12/11/09

Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984): I Knew in a Moment, I Must Kill St. Nick

Tom Petty once said, “The waiting is the hardest part.” If he wasn’t talking about Christmas morning, then he totally should have been. I recall how impatient I was for the day, scratch that, hour to come that signaled Christmas morning. My parents, being sane individuals, told me I couldn’t wake them until at least 8 AM for Christmas to begin. Now it was only later in life when I realized that (SPOILER ALERT) there was no Santa, and they might have been up a trifle late the night before. Being the kid that I was, I wasn’t about to let a silly thing like a time to wake up foil my wanton desire for Christmas goodies. So I would sneak down the hall ever so slowly. Sometimes I wouldn’t move a muscle for minutes if I thought I heard one of them stir. When I finally arrived to bask in the glow of Santa’s booty, I would pick one present and ever so gently peel back the Scotch tape on the end until I could un-wrap one side. After peaking in to see what gift it was (the one I recall most vividly was He-Man’s Battle Cat), I would piece the side back together until it was just as perfect as before. Then it was time to go back down the hall just as slowly as before.

You might wonder why I’ve taken up a paragraph telling you about my childhood hi-jinx on Christmas morning. That’s easy enough to explain. I just couldn’t wait until Christmas proper to open my gifts, and I also can’t wait to talk about today’s film which is strangely enough titled, Don’t Open Till Christmas. Thankfully, I didn’t have the troubles that the folks in this film encountered, and I also avoided the perils the production itself endured. So did I learn my lesson? Not really, but I did learn that good things sometimes come to those who don’t wait. So perhaps I should let you folks quit waiting and get on with the review.

It’s the Christmas Season in jolly old England, and there’s a murderer on the streets with a mind to take out St. Nick. Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom) is assigned to the case, but he can’t seem to make any headway. While the killer guts, strangles, impales, and machetes his way through a litany of Kris Kringles, the intrepid Inspector can’t even seem to find a pattern in the killings. The only leads come by way of a mysterious reporter by the name of Giles (Alan Lake) who is keen to help Harris‘ partner Sergeant Powell (Mark Jones) solve the killings and cast suspicion on Harris at the same time. Meanwhile a young couple, Kate (Belinda Mayne) and Cliff (Gerry Sundquist), get wrapped up in the mystery because Kate’s Dad was one of the slain Santas. As Christmas approaches, the killer is still at large and no Father Christmas is safe from the killer’s wrath.

Having seen several killer Santa films, I was intrigued by the notion that the killer would be stalking Santas. With so many cinematic slashers interested in teenage girls, campers, or distant relatives, the killer’s M.O. seemed like a clever twist. Unfortunately, the film’s cleverness begins and ends right about there. All in all the film is a disjointed, poorly filmed, badly scripted mess, and somehow I still managed to mostly enjoy it. From what I’ve read, much of the blame for the film’s schizophrenic style comes from having at least three directors take a crack at the film. Star Edmond Purdom is credited as director, but at one time or another, screenwriter Derek Ford and film editor Ray Selfe both took over the reigns. The end result is a pastiche of styles, a load of jumpy camera work, and a narrative that never hits a stride long enough to establish any kind of suspense. There are very few films that I would encourage anyone to remake, but in the right hands, Don’t Open Till Christmas could be a quality fixer upper.

Usually I spend a couple of paragraphs waxing poetic about actors in any given film, but Don’t Open Till Christmas doesn’t warrant such in depth coverage. Suffice it to say that the performances range from dull to horrid with many shades in between. I will briefly mention the notables. Edmond Purdom, who played the clueless Inspector Harris, will be pretty familiar to fans of Italian genre fare. Over the years he’s appeared in Joe D’Amato’s Absurd, Sergio Corbucci’s The Man Who Laughs, and Martino’s 2019: After the Fall of New York. The career of Mark Jones, who played the easily mislead Sergeant Powell, had a more interesting route to his career. He started off with a small role in 1967’s Marat/Sade, followed it up with TV work in shows like Dr. Who, and then appeared in the British sex comedies Secret of a Superstud (1976) and Can I Come Too? (1979). Huge nerds might be able to pick him out as “Other Imperial Soldier” in The Empire Strikes Back, but as a Trek Nerd, all those Imperials look alike to me.

There are a couple of ladies that I would like to mention, but not lead actress Belinda Mayne. She was entirely forgettable, and Kelly Baker, who plays a peep show hostess, nearly has as much screen time for some reason that remained unclear throughout. The first actress I would like to mention is Pat Astley. This was Miss Astley’s last film role in a career that went from hardcore porn to softcore films to a stint on the British sitcom Are You Being Served. Astley plays a nude model in the film, and her performance is delightfully silly. The moment where she defends her nudity by flashing the Inspector and saying, “I’m a professional.” is one of the film’s high points. The other performer I have to mention is former B.L.O.G Caroline Munro who plays herself. Apparently at one point in Miss Munro’s career she fancied herself a pop singer, and the film features her performing a song only to be interrupted by, what else, a dead Santa.

Now I’ve spent most of this review pointing out the film’s shortcomings. There’s a reason for that. It’s easy, there are a lot of them, and the film all puts arrows pointing them out. That being said I still enjoyed it for the most part. What other movie could you see a Santa get his, um, South Pole chopped off? Or having his face burned in his own roasting chestnuts? Or getting a machete right to the face? I think you’d be hard pressed to find one. You’d also be hard pressed to find a film that falls apart more stupendously in the third act. The last twenty minutes seem to come out of some other film about some other killer until they finally roll around to the confusing reveal of his motivations.

I’m going to give this one a pretty low grade because it’s a pretty low grade film, but it’s not without its charms. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of Lady Gaga. It’s a little annoying, gussied up in some amusing garb, and yet somewhere deep down you still think there might be something worthwhile. Don’t Open Till Christmas is worth a watch, and if you keep your expectations low, then you’ll probably find it serviceably amusing. Well, that’s all for today, but I’ve got plenty more Christmas goodies to share with you folks in the next two weeks. Until then, I think I spy a present for me under the tree that’s a little loose on one side already.

Bugg Rating

5 comments:

  1. I haven’t seen this one yet and now can’t wait for it to come in the mail since I’ve checked it off on my Blockbuster account. My brother and I were like you in the morning on Christmas. We were allowed to open presents at six, though, but would be up around three waiting, our fingers wanting to dive into the huge pile but also enjoying the anticipation. We would often pass the time by playing chess next to the Christmas tree, game after game, or, once we had it, Goldeneye on Nintendo 64 (we still do this at my parent’s house on Christmas morning believe it or not).

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  2. I just watched this a few days ago and thought about the same of it. It's a lot of fun at times, but it's a mess of a movie and a boring one at that. When there's no boobs or no blood, the film falls flat. But there was a ton of bad fun to be had with it though...I'll point it all out in my review!

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  3. Yup, once again you nail it right on the head. I agree with Matt, the film has it's moments but overall it's a mess. Plus my copy is very washed out that it's almost unbearable.

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  4. Im more willing to forgive Christmas Horror movies than any other, and somehow I have still gone without seeing this one so hopefully it does make for a little more gory christmas cheer

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  5. Thanks for all the comments fellas.

    @William- Glad to know I'm not the only one that lacked patience.

    @ Matt- I'll be looking forward to your thoughts. I really wanted this to be better than it was.

    @The Rev.- My copy was less washed out than almost unbearably dark. A cleaned up print would help the film out a bit.

    @ Carl- The twist that the killer is out for Santas instead of being one is novel enough to make this one worth watching. I also give holiday horror a bit of a pass. Even though I had to rate this one low, I would still watch it again.

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