Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS
WRITER: Derek Ford & Al McGoohan
DIRECTOR: Edmund Purdom
STARRING: Edmund Purdom as Inspector Harris
Caroline Munro as Herself
Alan Lake as Giles
Belinda Mayne as Kate
Gerry Sundquist as Cliff Boyd
Mark Jones as Detective Sergeant Powell
QUICK CUT: Santa Claus is coming to town...and the morgue! A rash of Santa Claus murders is clogging up the streets of London, and some Scotland Yard inspectors look into things. Until the lead wanders off the set.
Inspector Harris - The lead investigator on the Santa Claus murders. He's rising in the ranks at Scotland Yard, but he gets bored and distracted easily, disappearing from the film for large portions.
Giles - A very creepy reporter, who is in no way whatsoever the murderer. Really, he's not. Really!
Kate - The daughter of one of the dead Santa's, who seems to stumble upon all the important evidence, for no particularly good reason. Why she's outwitting the police is beyond me. A rare instance of secondary characters being more important and influential than the mains.
THE GUTS: The movie opens with *squints* I think a mall Santa meeting Mrs. Claus in a dark alley. A very dark alley. I can't see squat in this. Not quite as bad as Home Sweet Home, though. As they fade from view, you hear breathing and the camera closes in on them.
The Jaws theme starts up as the cameraman approaches the car and the couple begin to make out. And I am not kidding. The music is very Jaws like. For once, I'm ok with them not seeing anything, since it is darker than sin out here.
Surprisingly, they actually do see the lurker and tell him to piss off, in so many words. He sticks around until the fake Santa jumps out of the car, and gets promptly stabbed in the gut. His girlfriend tries to get away, but gets much the same.
After the credits, we resume our Christmas party already in progress. Pretty lame, with bad music, bad dancing, and why are people in costume? Is it Christmas or Halloween? In the backroom, we have one guy trying to get into a Santa costume which at least makes sense.
They introduce the Santa to the rest of the party goers, and why does the ominous music start? Is Santa's arrival ominous in England? Is Britain from Futurama? And why do they say he's from Greenland? What are these strange Christmas customs the British have?
After his intro, Santa comes out and makes some lame jokes. Good thing the killer is there to stop him short, and runs a sword or something right through the back of his head, sparing us all.
The next day, the Scotland Yardigans arrive to interview Dead Santa #2's daughter and her boyfriend, the other bad comedians from his short-lived intro. Not that they really ask many questions, but they do say he was a victim of another Santa murder. Thanks, I wasn't sure.
In a completely different part of town, another Santa is hanging around a grill when he gets choked by a garotte and shoved onto said grill. This movie is racking up the body count quite fast.
We almost get a brief glimpse of the killer, but then you realise he's wearing a cheap plastic mask, so the movie didn't ruin it right out of the gate. And then Dead Santa #3 bursts into flames.
The next day again, someone drops a package off to Inspector Harris, and it's labelled with our movie's title. Otherwise it would go unmentioned.
Back at the Yard, Harris's partner gets a call from a reporter named Giles, who offers him an inside track on the killer. That at least rings off plenty of alarm bells with the character, so I know I'm not alone. Giles isn't suspcious in the slightest. So much for not giving it away right away.
And look, it's another Santa. I wonder what it is time for?
Giles shows up on Kate's doorstep to try and ask her a few questions about her father's murder, but she's not willing to talk to reporters and has been warned not to say anything. Not that saying so stops Giles from following and pestering.
Kate and her boyfriend next pop down to the Underground so Boyd can try and raise a few pounds with his flute playing. Pssst, Boyd, your girlfriend is rich.
One of Boyd's old friend's arrives and acts like he recognises Kate, not realising she's been all over the tv from her father's murder. She excuses herself after the memories are dredged up, and the boys go off for a drink. Caring relationships, everyone!
Kate and Boyd pop by skeevy photographer friend Jerry's place where he's snapping away at a girl that's wearing less clothes than Supergirl. In fact, they're little more than belts wrapped around her body and a cape. Classy. Or maybe that is Supergirl.
Jerry tries to get Kate to join in on the skeevy fun, but she's not abot to strip down for some essentially nude photos. And when Jerry grabs a Santa costume for her, yeah, it goes about as well as you'd think.
Boyd can't exactly be bothered to hurry after Kate, not with a nude girl right there. The model changes into the Santa cloak, and they head outside for some shots. Jerry locks them out, possibly by accident, and the cops start wandering over. Either because they fear for the Santa gal, or because she's flashing boobs to all the good boys and girls.
Naked Girl makes a run for it and runs smack dab into the Santa Slayer with a straight razor. He gets entranced by the boobs and decides to let her live. There's worse reasons to not kill someone, I guess.
The next day, Harris and Powell arrive to interview the girl, but after a few questions, Harris buggers off somewhere unexplained, leaving his partner to pick up the slack. And again, it's not like they ask much. They pretty much say hi, ask how she is and wanders off.
Meanwhile, another Santa heads down to a Peep Show. Don't people in London have anything better to do than wear Santa costumes? He could at least take off the beard or the hat! And how many Santa's in England are drunken skeevy guys?
This Santa has a nice conversation with the girl in the glass box, and they seem to really hit it off. They might actually have...oh gee surprise, he gets stabbed in the throat. I forgot what this movie was for a second.
The movie wanders back to Kate and Cliff where we find out Jerry was punched right out of the movie by Boyd. Lucky guy, he's saved the rest of this humiliation. Still, an awkward way to write someone out. Why bother with him in the first place? Was he supposed to be a suspect?
Harris arrives at the door and asks where Cliff was last night, so I guess he actually went somewhere important. Cliff shows he's not a complete chowderhead and realises he's a suspect in the killings. Kate asks to speak to the inspector later, somewhere less public. Wait, less public than your own home??
Back at Scotland Yard, the extremely creepy Giles has snuck in and is poking around an inspector's office, which isn't strange at all. The inspector returns and asks a few questions of the reporter to find out what he knows. Especially the fact that the paper he works for has never heard of him. Which is never really followed up on. You would think that might be dealt with right then and there in Scotland Yard, but no.
Wait, you're a reporter who isn't really a reporter poking around, asking questions about an ongoing investigation, and breaking into the police department to look through our files? Well ok then, carry on, wot!
You know what I haven't seen in awhile? A Santa get murdered. Oh look, here's one now.
This Santa goes for a bike ride late at night, because that makes sense while a Santa murdering loony is running around, and gets the attention of some punks that give him a merry chase. Hell, that doesn't make sense even on a normal day.
The entire point of that was, apparently nothing. Santa ditches the bike, the kids swipe it, and Santa proceeds to...to climb down a rock wall? What?
Dead Santa #5 runs straight into a dog and runs back out somewhere. This movie has zero sense of geography, and the editing and darkness do not help any. Just get to the stabbing already.
He then runs into...I don't even know, frankly. And not for lack of trying. It looks like a dungeon. There's a woman stumbling about that tries to grope Santa, there's naked people...I am at a loss. Then there's a suddenly speaking devil. Christmas or Halloween, movie! Pick one!
We then see what may be the craziest weapon ever. It's like a spiky-headed pizza cutter. If a metal disc ran into a throwing star, and had a handle attached. I don't know what it could have been used for, but I want one.
Next we see the killer grab an oddly pointed blade and miss with that too. Finally, he does get to kill another Santa with just a plain old knife. So, there was ultimately no purpose to the S&M museum.
Kate and Cliff return from an inquest, and we learn Harris has gone missing. And he actually does go missing, for almost the second half of the movie. There were some behind the scenes reasons for this, namely the actor walking off after a few days of filming, but at least they tried to play it into the mystery angle making him a suspect. Even if it failed miserably.
Harris makes a brief reappearance, but the editing makes it look like a lot of this footage comes from different scenes. At the very least, they're in different spaces as the actors talk.
Oh good, more Santas at a carnival. Plenty to kill from here.
The killer employs more cool weapons, with a blade in his shoe. These boots were made for killing.
Powell interviews the girl from the peep show, and she's wearing the exact same clothes she was days before in the booth. Way to go, costume department. Not that she has any useful information, other than seeing his eyes. She says that his eyes smiled, so he must clearly be Irish.
They provide an escort to take her home, but she ditches him to go home alone. Because that's the smart thing to do. She pretty much gets what she deserves.
Kate tries to contact Harris, but he's to busy walking off the movie, or visiting a mental institution. One of those.
Back with the peep show girl, the killer visits her at work, and she's too busy staring at his mouth. She doesn't recognise him until the camera pans up to his eyes, so that must be the moment she looked at them! Sometimes, camera POVs make no sense. He smashes through the glass but can't quite reach her. Somehow, she gets out of the enclosed space zooming past him, running up the stairs that were behind him to try and escape.
She leads him on a merry chase through the streets of London, but he utilises the magic teleportation powers of all slashers to jump ahead and grab her. Rather than just kill her outright, he leaves her chained up for awhile to think about what a bad girl she is.
There's more off-camera conversations with Harris over a phone and we find out he's off the case. So, the main character has wandered off set, and the minor characters are promoted and try to carry on the plot. It doesn't go so well.
Oh just in time to keep things entertaining, a drunken Santa. Like every other Santa, he briefly does his pervy bit of peeping tomness, and turns smack dab into the killer's weapon. Before he can be executionaled, he makes a run for it, right into a basement. Which we haven't already seen, right?
The movie clearly wants you to think the killer is Harris, but there is no way, unless he wears a fat suit when he's at the office.
And hey, straight out of Maniac, Caroline Munro shows up in a cameo as herself. She has a startlingly small part for a name hyped up on the case.
So while Caroline sings in the background, Santa and the slayer wander backstage, with the killer pulling out yet another interesting weapon. Where does he get these wonderful toys?
The backstage crew activates a trapdoor and the dead Santa rises onto the stage...which makes me wonder what was supposed to happen? What was supposed to rise up? The trapdoor was clearly part of the show, right? Or is this plot convenient trap doorage?
Powell arrives at Kate's, because she somehow seems to be the only person with information. She tries to tell Powell about Harris visiting the psych ward, but it seems unimportant.
Almost immediately after he's out the door, Kate calls Powell again, which I'm sure will go over well after previously wasting his time.
Dead Santa Time!
This one at least doesn't get chased around, and gets killed pretty quick. And gruesomely. The killer whacks off Santa's Little Elf. Yes, that's right.
Oh look, they remembered Harris was in the movie. Kate goes to visit him personally and has a short little dinner with him.
Kate knows she shouldn't be talking to him, since Harris is off the case, but she says she feels closest to him. Despite that whole he might be crazy, he might be the killer thing? Right. That's always the basis of strong bonds.
Later, once Harris wanders off set again, Giles magically appears inside Kate's apartment. Again, because he's not creepy at all.
OH surprise, he's crazy, and is the killer. Gasp, shock.
We learn that Giles is Harris's brother, and from the mental institution, and we find all this out from random characters throughout the climax. Since Harris walked out, we never get an actual scene between the two brothers in any sort of climactic fashion. Way to screw up everything.
Powell calls Kate, and she dives for the phone, but Giles makes the most inventive use of garland I've ever seen and uses it to strangle Kate, then stabs her. With a knife, not the garland.
Giles has some pretty inconsistent rules. Some girls get killed by him, some because they're with a Santa, some just cause, some he just ties up. Now, the one girl he sees that IS dressed like Santa, he just lets go?
Anyways, since he knows something is wrong, and is the only inspector that hasn't wandered off the movie, Powell rushes to Kate's aid. He's too late to save her, though. I love that since this is in the day before cellphones, Powell has to use the dead girl's phone to call Scotland Yard while sitting right next to the corpse.
He's calling his tail of Harris, but he's not left his place. Couldn't be bothered to come to set, you see. So Powell knows the killer isn't Harris now, like he suspected.
Powell stumbles across Giles and chases him through a parking lot and he has enough time to electrify a car with some jumper cables, shocking Powell when he grabs it to check inside for the killer.
Giles returns to his captive peep show girl, and gives her some food. This means he has to untie her, and they bizarrely sit around and have a calm chat. Must be Stockholm syndrome.
They start talking about the joys of Christmas, but this causes Giles mental anguish. The girl uses the distraction to clobber him over the head and make a run for it. Because I didn't see that coming.
She reaches the door, but it's locked. She actually asks her captor for the key, and tries to grab it. How did she think that would go?
Giles says he has given her a few more hours to live, and plans to make her the supreme sacrifice to all the evils of Christmas. What? What does a girl who dances inside a glass booth for money have to do with Christmas? The only reason she's even involved is because a drunken Santa stumbled up to her pane.
The girl still has the chains used to tie her up and uses those as another weapon to hit Giles with and make another run for it. I guess she had the key, because she somehow gets out of the room. But that's ok, she quickly runs into yet another locked door. Ask him for the key again, that worked last time!
Giles waves the chains around, and rushes her, but she falls to the ground in a scared heap. They struggle for a brief moment, and he stumbles right over the railing of the stairwell and plummets to his doom. Ahh, the accidental end to a serial killer. Again, let's hear it for no particular relevance or build up in this movie!
The girl goes all the way downstairs to Giles', probably to check for the key, and surprise! He's not dead! Because people always survive falls from six stories up just fine.
And suddenly the movie crams in a random flashback to when Giles and Harris were kids at Christmas. I thought this was going to show he didn't get a gift, or got coal, or something that drove him over the edge. But no, he got a Swiss Army knife.
The reason he went mad is because he heads upstairs to bed and finds his dad in a Santa costume banging some random blonde girl. Well, that explains why he wanted to kill the peep show girl. Although, not why he left the photography model alive.
Dad smacks mom down the stairs, killing her, and Giles makes stabby on dad with his Christmas gift. So much for no returns.
We briefly return to the present, and Harris surprisingly, who was having the flashback nightmare. You would think he would've put this together sooner, and told someone. You know, something like, 'my brother has Santa issues and escaped from the loony bin days before the killings' might have been a big help.
Downstairs, Harris finds the present from the start of the movie, a gift from his brother, and opens it, finding a Christmas music box. He sets it on a shelf, and it promptly explodes. Nice of it to wait until it was out of the box to do that.
So, the lesson of the movie seems to be, everyone dies, and pervy Santas deserve to die. Oh, and always mention your crazed relatives when their MO pops up in your case files.
Video: Horrible. This is a public domain type transfer, and it looks like a third generation VHS copy recorded off the tv. Are there better versions out there? I'd actually like to see them.
Audio: Pretty bland mono track.
First Kill: About 1:50 into the movie, when the backseat Santa gets stabbed, and his girlfriend follows him to the great North Pole in the sky seconds later.
Best Kill: There is a lot to choose from here. There is no shortage of deaths to pick from. But being who I am, I gotta go with charbroiled Santa bursting into flames.
Classic Dialogue: "Only three more killing days until Christmas," a newspaper headline.
Blood Type - B-: Some good gore here, with some fun kills, and way over the top. Not so much blood itself so it loses points there, but there's plenty of inventive deaths to make up for it.
Sex Appeal: Plenty of naked women wandering around in the middle of wintery London, it seems.
Movie Rating: This movie is just bad. The plot is a mess, the directing is a mess, and I can't blame the movie entirely. Having your star literally leave the set a few days into filming is always going to screw things up. The problem is, they couldn't salvage anything by reworking the plot. In fact, without reworking the plot, the movie does not work at all. When the plot hinges on your killer being your lead's brother, and the lead *leaves the movie* you need to do a serious rethink and not just plow ahead. The whole movie just falls apart. It could have been a campy cheesefest if it had made the plot work without Harris, or recast the role, or tried anything to make the story work, but instead it is just a mess. Two out of five missing inspectors.
Entertainment Rating: But you may have noticed, when a movie is a mess, it makes for a very entertaining ride. It's fun to guess at what points Purdom was not around, and how they tried to make the film work without him. The deaths are certainly a blast, and the plot is so bad you just have to stare in horror and laugh to keep your sanity. This is my new favourite Christmas movie. On sheer fun to watch value, this movie gets a four out of five dead Santas.
This review has been brought to you by the word skeevy.