Newest Review: ... inevitable 'why he hates Santa' flashback is an ungodly mess. The acting is quite staggeringly bad. Edmond Purdom was a British actor whos... more
Hear those slay bells jingle jangle
Don't Open 'Til Christmas (DVD)
Member Name: hogsflesh
Don't Open 'Til Christmas (DVD)
Advantages: Very funny
Disadvantages: Very bad
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.
Summary: A risible Christmas horror movie