Don’t Open Till Christmas is a thrilling and bizarre murder mystery where nothing is sacred – even Santa Claus! A killer is on the loose in London and his sights are set on one target – Santa Claus – dozens of them. Jolly old Saint Nick is stabbed, beaten and electrocuted in department stores, at parties and even on crowded street corners. What sort of twisted mind is behind these barbarous acts of violence? Scotland Yard is on the trail but every clue points them in a different direction. The culprit is right under their nose, but will they come to this conclusion in time?
eyelights: its setting. its lovely ladies.
eyesores: the randomness of the murders. the editing. the ridiculous third act.
“Only three more killing days until Christmas.”
‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’ is a British slasher film from 1984. It follows the investigation of a series of Santa Claus murders from the perspective of Kate, the daughter of the first victim, and the two New Scotland Yard inspectors on the case.
It’s regarded in most quarters as a cheesy ’80s slasher, and with good reason, but it’s also not wholly unwatchable: unlike most of its ilk, it’s a horror film with a mystery, plus which it’s set in England during the holiday season – a rare treat.
However, one must admit that the picture is plagued by a number of issues, including a poor construction, which is likely a product of its production troubles: the film went through three directors and was severely rewritten at the last minute.
It’s no wonder that it trips all over itself at times – especially towards the end.
One of the most glaring issues is he killings themselves. Although the picture wants to earn its place with the slasher genre, its attempts are lackluster: victims gets killed in sensationalistic but extremely unlikely ways, causing derision and/or bewilderment.
Even worse than that is the fact that kills are poorly rendered, firstly by the red paint used in lieu of blood, and then by the poor make-up effects. Finally, there’s the matter of the directors’ poor staging of these murders, creating no tension at all.
The direction is particularly weak, but this is likely due to the fact that the picture was cobbled together with the remains of three people’s work. This also affects the editing, with transitions from day to night and back appearing random at times.
Naturally, the fact that the picture is low budget doesn’t help – they likely couldn’t afford decent help in the editing room. And they could only afford the delicious Caroline Munro for a completely meaningless cameo – even though she gets a main credit.
This hilarious sequence consists of her doing a concert performance as herself. It’s extremely brief and it’s merely a contrivance to show another drunk Santa getting murdered – this time backstage, where he has absolutely no place being anyway.
But it’s one more notch for the Santa killer, and that’s all that matters.
The killer himself goes around wearing a plastic mask that distorts his features and gives the impression that he’s smiling creepily. Otherwise, he’s absolutely unremarkable. He’s just some demented character on a slaughter for inexplicable reasons.
‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’ tries hard to serve up a series of suspects, red herrings, to keep us guessing, but it’s pretty clear who the culprit is right from the start. And the suspects receiving the most attention obviously couldn’t have done it.
Further to that, the characters aren’t especially credible.
In particular, there’s Kate’s relationship with her boyfriend, who is a selfish moocher. He has no redeeming value and is such scum that he even tries to to coerce her into doing a nude photo session right after the death of her father.
Then there’s the journalist, Giles, who pops up everywhere randomly and who can apparently rifle through one of the key investigator’s desk, get caught red handed, and face no repercussions whatsoever. He’s a totally loose cannon. Um, yeah.
The script is riddled with problems, so this is hardly surprising. One of them is the notion that the killer doesn’t kill women (even those half-dressed as Santa), and that he would either let them go or kidnap them. But they escape his madness.
And we don’t even know why.
This leads to a remarkably nonsensical sequence in which he goes back after a stripper who witnessed one of his murders up close. He breaks through her booth and chases her out of the strip joint, chases her down the street to eventually catch her.
It’s in broad daylight, but no one sees his attack, no one sees her being chased, and she happens to run right next to a basement cell that he’s prepared for her – and in which she gets locked up for a couple of days. It just makes no sense.
This leads to an incredibly ridiculous ending in which the killer reveals himself to one of the girls in her apartment; somehow he got in, and he’s unmasked, acting as though he has every right being there. And she barely registers this discrepancy.
Then the cops somehow happen to see and chase their suspect, even though they’ve never known his identity. How they concluded that he was their man, especially at night, is beyond me; it’s pretty random. Naturally, he gets away in a silly fashion.
Then the stripper escapes in the dumbest of ways and leads the killer up a staircase that she conveniently manages to toss him off of. Pooh. At least she had the gumption to fight and survive. Or did she…? This is actually left unclear in the end.
What’s interesting is that ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’ switches up protagonists in the third act; the person we’d been following and whom we’d expect to survive doesn’t, and a completely different character becomes the survivor. That’s unusual.
And somewhat refreshing.
Of course, it’s not enough to compensate for the random and nonsensical ending, and it doesn’t make a good movie out of ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’. At best it’s a curiosity and/or a welcome change from the typical North American slasher film.
And it makes for intriguing holiday counter-programming.
But that’s about it.
Date of viewing: December 12, 2015