Don't Open Till Christmas

Director: Edmund Purdom
Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne

Although there are a few things about my environment that irritate me to no end - like the fact that the majority of the movies made in my country suck to the extreme - for the most part I am glad that I am a citizen of Canada. There are many good things about living here, ranging from universal health care to a lot less guns amongst the public. I know I am very lucky to be Canadian, especially since I know that I almost grew up in a different country. I was told by my parents that before I was born, they considered taking a job offer in Turkey, of all places. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be a Turk. After thinking about it, it would probably be a better choice than another option my parents had before I was born, and that would be to stay in England. I say this, because over the years I have made many observations about the British, and these observations have concluded that there are a lot of crazy people in that country. Let me give you some examples. Years ago in British private schools, there used to be a system where the younger students would more or less be the servants of older students. And what did the older students call their student servants? "F*gs", that's what they called them. Another weird thing about the English is their extreme love of animals. Don't get me wrong, I do think that animals should be treated well. But the British seem obsessed and crazed about treating animals well. Why this is, I cannot say for sure. Then there was the whole fuss the British made when the Chunnel from England to France was constructed. For some reason, many Brits were against this new convenience, thinking England should remain an island. I can tell you that here in Canada, when the twelve kilometer Confederation Bridge from Prince Edward Island to the mainland was constructed, I didn't hear any loud cries from the people of P.E.I.  - the majority of them apparently saw that it was a convenience right from the start.

The weird behavior of the British can be seen not just with the people themselves, but with the entertainment that they come up with. Don't get me wrong, there have been a number of British television shows and movies I have enjoyed over they years. But if you dig deep enough, you will find some really weird things. Let me start with television. For some strange reason, when they make reference to a certain year's worth of episodes of a television show, they call it a "series". Whenever I hear or read this, I want to strangle the British man or woman who announced this and yell into their face, "You dope! A 'series' is what you call all the episodes of an entire show! You actually call one year's output of a television show a 'season'!" And don't get me started on the fact that your typical SEASON of an English television SERIES always seems to last just thirteen (or less) episodes, and often all of these episodes are totally written by just one or two people. What's the matter - can't they afford more writers? Just as crazy as the world of British television, however, is the world of British movies. I've talked about this before, but I think it's worth mentioning again. The British have reacted to movies in some really weird ways over the decades. There's the fact that they banned horror movies during World War II, for example, when they were facing much worse stuff day after day during the war. Then there's the fact that decades later, for a number of years they banned the cinematic portrayal of certain weapons, like nunchakus (which, for some dumb reason, they kept referring to as "chainsticks".) For some reason, it never got into their heads that getting a knife or a cricket bat and using it on a person was much easier than getting nunchakus - yet they didn't ban the cinematic portrayal of knives or cricket bats.

The lowest point, however, for the British when it came to feature films, was during the 1980s, with the whole "video nasty" mess. I talked a bit about it before in an earlier review, and how it resulted in the censorship or complete ban of some jolly violent movies by the British Board of Don't Open Till ChristmasFilm Censors for years, some of it still remaining even more than thirty years later. In the 1980s, it was certainly hard to release a horror movie in England, which explains why at the time the notorious killer Santa Claus movie Silent Night, Deadly Night wasn't even submitted to the BBFC for a possible release. But what's odd is that around the same time, a British horror movie - one also involving Santa Claus - got released with apparently no banning or outcry from the British public and press. That movie is, of course, Don't Open Till Christmas. This weird seeming double standard puzzled me, so after learning about it I knew I had to give it a look, and I eventually found a copy. As you've probably guessed, the events of Don't Open Till Christmas take place not only in England (London, to be exact), but during the holiday season. The horror that is taking place involves killings and Santa Claus, but for a change it's not Santa Claus that is doing the killings. Instead, some twisted individual is killing in various ways (ranging from machetes to the face to shooting in the mouth) various people who are dressed up as Santa Claus! This has gotten the attention of Scotland Yard, with Inspector Ian Harris (Purdom who also directed the movie) and Sergeant Powell (Mark Jones, The Medusa Touch) right on the case. There are a lot of suspects out there, including Kate Briosky (Mayne, Krull), who witnessed her Santa Claus-dressed father get killed. There is also her boyfriend Cliff (Gerry Sundquist), as well as a nosey fellow by the name of Giles (Lake) who claims to be a reporter despite evidence to the contrary. To complicate the matters, eventually there is evidence to suggest that Inspector Harris is a suspect. Will Scotland Yard be able to keep calm and carry on long enough to catch the unidentified killer?

Because Don't Open Till Christmas was a British production set in jolly old England, I have to admit that I was expecting the movie to have a strong and fresh angle making it feel different than American slasher movies. I was especially expecting the characters to be a lot different. Maybe not at the level of fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes, but different to at least some degree. So you might understand why I was disappointed that the screenplay didn't give any of the characters a fresh perspective. In fact, an American production team could have used the same screenplay with pretty much no changes needed. Instead, the movie goes along the same route so many American slasher movies have gone along when it comes to characters - making them cold-hearted and stupid. The police are an insensitive lot; Sergeant Powell acts like a jerk when he talks about the witnesses to an early slaying, and Inspector Harris doesn't seem that concerned that he might have a serial killer on his hands. Kate gets over seeing her father get killed right before her eyes surprisingly quickly, and her boyfriend Cliff is even more unsympathetic, from pressuring Kate to pose nude not long after her father's murder to exclaiming, "Big deal!" to a new killing. As for the stupidity of the characters, it's best illustrated by the scene where a kidnap victim momentarily overpowers the killer, and upon finding the door to freedom locked, asks the quickly recovering killer for the key. With the entire cast dealing with cold and stupid characters, it probably comes as no surprise that none of the actors seems terribly interested in giving a good performance. If I were forced to judge who gives the best performance in the entire cast, I would say Alan Lake as the nosey reporter. He does come across as mildly creepy in a few moments, but he's hampered by the fact that the screenplay limits both his appearances and what he does in his few appearances.

I have a good feeling that at this point of reading this review, a number of readers are getting impatient. They are getting impatient, because I have yet to talk about specific ingredients that may be in this movie, ingredients that may make them decide whether or not to give the movie a whirl in their DVD player despite what other kinds of merit may or may not be in the movie. I'm talking about whether or not this particular slasher movie delivers "the goods". There are three different kinds of "goods" slasher fans seek in a slasher movie. There is the total body count - does the movie contain a good amount of characters who are bumped off? There is also the general quality of the kills - do the murders contain plenty of blood and gore? Lastly, there is the sexual portion of the movie - is there plenty of sex and nudity? Well, I'll answer all three questions now. When it comes to sex and nudity, the movie is kind of disappointing. There are a couple of scenes where a man and a woman try to get it on, but it doesn't get beyond a PG level. A scene at a photo shoot with sexploitation star Pat Astley does provide one moment of extended toplessness, but except for a brief breast shot in the movie's final few minutes, that's it for nudity. Things are significantly better when it comes to violence. The movie has a very impressive body count - fifteen people are seen being murdered, which averages out to one killing every six minutes or so. How about the quality of the kills? Well, there definitely is some variety. People have faces rammed onto hot grills, get knifed in the crotch, get stabbed in the throat, get castrated, or electrocuted, among other techniques. As for blood and gore during these moments, most of the murders have little in the way of those ingredients, but to be fair there are some satisfying gruesome sights like the back of the head exit wound to the poor Santa who gets shot in the mouth.

I have to admit that I was fairly satisfied by the violence portion of Don't Open Till Christmas - the filmmakers at least got that portion of the movie right. However, when it came to the rest of the movie, I was hard pressed to find anything else of merit. I found myself not caring that much as to what was going on, not just for the fact that the characters are jerks who are badly performed by the cast. One of the biggest surprises about the movie is that despite its high body count, there isn't a real feeling of tension or menace. You might think that there would be an outcry by the public and much stress shared by the investigators, but there's none to be found. A possible explanation for this can be seen in the opening credits, which at one point lists the statement, "Additional scenes written and directed by Al McGoohan". I strongly suspect that the original cut had far less murder sequences, and McGooham was hired to film more to beef things up. This might explain why no character makes references to new murders that happen after the movie's first three or so murders. While the new footage added to the movie might have added some entertaining moments, it didn't change the fact that the originally shot footage is downright dull at times. It turns out that the police make no real progress at any time in their investigation; their abundant footage just seems to be padding. There's plenty of additional padding elsewhere in the movie as well, such as the wax museum sequence. The movie is not only dull and toothless between the murder sequences, it's also badly made at times. The low budget is very evident, from the frequently tight direction that usually doesn't give the audience a good look at the surroundings to moments when it's painfully clear dialogue was added in the dubbing room. While Don't Open Till Christmas is not the worst slasher I've seen, all the same I think that most slasher fans will at the end be disappointed with it. The only slasher fans that may get something out of it will be those who are greatly curious as to what a British slasher movie would be like and want clues as as to why few British filmmakers have made slasher movies.

(Posted November 26, 2015)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Jack Frost, Santa With Muscles, To All A Good Night