Movie Review: ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’

Director: Edmund Purdom

Cast: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Gerry Sundquist, Mark Jones

Plot: In the lead up to Christmas a couple of London detectives search for a pathological killer targeting anyone wearing a Santa costume.

Review: Here’s an oddity that exists in between the pioneering slasher movie Black Christmas and the commodification of the genre tropes later in the 1980s. It doesn’t focus on a group of isolated characters with a mystery masked killer, but casts out a wider net across the streets of London. It’s a simple film, without a great deal of style in the visuals, but provides a range of cheap and schlocky deaths to break up the monotonous police procedural.

We open with a pretty standard for the genre POV shot as a couple are stalked and stabbed before introducing two suspects – Cliff and Kate (Mayne and Sundquist) – who become embroiled in the mystery when Kate’s father is impaled while performing as a Christmas party Santa. Inspector Harris (Purdom) and Powell (Jones) are put on the case at Scotland Yard, and spend a great deal of time providing exposition in a dry, British manner before occasionally talking to someone else. Much of it involves recounting conversations they’v had off-screen in a masterful reversal of ‘don’t tell, show’. They seem fairly non-plussed about solving the crime, leaving the murderer to tear through the Santa’s of London. All the while an odd reporter named Giles (Lake) is shaking people down for information as the bodies pile up.

Every couple of scenes we leave our lead characters behind to enjoy a vignette about another victim dressed as Santa and occupying the seedy underbelly of London. These moments tend to be quite varied, so they at least stay interesting and unique. From a chestnut roasting Santa being unceremoniously set ablaze in his own fire to a pair of Santa’s being attacked with a James Bond-esque shoe hosting a hidden pop-out blade. One sequence with a drunk Santa being stalked through a House of Horrors manages to be quite tense and filled with surreal imagery,

When cracking into a slasher from 1984, some sleaziness or eroticism is expected. This one falls much more on the sleazy end of things, with scenes taking place in strip clubs and at porn shoots. Making it feels all the sleazier are the moments when young women either flirt with or randomly flash the much older Inspector Harris, who just so happens to be played by the director of the movie.

There’s a couple of red herrings in the mix at any given time, with a ticking clock in the form of a gift marked ‘don’t open till Christmas’ received by and forgotten about by Harris. Sadly, the final reveal and twist is pretty meaningless. With a stronger note to finish on, it may have become a pulpy classic. As such, it’s just only of interest to those looking into the origins of a sub-genre.

We like the close-up on the hostage crossing their fingers when promising the kidnapper that they won’t run away. You don’t actually need to set that up.

Rating: SIX out of TEN