Don't Open 'Til Christmas

Don't Open 'Til Christmas (1984)

  • Wide Release
  • Director: Edmund Purdom, Derek Ford, Ray Selfe
  • Written by: Derek Ford, Al McGoohan
  • Running Time: 86 minutes
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: R - Restricted
  • Cast: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Gerry Sundquist, Mark Jones, Kelly Baker, Wendy Danvers, Kevin Lloyd, Nicholas Donnelly, Pat Astley, Ken Halliwell, Ray Marioni, Wilfred Corlett, Ricky Kennedy, Sid Wragg, Ashley Dransfield, George Pierce, Derek Ford, Max Roman, John Aston, Adrian Black, Dick Randall, Caroline Munro, Paula Meadows, Derek Hunt, Des Dolan, Maria Eldridge

Remembered more for problems behind the scenes than the film itself, “Don't Open 'Til Christmas” is a holiday slasher flick so mystifyingly inept and mean-spirited that it boggles the mind that it ever got released. Considering how the holiday slasher flick sub sub-genre was blowing up in the US at the time, it seems as though the Brits wanted something to call their own but I hardly think “Don't Open 'Til Christmas” is really what they had in mind. Constructed as a Santa slasher flick in the vein of “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, this differs in that it features not a man dressed as Santa Claus killing people but rather men dressed as Santa Claus being killed. Considering the sheer amount of folks who dress up as Santa Claus for the various charities or children’s events during the yuletide season, the possibilities and bloodletting could have been endless, sadly, it was not to be.

When Kate’s (Belinda Mayne), father, dressed as a Santa Claus, is killed at a disco party right in front of a room full of festive rabble-rousers, the fingers immediately point to her boyfriend Cliff (Gerry Sundquist) who pleads his innocence to two of Scotland Yard’s worst, er, I mean, finest. It seems Kate’s father is just the next in a long line of ‘Santacides’ committed in the past week, and, with three more days to go before Christmas, there’s plenty of leg room for even more joly old Saint Nicks to get popped. Never fear, two lame-brained Scotland Yard cops, a Detective Sergeant Powell (Mark Jones) and an Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom), are quickly on the case. In keeping with their pattern for bungling everything; and after determining that it’s not a ‘gangland rivalry’ between men dressed as Santa Claus, they seek to drain their resources harrassing busker Cliff, seeing him as the prime suspect soley because he was present for two of the murders.

When a bug-eyed Daily News reporter named Giles (Alan Lake) comes snooping around, hinting at the identity of the Santa Claus killer, things take on a even more perplexing tone, especially since he suggests that the good Inspector Harris should be observed more closely. Harris himself, has become almost obsessed with Cliff and Kate, for varying reasons; Cliff, because he’s a prominent suspect, and Kate, because he sees her as a potential lover. Kate, however, is doing some investigating of her own, turning up a few interesting clues about Harris and his sibling, who just happens to reside at a local looney bin. Tiring of the couple and Harris’ fixation on them, the film strangely veers off to make time with a peep show girl named Cherry (Kelly Baker) who is credited as ‘Experienced Girl’. Witnessing first hand a violent Santa murder right there in her glassed-off booth, she becomes something of interest to both the cops and to the killer. Later, after undergoing a round of laughable 'hardball' questions, Cherry is lassooed by the seasonal psychopath, who moves to keep her chained up in a tiny darkened basement. It’s an interesting testament to the muddle that this film is that one of the central characters, in this case, the one pre-defined as the final girl, is actually murdered in a very mean-spirited and surprising fashion late into the film, while another girl, introduced late into the story, and who possesses none of the virtues of the typical final girl, is left to face off against the killer. Some, I guess, might look at it as a refreshing change, but because of the clumsy narrative, it simply feels awkward and it doesn’t really work.

The film's audacious climax which involves the revelation of the killer, his ties to the police officer, his motive for the murders, and what ultimately caused his plunge into utter madness, are so confusing and ham-handedly delivered that it takes a quick headshake just to see if you haven't dreamt it all. That, of course, leads me to the film’s one last twist, insinuating that it was all just a dream prompted by a Christmas gift, only oozes of the filmmaker’s utter desperation. I've said it before and I'll say it again, "Don't Open 'Til Christmas” is a sloppy incoherent mess, made almost forgivable when you consider the problems that assailed this production, almost from the outset. After realizing what a discombobulated mess he was turning out, the original director Edmund Purdom was fired, and after a quick cup of coffee with Derek Ford, editor Ray Selfe was brought in to finish the film. Saddled with piecing together a feature length movie out of a mish-mash of footage from three different men – three different visions, it’s actually quite admirable that he was able to do what he did. Sadly, the fact that this film is simply a patchwork of re-worked scenes and fragmented unfinished storylines, is evidenced in its numerous continuity problems, or the way certain important characters or situations, are alluded to but never shown. Worst of all, the film’s central characters, or what there are of them, are left to drift in and out of a completely bungled narrative. Also, some of Selfe's editing choices are questionable. One instance of dizzying splicing involves how many times the scenes transition to the police headquarters and, more specifically, the ‘New Scotland Yard’ sign out front -- easily a half dozen, and that's without counting. It's a trick utilized quite often on television, as a means of situating the audience, here, though, it’s repeated so many times that after awhile you can’t help but laugh.

One area where the film stands out is in its handling of the various murder sequences. Some imagination definitely came into play here, dreaming up some fairly gruesome kill scenes including a Santa getting a sword punched through the back of his head, another receiving a knife-boot to his groin, another getting his face dipped into a roasted chestnut pit, another having his vision permanently impaired by a machete and, lastly, a Santa having his penis sliced off while doing his business at a standing urinal. Each situation seems to play nicely off the various social and commercial abstractions so pervasive that time of the year. The kill sequence involving the film's writer, Derek Ford, in a brief cameo as a Santa Claus being chased on his bike by some punks and later attacked by a dog, only to wind up being hunted though a museum by the killer, is so utterly absurd, it has to be seen to be believed.

Despite a quick appearance by pop star Caroline Munro playing herself, the main person of interest, at least for me, is troubled actor Alan Lake, who played Giles. Wow, what a presence this guy had, with his frizzy black hair and looming creepy eye’s that looked like they would explode out of his head at any second, he’s not to be missed. Without giving too much away, he factors prominently into the ending of the film, and rightly so. Lake will surely leave a lasting effect on the viewer. Interesting to note that he committed suicide not long after the “Don't Open 'Til Christmas” production wrapped and, subsequently, never saw his performance in the film. Kelly Baker, as the peep show girl, who becomes the eventual heroine, also does some good work here despite the numerous unglamorous peripheral conditions she finds herself in.

Overall, I'd say avoid this train wreck. 

For more information on this film check out the imdb.com. To see the trailer, check out this link.