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Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
20th Dec 11
Gor berlimey, guv’nor, it’s only a bleedin’ nutter cuttin’ up blokes dressed as ol’ Saint Nick!
Given how tacky Christmas has become and given the fact that all of us, by around December 27th have turned into embittered old bastards*, it seems only natural that one of the finest festive movies is the awesomely tacky and mean-spirited Don’t Open Til Christmas, one of the all-too-few British contributions to the early 80’s slasher cycle (though, being British, it came a bit too late to jump on the slasher bandwagon). It was partly directed by lead actor Edmund Purdom, himself inducted to the genre hall of fame thanks to his show-stopping turn as the perverse killer in producer Dick Randall’s equally gaudy and demented Pieces, though the credits note that “additional scenes” – presumably the nastier ones – were helmed by the probably pseudonymous “Al McGoohan”. This troubled production has an appealingly choppy, slapdash feel to it, pleasantly veering all over the place, its humdrum police procedural crashing into a stew of sleaze and nastiness, a bit like a Christmas Eve drunk-driver ploughing down a large group of optimistic blind orphans. (*n.b. on the plus side, our survey has confirmed that at least 48.6% of us would have committed suicide by the 26th, so cheer up folks!).
The generic opening sequence has absolutely no connection to what follows, but still somehow seems to set the tone perfectly. A horny couple are stabbed in their car by an unseen, subjectively represented killer with ridiculous heavy breathing sounds on the audio track joined by a chintzy musical rip off of the Jaws theme. (In the rest of the movie, the killer shows little interest in murdering anyone who isn’t dressed as Santa – a female tour guide gets sliced up only because she gets in the way). The opening titles offer a festive variant on Halloween’stitle sequence, with a burning ornamental Santa on one side of the screen while, as in other festive slashers, a seasonal standard (good old reliably bloody irritating “Jingle Bells”) is incorporated into the score.
The gimmick here, following a handful of movies (from Tales From The Crypt to Christmas Evil) dealing with psychopathic Santas, is that men dressed as Father Christmas in the West End are being brutally off’d. One wealthy Santa is speared on-stage through the mouth in front of his daughter (Belinda Mayne) at a Soho club as the audience looks on like the jaded buggers they are. A chestnut-vendor is garrotted and has his face burned in one of a few crude make-up effects gore moments. An extremely fat Santa is castrated as he pisses into a urinal. A sleazy Santa at a peep show (“I’d like to have you on my knee!”) is slashed while he watches a notably unenthusiastic American dancer (Kelly Baker) - she subsequently becomes a targeted witness (“If I saw those eyes again, I’d recognise him. If he were smiling…”). And a drunk Santa is chased by punks and a vicious dog into the London Dungeons in a bizarre sequence that, like the infamous Chop-Suey interlude in Pieces seems thrown in randomly just to incorporate some London punks and a post-Cujovillainous canine. The papers scream “Only three more killing days till Christmas” in the great subtle tradition of British tabloids (though a few years away from “See! Diana’s Seeping Head Wound In Our 16 Page Crash Scene Pull-Out!”). The radio announces calmly “yet another Santa Claus is slain…and now the weather” and Inspector Purdom is sent a parcel with a note saying “Don’t open til Christmas” which, despite the situation, he chooses to obey.
There isn’t any real tension or suspense in this farrago, but for most of its duration, the script is busy with gruesome murders, unintentional hilarity and silly plot developments. Just one example of its loopy plotting is the way in which Mayne, as the daughter of a murdered Santa, is set up as a potential heroine, complete with amusingly insensitive boyfriend Gerry Sundquist (Mayne : “My father’s just been killed!” Sundquist : “You’ve got to come back into the real world sometime!”) who, right after her personal tragedy, strives to convince her to pose for raunchy pics for his amateur pornographer mate Kevin Lloyd (“You insensitive bastards!”) Much of the ensuing madness is not resolved by a confusing twist ending featuring traditional revelations about the killer’s inevitably grim childhood Christmas experiences, when he caught “Santa” having sex with a pert blonde and received peculiar gifts (“My, my, what a nice knife!”).
Added to the seedy brew is a brain-dead model (Pat Astley) who stupidly dons a Santa suit, apparently only so she can be attacked by the killer who, in the fashion of The New York Ripper, runs a razor up and down her nude body but, surprisingly, doesn’t hurt her. The large body count is increased by a group of particularly inadequate undercover cops who, dressed as Santas, are stabbed in the crotch and throat with the killer’s novelty Oddjob-style spiked shoe and glove; another suffers a hokey eye gouging with a broken bottle. The killings are nastier than in the similarly timed Silent Night, Deadly Night, and were heavily cut for the original British video release. These days you can buy the uncut version on budget DVD and share the fun with your offspring without being frustrated that the flick crudely cuts away as soon as something sharp appears onscreen.
The killer turns out to be almost as much fun as the madman at the heart of Pieces, given to indulging in familiar puritanical rants at his intended victims : “You’re all the same, £5 for this, £15 for that…but you’re not selling desire, you’re selling your souls!”. Still, it’s impossible to dislike a murderer who mercifully disrupts an embarrassing singing / dancing cameo by Caroline Munro, playing herself with all the enthusiasm of an actress who knows all too well that Slaughter High is only about a year away from joining her c.v.