You know what a really great present would be? A good Christmas-themed horror film. The idea of a killer dressed as Santa Claus (or Santa himself as a killer) has potential, except that most of the films that feature such a killer shy from letting Santa prey on his natural enemy: children. And politicians are always complaining about how Hollywood is morally bankrupt!
Along comes Don’t Open Till Christmas, a slightly different Santa Claus slasher flick. This time Santa isn’t the killer, he’s the target! A psycho stalks the streets of London, killing anyone he can find dressed as Old Saint Nick. Sadly, that’s about the only part of the movie that makes any sense. Don’t Open Till Christmas is a patchwork production, with lots of gory killing but few characters that appear for the whole length of the film. And somebody forgot to write an ending.
But let’s talk about what we do understand. Lots of Santas are killed in the film. They all get killed in different ways. One takes a spear in the back of the head, another is garroted and pushed face first into a fire. Two people are killed by ice pick, one Santa is killed by medieval weapon in London Dungeon, and one poor Santa has his red-nosed reindeer cut off in the loo! The credits list the following ex-Santas: “Experience” Santa Claus, Theatre Santa Clause, Dungeon Santa Claus, Store Santa Claus, Market Santa Claus, Drunken Santa Claus, Santa Claus in car, and two Circus Santa Clauses. But only a couple of these killings are ever mentioned by speaking characters. The opening includes a credit stating that Al McGoohan wrote and directed some additional sequences, leading us to believe that those “additional sequences” included most of the murders.
The other thing that struck us about this film was how badly made most of the Santa suits are. We can only assume that director Edmund Purdom didn’t like Santa as a kid, because they all look pretty ratty in this movie. It’s as if the British are under the impression that Santa Claus is Father Christmas’ freeloading brother-in-law. Or maybe this movie just had a really tiny budget.
Despite the fact that this is a low budget movie, there is one huge star in the film. This star has probably been seen in more British films than any other since 1967. We are talking, of course, about that rotating sign for New Scotland Yard. That sign has been used in numerous movies to send the important cinematic message, “We got a permit to film on Victoria Street.” In this movie the main policeman’s office is a cheap desk and a map. But every time he leaves that office, he passes in front of the sign. Every time we cut to the Inspector, we see the sign first. If Dame Judi Dench can win an Oscar for 12 minutes of screen time in Shakespeare in Love, then the sign has a shot at one too. Lord knows, it’s much more convincing than anyone else in this film is
On to the stuff we didn’t understand. The story starts out with a guy in Santa Claus suit getting killed as he tries to have sex with a woman in a car. Then we meet Cliff (Gerry Sundquist) and his girlfriend Kate (Belinda Mayne). They go to a costume party where Kate’s father is dressed up as Santa Claus. When he takes the stage, he takes an arrow through the back of the head.
We jump to Scotland Yard, the interior of which will be played tonight by a sparsely furnished office. Three cops, led by Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom, also the director), decide to find the killer who has made headlines. There are three cops, basically to give the Inspector someone else to talk to, and so we have another couple of suspects. The cops run into a reporter named Giles, who also only exists to be a suspect.
Next up is a scene that made our jaws hit the floor. It seems that Cliff’s friend Gerry (Kevin Lloyd) is a photographer. Not the boring kind of photographer, but the good kind. He takes photos of naked women, and luckily for the film’s entertainment value, he happens to have one in his studio when Cliff and Kate visit. But as it develops, Cliff and Gerry had arranged this on purpose, basically hoping that Kate would join in on a nude modeling session. Okay, these are British men, how else are they going to get their jollies? Kate is extremely skeptical of all this, but she bursts in to tears and runs from the studio when it turns out Gerry has a Santa suit sitting around. Cliff yells at Gerry, “You insensitive bastard!”
Now wait a minute, your girlfriend’s father was just murdered in front of her, and while she’s mourning you conspire to have her take part in a nude photo shoot for your sexual gratification . . . but the guy who has a funny red suit in his studio is the jerk?
A lot of other stuff happens, but it’s tough to stay interested. Gerry and Cliff disappear from the film, and then we are introduced to a stripper who works at her mother’s peep show. Eventually the killer is revealed, but it hardly matters. Then there is the titular Christmas present that provides the climax of the film, but absolutely no closure.
Don’t Open Till Christmas is a horrid little movie with a mean spirit, zero intelligence, and a plot that, judging from the extra gore scenes which aren’t acknowledged by the characters, must have run a few minutes short. The only thing of note other than the holiday theme is a bizarre last-minute appearance by Caroline Munro, who drops in to – get this – sing a musical number that precedes one of the killings. Munro, no stranger to the b-movie world (see the execrable Slaughter High and the more recommendable Golden Voyage of Sinbad), must have owed someone a favor. Not a very big favor, mind you, but a favor of some sort. Maybe they gave her a nice present for Christmas.
We would like to say that Don’t Open is the worst Christmas-themed horror film ever made, but the truth is that one of the Silent Night flicks is probably worse. Still, this one will never grace anyone’s list of Yuletide favorites, unless perhaps you ask the director’s mother. Then again, given some of the last-minute revelations about the killer’s past and parental guidance, maybe even Mum will pass on this one
Special British Christmas Bonus!Is everything associated with Christmas in Britain bizarre and disturbing? To answer that question we offer up the following song,I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas with a Dalek by the Go Go’s. Not the Belinda Carlisle Go-Go’s, but some 1960s British band.
This is one piece of work. As if the lisping woman-child vocals weren’t disturbing enough, they are counterpointed by a fake Dalek voice and a Peter Gunn bridge. And the bizarre sexual innuendo is just wrong, wrong, wrong.
Originally posted December 25, 2000.