Directed by: Edmund Purdom
Written by: Derek Ford and Al McGoohan
Starring: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, and Mark Jones
Reviewed by: Wes R.
ďDo you think we might have a psychopath on our hands?Ē
Whatever your religious beliefs are, Christmas is a special time of year. Ideally, it should be a time of cheer, happiness, and togetherness for everyone across the globe. This is probably why so many horror filmmakers have sought to cash in on the corruption of such starry-eyed ideals with horror and exploitation fare like Silent Night, Deadly Night, To All a Good Night, Christmas Evil, and Black Christmas. From the producers of Pieces, The Mad Butcher, Slaughter High, and Pod People (!) comes a curious entry in the slasher cycle that is often overlooked; The British-lensed, Donít Open Till Christmas.
At a lavish London Christmas party, a man dressed as Santa Claus is impaled through the mouth (while blowing on a party favor, no less) by an unseen assailant. This, of course, is only the latest in a string of brutal Santa killings. A masked and hooded killer is loose in London and he is targeting men (and women) dressed as Santa Claus. Scotland Yard has been called in on the case, but they have too many suspects and too little time. The killer strikes and strikes again (as killers often do in slasher flicks) leaving very few witnesses. Will Scotland Yard be able to pull together their sparse resources to apprehend the Santa-hating maniac? Why does the killer have such an apparent and vile disgust for Santa and the Christmas holiday?
Donít Open Till Christmas is unusually mean-spirited for a slasher film. You know right from the start when you see a film whose opening title sequence plays over a bizarre synth version of popular Christmas tunes, while the viewer is treated to a melting plastic figure of Santa that youíre likely in for an interesting and uncompromising ride. While most yuletide slashers who target a beloved childhood figure such as Santa Claus (whether it be to simply tarnish his good image or eliminate him completely) could probably be considered mean, the makers of this film almost seem to be pushing a strong anti-Christmas agenda. For those who thought that Silent Night, Deadly Night is the absolute sleaziest that a Christmas slasher film can possibly be will be in for a rude awakening. We see Santas attending peepshows, taking large swigs from bottles of alcohol, committing adultery in front of children, getting castrated while relieving himself in a urinal, etc. Itís actually quite amazing how so much grim hatred for Santa Claus can be contained in one film. I suppose you could say that it shows the true evil nature of the killer, but the directorís exploitative shot decisions and cavalier attitude make the proceedings mean-spirited nonetheless. The novel and refreshing concept of seeing Santa as the actual target of a masked slasher instead of being just another ďkiller in a Santa costumeĒ flick canít even be fully enjoyed because of how cruel the film gets.
Everything about the movie reeks of cheap. Iím pretty sure that the Santa costume used by most of the male Santas in the film was the exact same one. The musical score is also pretty generic, even for mid-80s synth score standards. Perhaps the composerís Christmas present from the previous year was a new Casio keyboard, along with a ďFilm Scoring 101Ē book. Weíre given plenty of been-there-heard-that cues and beats from nearly a dozen other, better (and worse) horror flicks. The acting is actually not too bad, but none of the characters or their performances are very memorable at all. The killer wears a creepy clear plastic mask, which distorts his face just enough that the audience canít tell who it is. This particular style of mask was also utilized to great effect years earlier in the Alfred Sole film, Alice, Sweet Alice. Donít Open Till Christmas tries to pass itself off as a mystery, but there really arenít many clues to the killerís identity other than the fact that we pick up on the directorís casting nearly all the main male characters with actors having ďsmiling eyesĒ (the one constant eye-witness description of the killer). Thus, the killer could be virtually anyone. We donít have any other clues to go on, thus the audience pretty much has to sit through the entire film waiting for the ending to see whom the killer ends up being. The film would be considerably more fun if the audience was thrown a bone or two by the filmmakers, but as it stands, we cannot play along and merely assume the role of spectators. Not a bad thing, but the film couldíve been much meatier in the mystery department. As a holiday slasher, I also take issue with the lack of, well...Christmas. If the film didnít feature people dressed as Santa every two or three minutes, you would never know it was a Christmas film. There are little to no Christmas songs and not many visible decorations. It fails to match the lush holiday atmosphere of slashers like Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Itís unique that at a time when many Italian horror thrillers were adapting to the more American style of the slasher film, this British offering feels more reminiscent of the Italian giallo. Much of the film focuses on the investigation, as the police interrogate witness after witness to the various Santa murders. One interesting fact about the killer is his slight similarity in one sequence to Jigsaw in the Saw movies. After kidnapping a peepshow dancer who saw his face in a previous killing, the murderer chains the stripper up and talks to the girl in a very gruff, creepy voice about how she has cheapened her life, and about how she needs to think about the err of her ways. Now, Iím not saying the writers of Saw watched this movie and decided it was obscure enough to rip off, but hey...anything is possible. The film does keep a fairly good rhythm of carnage. The body count is pretty consistently paced (close to 15 killings in all) and the death scenes are fairly bloody and inventive (if again, cruel). I imagine the only people who could possibly be bored by this film are ones who are desperately trying to follow the plot and guess the killer's identity. I stopped caring about that around 25 minutes in and instead settled upon enjoying the numerous bodies that were piling up at a fairly swift rate.
The film has an unusual nostalgic tie to myself. It was the very first film I ever saw (at the tender age of 5 or 6, I donít recall exactly) that featured bare breasts. It's true. I guess you always remember your first pair, and to this day, I still remember these. Both sets in the movie really arenít that bad at all. My first cinematic nudity experience certainly couldíve been a lot, lot worse. In an odd way, I can appreciate the film. Itís completely amateur-hour as far as writing, directing, editing and cinematography go, but the filmmakers do manage to pull off several interesting death scenes (which is a lot more than you can say for many 80s slashers). The film isnít long enough nor does it try to be complex enough to offend my sensibilities as a rabid slasher fan. I like the ones that keep to the basics. Not that I don't enjoy a little more meat on the bone of my slashers, but if a film is entertaining doing what it's doing, where is the harm? By the time the denouement arrives, you really don't care that the killer's true motives were heavily borrowed from Christmas Evil. This one gets in, gets out, and for what it aims to deliver the target audience (nudity and gore), it gets the job done. There are certainly more laborious ways that you could spend an evening.
Basically, if the idea of seeing various people dressed as Santa Claus getting killed in a variety of grisly, and gory ways appeals to you, this is a film I can recommend. It may be completely suspense-less, sleazy, and generic in the extreme, but if youíve seen all the usual holiday horror favorites countless times and are in need of a few fresh kills to add to your season, Donít Open Till Christmas is probably worth your time. You shouldnít risk life or limb to put it in your stocking, but if you ever run across it on VHS or the allegedly unauthorized DVD for ten bucks or less, itís well worth a look for the slasher completist and Christmas connoisseur. I would recommend doing as the title says, and you canít go wrong...I canít imagine this one playing nearly as well any other time of year, really. I can picture this one playing well at the right Christmas party, and among the right group of friends. Your best bet (if you can find it) is to Rent it!
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