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February 19, 2012

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol. 10: Don't Open Till Christmas

There are a lot of horror movies in which the killer disguises themselves as (or, in the case of Bill Goldberg, actually IS!) Santa Claus.  But, as far as I can tell, Don't Open Till Christmas is the one and only '80s slasher film that revolves around a killer who targets people who are dressed as St. Nick.  Plus, the movie's set in London, which immediately makes me think of the awesome Kinks song....
...which is, for lack of a less redundant word, awesome.
Directed by and starring Edmund Purdom, the British dude who apparently was a real actor but who we horror fans all know and love from Pieces, Don't Open Till Christmas is a unique slasher treat that stays away from the standard cliches most people would associate with the subgenre.  There are no campers or even teenagers, and the main "young" characters seem more like something out of a late Hammer Film (like Dracula A.D. 1972) than a Friday the 13th film - though I'm probably being racist by saying that just because they're British folk.  Meanwhile Purdom - who is pretty much the William Regal of '80s horror cinema (this comment is also probably racist, but hey, we won the war, we can say mean stuff about Brits!) - headlines the police investigation, and a bunch of Santas get offed in interesting ways.
From the start you kind of get the feeling that Don't Open Till Christmas might have some issues, particularly when a title card during the opening credits says that "Additional Scenes Were Written & Directed By Al McGoohan".  No disrespect to Mr. McGoohan is intended, but the warning flag goes up pretty quickly when you get the feeling that a movie has been through rewrites and reshoots.  There are some rather abrupt shifts and transitions during the film, which bounces from plot point to random Santa killing to plot point many times, but everything is framed well with a charming '80s synthetic soundtrack and fun actors like Purdom and Mark Jones getting to Pleasence (Yes, I'm using Donald's last name as a verb) it up a bit.  Also sufficiently hammy is Alan Lake as the ominous reporter on the case, whose performance is even creepier when you learn that the actor, who was terminally ill with a brain tumor, killed himself a couple of months before the film's release.
Amidst all the odd plot twists and strange settings for kills - a mid film "dungeon" sequence is particularly macabre - are some excellent visuals and a fantastic look at the masked face of our killer.  Purdom isn't the only thing that ties the film to Pieces, nor is the fact that this film's producers also worked on that slasher film.  Like that cheesy slasher, Don't Open Till Christmas also ties the killer's motives into a traumatic childhood event, which is fleshed out in a final act twist that wraps up things pretty nicely.  Unfortunately, the killer doesn't keep his creepy mask throughout the whole film - the tension takes a hit when the identity of the killer is revealed rather early, though it's pretty easy to guess - but the unhinged actor keeps the film going during the final act despite this.
Though it feels like there are two films going on at once - one featuring the slashing of Father Christmas in public and bizarre locales, one featuring the mystery behind the killer - there's a ridiculous charm to this unpredictable slasher.  After all, any film which randomly features a glitter haired, '80s-styled, Caroline Munro showing up to sing and dance is well worth my time, and probably yours too.  This isn't quite like Pieces - there's a little more sense to the plot and a little less overacting (Nothing can reach the overacting heights of the infamous Bastard scene) - but it's sure to please fans of '80s flavored sleaze regardless.
Then again, there is one question that might dominate your mind as Don't Open Till Christmas powers through its 86 minutes.  We know a) that a killer is on the loose; b) that the killer is public knowledge and well-covered in the press; and c) that the killer kills people who dress as Santa.  So...even though it's days till Christmas (you didn't really think this movie was set in June, did you?) - WHY DOESN'T ANYONE STOP DRESSING UP AS SANTA CLAUS?  Nude models, drunks, carnival workers - these obviously aren't the smartest people in the UK (I'm sure that honor is reserved for my British Midnight Warriors, naturally) - all fall victim for simple reasons: because they dress as Santa.  Which makes this basically the only slasher movie ever where running around naked and having sex while drinking and doing drugs would INCREASE your chances of survival.  
So yeah, that question still bugs me, but hey - it wouldn't be supremely cheesy and awesome without a little nonsense.  So check out Don't Open Till Christmas, and keep the Santa suit in the closet. It's for your own good.

1 comment:

deadlydolls said...

I love this movie. It's sleazy in a kind of sweet way, and that ending flashback plus resolution is simply hysterical.