London’s not a safe place for Father Christmas in a festive slasher from 1980s Britain: RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES looks at Don’t Open Till Christmas 1984
TITLE: Don’t Open Till Christmas
RELEASED: 19 December 1984
CAST: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Mark Jones, Gerry Sundquist, Kelly Baker, Kevin Lloyd, Wendy Danvers, Caroline Munro
WRITER: Derek Ford
DIRECTOR: Edmund Purdom (additional scenes written and directed by Alan Birkinshaw, credited as Al McGoohan)
Review of Don’t Open Till Christmas 1984
It’s approaching Christmas, and a psychotic killer is at large in London. All the victims have something in common: They are all dressed as Father Christmas.
At New Scotland Yard, Inspector Harris (Purdom) is tasked with tracking down the assailant: Is it busking flautist Cliff (Sundquist), newspaper reporter Giles (Lake), or even the Inspector himself? And, are all of the above who they claim to be?
I apologise if I’ve conjured up an image of an edge-of-the-seat horror-thriller, or if I’ve even given the impression of a half-decent plot that can in any way be followed. No, let me be clear from this point onwards that Don’t Open Till Christmas 1984 is strictly from the low-rent end of the slasher cycle, a somewhat incoherent mess that nonetheless manages to hold the attention through sheer brass neck, and plenty of chucklesome ineptitude.
Originally touted as the debut directorial effort of one-time “most promising new star in Hollywood” Edmund Purdom (see footnote), production was elongated over a period of almost a year-and-a-half: Disagreements between Purdom and the producers, a complete script rewrite, two (or perhaps three) further directors coming in, the recasting of unavailable actors and Purdom’s eventual return to the production all added to the delays.
With all the above in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the film’s grasp of plotting is tenuous to say the least, and it’s hard to tell if the red herrings scattered throughout are intentional or merely the result of hasty reshoots and rewrites. It almost feels like two different films have been stitched together.
The end result is trashy, at times downright sordid, and it would be hard to defend Don’t Open Till Christmas against any accusations of moral reprehensibility at its most excessive. It has plot holes you could drive a tank through (unsurprisingly, given its troubled production) and the music cues (particularly in a sequence shot at London Dungeon) sound like they’ve been spliced together by a drunk wearing boxing gloves.
And yet, whilst it may be a piece of utter crap, everyone involved (and it appears quite a few people mucked in along the way) seems perfectly aware that they’re making a piece of utter crap. Its gratuitous violence is presented in such a ridiculous manner that you’re more likely to be laughing in a “can’t believe they just did that” way than being offended.
There’s also a sense of almost guerrilla filmmaking (did they really have permission to shoot outside New Scotland Yard?) that you can’t help but admire, of everyone trying, against all odds, just to get the damn film in the can.
The methods of bumping off the unfortunate Santas are certainly original: One is slayed at a seedy peepshow, another is impaled at a family Christmas bash, there’s a death by chestnut-roasting stall (I kid you not), and as for the poor fella slain at a urinal… well, I’ll let you use your imagination. The most bizarre killing is perhaps the Santa who, being pursued by the killer, ridiculously manages to run into a theatre where none other than Caroline Munro (playing herself) is performing a pop ditty, with the erstwhile Father Christmas’ death bringing an abrupt end to the performance.
For those who can take it, and if taken with a very large pinch of salt, Don’t Open Till Christmas is an absolute festive hoot, occasionally even for the right reasons.
Don’t Open Till Christmas Trivia Points
- Coming as the Video Recordings Act was being enforced, with Video Nasties mania rife in the media, it’s perhaps surprising that Don’t Open Till Christmas 1984 was able to get a UK release at all but, after around two-and-a-half minutes of cuts it appeared on video. At the time of writing, it has never appeared here in its original uncut form.
- Following the death of wife Diana Dors, Alan Lake had taken his own life by the time the film was finally released.
- The video cover rather cheekily declares the film to be “from the makers of Friday The 13th”. It may be that, either accidentally or intentionally, the distributor was confusing the name of that franchise’s sometime director (Steve Miner) with this film’s co-producer (Steve Minasian). Since the same trick was pulled with the same team’s Slaughter High (1986), I’m inclined to think it was no accident.
- Despite getting second-billing on the UK video cover, Caroline Munro appears for around two-and-a-half minutes. The song performed (perhaps titled Warrior Of Love?) remains unreleased.
FOOTNOTE: The quote comes from a 1954 New York Times piece, when Hertfordshire-born Purdom seemed on course for mega stardom, having replaced Mario Lanza in The Student Prince (miming to Lanza’s singing voice) and Marlon Brando in The Egyptian that same year. After a trio of flops followed, the actor parted ways with MGM and before long he was working extensively in Italy.
As that nation moved towards its Giallo and horror cycles, Purdom could be found in the likes of Luigi Bazzoni’s The Fifth Cord (1971), Jess Franco’s The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff (1974), video nasty Absurd (aka Rosso Sangue, 1981) and the bonkers slasher Pieces (1982), where he linked up with Don’t Open Till Christmas producers Dick Randall and Steve Minasian.
Purdom passed away in 2009, ending a life eventful enough to fill a book (and indeed there is one: Hollywood Garage, written by daughter and journalist Lilan Purdom).
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