Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) Review
Don’t Open Till Christmas, unlike yesterday’s film Christmas Evil, is unabashedly a slasher and a fairly nasty one at that. It also flips the script on that and other Christmas horror films because rather than being the killer, Santas are the target of the killer, beginning with an unlucky fellow and his girlfriend making out in a car.
After a credits sequence that evokes both Halloween 2’s flaming Jack O’lantern and Dario Argento with it’s creepy Santa doll and music box score the film launches into things with another Santa being speared through the head at a party and one selling roast chestnuts having his face roasted before being set on fire.
None of this is sitting well with Chief Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom, Pieces, 2019: After the Fall of New York) and Detective Sergeant Powell (Mark Jones, The Medusa Touch, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back) who are under pressure to catch the killer both from their superiors and from Kate (Belinda Mayne, Krull, Alien 2: On Earth) the daughter of one of the victims. Kate’s boyfriend Cliff (Gerry Sundquist, Meetings With Remarkable Men, Great Expectations) seems more concerned about her calling the lawyer representing her father’s considerable estate.
What follows after this is a chaotic and hard to follow sequence of killing caused by the departure of Purdom, who was not only Don’t Open Till Christmas’ star but the director. He was replaced by the film’s writer Derek Ford (The Legend of Spider Forest, The House That Vanished) who lasted two days before being replaced by Ray Selfie (Emmanuelle in Soho, White Cargo) who had originally been hired to edit the film.
This led to delays and, as cast members dropped out due to scheduling issues, second unit director Alan Birkinshaw (Killer’s Moon, Invaders of the Lost Gold), under the pseudonym Al McGoohan, rewrote much of the script eliminating some characters and introducing new ones. And then Purdom was convinced to return to film Don’t Open Till Christmas’s final scenes.
Given that, it’s no surprise that Don’t Open Till Christmas feels like a string of murders held together by the thinnest of plots as characters fade in and out of the story seemingly at random. That includes both those investigating the case and suspects. Along the way genre pinup queen Caroline Munro (Dracula A.D. 1972, The Pocket Film of Superstitions) turns up as herself performing a song that’s climaxed by the appearance of another victim. She have any other scenes in the film and her appearance feels like it was added during the rewrites to pad the running time.
What saves the film is its incredible bad taste and sleaziness. How sleazy? There’s a scene where Cliff tries to convince Kate to do a lesbian photoshoot for one of his friends. When she storms out he makes out with the other model, played by a Santa suited Pat Astley (Nymphomania, The Playbirds). When the killer shows up he leaves her to fend for herself, but she survives by flashing the killer.
The killings are frequently designed to show the victims behaving badly, so we get to see a drunk Santa, another chatting with a booth girl at a sex shop and committing adultery. And while he doesn’t do anything particularly horrible, one Father Christmas gets his Little Saint Nick sliced off while using a public toilet. How’s that for class?
Two of Don’t Open Till Christmas’ cast would take their own lives. Alan Lake (Yesterday’s Hero, It’s Not the Size That Counts) who played tabloid journalist Giles Harrison killed himself before the film was released, a few months after his wife, actress Diana Dors, died of cancer. And Gerry Sundquist, who suffered from depression, jumped in front of a train in 1993. It may not be directly related to the film, but watching it now knowing that it just adds to the ghoulish atmosphere.
As for the film itself, Don’t Open Till Christmas frequently feels like a link between the British exploitation films of the 70s such as The Flesh and Blood Show or Tower of Evil and those of the the 80s slasher boom. I can’t say it’s a good film, but it’s far from boring and actually manages to be quite entertaining in a perverse way.
Don’t Open Till Christmas is available on Blu-ray as well as Digital Platforms including Shudder.