmond Purdom was a British actor whose Hollywood career fizzled out. He moved to Italy and appeared in a load of trashy exploitation flicks, including at least one video nasty (Absurd) and the legendary rubbish slasher movie Pieces. He just seems lost as the inspector, carrying out some vague, avuncular flirting with Kate, but never breaking a sweat or seemingly giving a hoot about the investigation. This in spite of his job apparently being on the line. We hear about an 'Assistant Commissioner' who's giving him a hard time (betraying the script's US origin, I guess), but we never see the guy. If a film can't even be bothered to hire an actor to yell at the main detective, you know you're in trouble.

      His assistant, Sgt Powell, isn't much better, and flounces around in a ludicrous hat. At least he shouts at people once in a while. Kate is like an 80s version of Emily Maitlis, but never comes across as a woman who has just seen her Santa-clad father murdered before her very eyes. Cliff is a repellent 80s knob, and Giles (played by the only other actor you might have heard of, Alan Lake) is so obviously sleazy and suspicious you immediately assume he must be the killer. Actually, fans of The Bill will recognise Kevin Lloyd, who played Tosh Lines. He plays a magnificently seedy photographer. He hopes to persuade Kate to pose in a sexy Santa outfit and lez out with his topless model about two days after her dad has been murdered. That's the kind of quality sleazing that you don't get nearly enough of these days, and he should be in the film for longer than he is.

      It is a pretty grotty movie, despite being a rare slasher flick that features more male than female victims. The first Santa we see die is making out with his girlfriend in the back of a Volvo, and naturally the killer has to kill her too. An almost naked female Santa is menaced for quite a while with a cutthroat razor. Another Santa visits a rather unlikely looking peepshow. They keep the variety of Santas reasonably high, including the afore mentioned female Santa and a black Santa (oh the hilarity!). The methods used to despatch the unfortunate Fathers Christmas are less varied, with most of them succumbing to cheap-looking stabbings. One Santa has his old chap cut off while he's having a pee, though, which I guess is pretty funny.

      Whether this is intentionally funny or not is uncertain - with a film so messy it's difficult to see any real guiding spirit behind it. If Alan Birkinshaw was involved, I'd guess at least some of it was meant to be funny, as Killer's Moon is obviously at least partly trying to make us laugh. The killer at one point uses Rosa-Kleb-style knife-shoes to kick one unlucky Santa in the balls, which is kind of funny. Another Santa gets chased down the street by angry punks after he drunkenly gives them the finger (punks in 1984? This kind of thing always happens when middle aged, unhip filmmakers try to depict youth culture - they end up at least five years out of date).

      But a lot of what makes this film so funny is completely unintentional. When you've noticed Edmund Purdom's resemblance to Gordon Brown, it's impossible to take any of his scenes seriously. Just when you think things can't possibly get any stupider, we're treated to exploitation perennial Caroline Munro singing a pop song, apropos of nothing. She isn't in the rest of the film, she just turns up, sings a completely forgettable 80s synth-pop ditty, and then disappears, never to be mentioned again. Was she trying to relaunch her career as a pop star? She needed better material if so. Toni Basil was about the same age as Munro, and had a vague exploitation movie background, so I guess it could have happened if someone had found her a good song.

      The dialogue is abominable, and not helped by the acting, which looks a lot like most of the performers are just trying to remember their lines, rather than actually act them. My favourite line was from Cliff, when the sexy lady Santa was coming onto him (I say 'sexy'. I'm being generous). He sees two policemen coming their way, and blurts out "They'll think we're a couple of gays!" before running off into the night.

      It's the kind of film where the police decide on their suspect early on and then refuse to change their minds even when he obviously can't be the person who did it - the ultimate lazy plot device. A Santa is killed by a spear in a fancy dress disco and no one sees who did it (although they think it's the guy who came as a shrunken head - how on earth do you dress as a shrunken head, as opposed to just a head?) Characters who are trapped somehow always manage to get through locked doors without explanation, just to prolong chase scenes. The main cop gets a package marked 'Don't Open Till Christmas' but doesn't even look at the label on it - which might have been a good idea, as it happens. In the opening credits, 'Don't' is spelled without an apostrophe. Clearly, this is not a film that cares whether we're impressed.

      The only good thing in it is the extensive location filming around London. It's 80s London, so not quite as cool as some London horror movies, but at least there's plenty of footage. They've even filmed the rotating sign outside Scotland Yard (we see it a lot). It doesn't look cold most of the time, and characters aren't really wearing convincing winter gear, but it captures some wintery ambience anyway. One Santa runs into the London Dungeon (in the middle of the night, it's apparently not locked) and we get a good scene showing off what were presumably the real exhibits there (old-style chamber of horrors stuff, mostly, but fun and evocative of a cheaper, seedier style of entertainment than we get nowadays).

      Whether that - and the general hilarity of the film's many cock-ups - is enough to spark your interest is up to you, really. As a novelty horror idea it's pretty lousy (it's hard to be scared of someone who only kills people dressed as Santa Claus, unless you happen to be dressed as Santa Claus yourself while watching. I wasn't). Personally, I enjoyed this rather more than it really deserves, but that's unlikely to be true of everyone.

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      • More +
        14.02.2009 00:50
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        Poor Christmas Slasher

        This has been sitting in my pile of unwatched DVDs for ages and I've just not been inclined to watch. First of all a Christmas themed horror film doesn't sound like a great idea to me, apparently Black Christmas is good but I'm not convinced yet. The cover is unattractive and the whole shebang just looks a bit terrible. Putting it off to Christmas was the excuse I gave myself such is my split personality but Christmas came and went and next Christmas is drawing near so I thought I'd watch this to just get rid of it.

        Made in 1984 it is a mystery/thriller/slasher film directed by Edmund Purdom.
        The film starts and a man dressed like Santa Claus meets his girlfriend down a back alley and lures her into the back of his car but they are disturbed in their "romancing" by a weird figure looking in through the window accompanied by music far too similar to the Jaws theme. When Santa dresser confronts this guy he is stabbed with what is quite clearly one of those knifes with a blade that retracts into the handle.

        We then have this really cheap looking opening scene that was alright actually. It had music similar to that played by my mum's Christmas tree lights but made slightly creepier, played whilst a plastic figure of Santa burnt slowly.

        Then there's a Christmas party and honestly one of the most depressing looking parties I've ever seen. Everyone is wearing stupid Halloween costumes for some reason and Santa Claus is about to give a speech before he is brutally murdered. His daughter, Kate, is distraught and calls the police. The police on the team are Sergeant Powell and Inspector Harris. Harris is played by Edmund Purdom the director of the film and half famous actor. They seem very keen to blame Kate's boyfriend who is a bit of an asshole.

        The killer kills a few more Santa Claus' and the police seem to put a whole lot of hope on any information Kate can give them for some reason. They try to work it out, Kate does some of her own investigating and a reporter also turns up trying to work out who the killer is.

        This film is absolutely terrible. I was genuinely bored throughout. First of all my major problem was I just didn't care. The director seemed to be indecisive as to whether he was making a slasher/horror film or a mystery/thriller film. The mystery side was dull and really didn't feed the audience enough. The police officers seemed to be incompetent and without and police-esque talents what so ever. You were never given any red herrings, never any clues or anything you just watched and waited. I mean I watched Scream yesterday as well and it really highlighted how weak this film was. Scream is a great example of a slasher film that is also a mystery film, Don't Open 'til Christmas is at the other end of the spectrum. The identity of the killer was actually really obvious I mean who else could it had have been. Let me think who's the killer? Is it maybe the mysterious guy who seems to have no other point in the film?

        The story was horrendous and full of little annoying bits. Every time a Santa Claus was killed they would usually be chased for about 10 minutes first and this just felt really drawn out and pointless. It wasn't scary, it wasn't adding to the plot. You knew they were going to die, they were usually characters we hadn't yet met and we just knew they were going to die there was no need for the crappy chase scenes. At one point a Santa victim goes into a peep show booth and talks to the stripper for about 10 minutes before being killed and you just wonder why? What was the point in that? It did make me think that I would probably rather die than go into a peep show booth. I think if you go into a peep show booth you've entered the abyss, you're now Travis Bickle and you're gonna have to shoot your way out. Another scene is drawn out, as whilst the Santa is running about we also see scenes of Caroline Munro singing. (Does she have any fans?). The film was clearly one of those exploitation films that likes to creep as much nudity in as it can. In this case for some reason Kate's boyfriend takes her to a photographer friend of his and tries to convince her to pose naked, like a model already there who seems to be wearing cello tape. What's so stupid about this is that a major plot point is that Kate is now extremely rich after her father died. His trying to convince her on the grounds that it would be a quick 50 doesn't make sense. His follow up argument is just as poignant "Oh come on, we're here now, you might as well.". It's also one of those films that goes on even after it should have by all rights ended. Not a well directed film it was Purdom's one and only attempt and thank god for it. There was one scene in the killer's lair that was quite dark and sinister and showing only his mouth in silhouette as he talked was particularly good (he sounded like Shredder from TMNT) but overall terrible. The ending was also a let down. There was a weird nightmarish scene at the end when the killer reminisced explaining his motives and I think that was, albeit, unintentionally the scariest scene in the film. The motive wasn't very good. Ending was just bad and unrealistic, I don't want to say what happens but if you see it you just think no way that could have happened.

        The special effects weren't great. The killing scenes all looked really amateur and the make-up effects of the mutilated all looked really fake. It's also one of those bright red unrealistic blood using films.

        The acting was to be fair not terrible. Purdom seemed to be trying to be like Gregory Peck to me. Everything about him said Gregory Peck. He had a Peck voice and wore Peck clothes and even moved in a Peck way.

        Musically the film was pretty bad. It had one really cool The Jam sounding track whilst the guy was on a motorbike but generally we had this horribly monotonous synth beat and some dull sounding second rate Christmas carols.

        So what good points were there? One, I learned that people who work as Santa Claus usually have very seedy lives and hang out in very seedy places. So you know...if I ever need to hunt one down I'll know where to go. Why would I need to hunt one down? What are you making me talk about?

        Overall, I wasn't impressed and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. First of all there's the very principal. You can't make a horror film with a Christmas theme. It's just wrong. It was like a really long but crap episode of Taggart. Definitely not worth the money. It seems to a little better known than most crappy horror films etc as it was produced by the semi-legendary Dick Randall but I think this film should be shunted forever.

        Certification

        This film is an 18 for some gruesome but unrealistic murder scenes and a fair bit of nudity. She's not a very attractive woman if that makes a difference, I don't know why but it might do. Seems like it should

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        • More +
          15.02.2002 16:53
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          Cliff Boyd (Gerry Sundquist) and his girlfriend Kate Briovski (Belinda Mayne) become entangled in a spree of Yuletide murders when a masked man bursts intro their Christmas party and is angered that Kate's Father is dressed as Father Christmas and proceeds to insert an object through his head. When two detectives turn up (played by director Edmund Purdom and porn star Mark Jones) they inform Kate its because he was dressed as Santa and there been a lot of these murders recently. The next day we find out that Cliff and Kate are buskers and while busy playing they meet up with Cliff's friend Gerry (Kevin Lloyd - The Bill!), who is a porn director. He invites them back to his house for tea, but when they arrive its made clear that he wants Kate and his female friend Sharon (Pat Astley) to go to the bedroom for some filmed girl in girl action. Kate is offended and storms out but Cliff hangs around, eventually Cliff leaves and Sharon (Now dressed in a Santa costume) follows him and makes a pass at him outside the house. He rejects her and because she flashes her assets at him, the police chase them and Sharon ends up down a dark alley face to face with the masked man. The masked him isn't as offended at women dressed up as Santa as he is with men and just plays with her, using his knife, he then runs away and Sharon is caught by the police. The police then head off looking to find out who the masked man is and why he doesn't like Santa Claus so much. Don't open Till Christmas always feels like a rushed botch job, but is surprising to find out it took two years to make, mainly because credited director and star of the film Edmund Purdom made such a mess of the film that they hired screenwriter Derek Ford to finish it off, but he was eventually fired as well. In the end the job went to editor Ray Selfe, who got most the cast back in and refilmed a lot of footage and changed then ending from the original script. The resulting film means
          that much of the film and the characters actions don't make any sense, no doubt the explaining parts are on the cutting room floor, even the narration is cut and jumbled around often making no sense and characters drift into the film and then out without us even finding out what happened to them, some we find out are dead, as we see this as the headline on a newspaper in the film. The acting here is terrible, but what would you expect for a horror movie made in England and starring lots of porn stars. Gerry Sundquist is sleazy as Cliff and for the main hero of the film his character is not likeable at all, not really a good start. Belinda Mayne as Kate is a decent looking lady, but her character is annoying and whiny, hurry up and die please. Director and detective Edmund Purdom is laughable as the brooding cop, he mumbles his way through the script and walks around with his head down as if being dark and mysterious would add to his performance. Pat Astley as Sharon isn't in very long but makes an impression, or should I say her breasts make an impression, she uses them to act. Directing by Edmund Purdom, or whoever out of the three directors was filming that part, is terrible. All three directors have different styles and you can tell when a different director does each scene, but they all have one thing in common they cant direct. Some scenes are so dark you can't see what is going on; other scenes are just there for porn actresses to show us their stuff. There are some good death scenes, but its easy to see that these were just added in by the studio at a later date to make it more appealing, none of these scenes contain any of the main characters and just have random people n Santa costumes getting killed, I doubt the killer is the actual actor either as they make it so you cant see him very well. Its also funny to look in the end credits which lists each Santa that dies, Dungeon Santa, Drunken Santa, Market Santa, etc there is a w
          hole long list of them. The biggest star of the film is the New Scotland Yard sign, every time director Edmund Purdom's detective is on the screen he must walk past this sign first. Screenwriter Derek Ford also had a big background in porn movies and it shows here, the film is full of erotic moments and lots of nudity and three of the starts, Mark Jones, Alan Lake and Patrica Astley, all worked with Ford in his early porn movies. After Ford was sacked as director they brought in Al McGoohan to give the script a one over, his new scenes are easy to spot as they stick out so much, one being a murder that takes place at the London Dungeon Wax Works Museum, that seems to be one long advert for the attraction and even features an entire tour around it. Maniac star Caroline Munro turns up to sing and her part was apparently filmed in one day, she filmed this while she was still on TV's 3-2-1, would Dusty Bin approve? The film was original schedule to come out in 1982 but with all the delays it was eventually released in 1985, which was bad for it as the Video Nasty argument was still in full force. The censors didn't take kindly to the sight of Santa's being killed and especially one scene where a Santa taking a wiz is castrated but go down to well with the BBFC. The video was eventually released but it had all the blood and gore scenes sliced out and there was no point in watching it at all, This was the first version I ever seen and put me off watching it again till now, I wish I hadn't bothered. The film also has a bit off a curse running through it, star Alan Ford shot himself in 1984 before the film had even been released, Gerry Sundquist's career never really recovered and he killed himself in 1993. Derek Ford eventually died from a heart attack in 1995 and Dick Randall died of a stroke a year later in 1996. Both Kevin Lloyd (as I kind of mentioned before Tosh in The Bill) and Ray Selfe also passed away; the other surviving
          cast members never really did anything of note again. Don?t Open Till Christmas is probably the worst Christmas themed horror film ever, its even worse than both the films named Jack Frost. The whole filmed is rushed and the ending just comes out of nowhere and ends, it looks like they rushed it and I have to thank they for getting it finished so quick, there is also a speed up chase scene that looks just like the chase scene from Benny Hill, but instead of ladies it's a drunk Santa getting chased by punks. For people wondering why its called Don't Open Till Christmas, there is a scene where a guy ingnores this advice on a present and you can imagine what happens next. It shouldn't be that hard to avoid this film as its quite hard to find, its very hard to find an uncut copy in the UK but the US video available from Amazon.com is. It's also been on the Sci-fi channel before but that was more cut then the BBFC had forced and was a laughable mess.

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