Don't Open Till Christmas (1984) - A bit of a mess of a movie from the incomparable Dick Randall, it is a Christmas slasher film hoping to ride the coattails of the some what successful Pieces (1982) but had problems right from the start. The director and Actor Edmund Purdom only took the role because he was also given the directors role. Unfortunately he was not particularly successful at the directing part; So Producer Dick Randall had screen writer Derek Ford assist him. This still did not work so they were both scrapped from that role and Editor Ray Selfe and Writer Alan Birkinshaw co directed a film that was already a mess. Too tame for a Randall film they rewrote a good portion of the script adding in some very gruesome kills. They also inserted the strange stage performance from the lovely Caroline Munro near the end of the film. It is more noted for seeming completely alien to the film more than any performance Munro gave. When all was said and done the film really is a strange combination of parts. Some solid eighties synth music by Des Dolan accompany some very tense and wonderful stalking scene. But the film is riddled with strange plot twist and dialog and the very violent deaths that sometimes come out of no where and end too quickly.
The quick and dirty plot seems to encompass the film, a maniac is loose and is going around killing anyone dressed as Santa. The New Scotland yard is reeling from the events and the pressure to solve the case falls on Inspector Ian Harris (Purdom). That sums up the basic plot but boy, it is so much more than that. The masked killer has these crazy brown eyes just like many of the male characters in the film so guessing who the murderer is will be tough. Also hooded so no hair color is ever seen makes it that much harder. There are some people to consider though.
The first obvious red herring is Cliff Boyd (Gerry Sundquist), the boyfriend of Kate Briosky (Belinda Mayne). They have the misfortune of watching Kate's Father (Laurence Harrington) be speared through the face while performing as Santa at a night club. Cliff who pan handles with Kate, playing the flute for his income is low on cash and could be in line for some inheritance if Kate ever calls the damn lawyer back. Because everything early on gears towards him as a suspect he can't be the killer. It is a bit ham handed how fast and hard the script points the finger at him. When you make someone obviously the killer the audience can generally figure out it is a dead end. A dead end even though the writers worked to have reasons to suspect this character. You have to know that money is not the motivating factor for this killer, everything points towards a psychopath just because of the brutality of the crimes.
Then there is reporter Giles (Alan Lake) who shows up spouting cryptic things about Inspector Harris. He thinks Sgt. Powell (Mark Jones) could more easily solve the case and get a promotion. He is strange and brown eyed and very definitely could be a suspect. Not to the characters in the film he is barely in it. Its just that the scenes he is in his personality is so strong and slightly off that he is definitely to be considered. The character of Giles really does not get fleshed out until the end of the film and by that time you are probably just wishing the film is over. He does have those crazy brown eyes though.
As the film goes on even Inspector Harris becomes a suspect, well at least for the audience. He shows signs of cracking under the pressure to solve the case. He off camera is being berated by his higher ups and seems to become dour thinking he is going to be fired. When it becomes known that his last name is not Harris and that secretly he has been visiting the Parklands Mental Institute he is suddenly a real possibility. What is he doing at Parklands? Was he once a patient?
Hell, all of this leading towards the real killer is so clumsily done that it is frustrating to watch. Really its just a couple of scenes that are really done well in this film and those and the added elaborate fast murders make it interesting at all. The first kill scene in the very beginning of the film although not original is classic Giallo slasher type scene. A guy dressed as Santa comes into an abandoned alley to meet his woman. They go to the car they have thee and start to make out in the back seat. We get a point of view of the killer as he closes in on the car. The sound is the breathing through what must be a mask. He circles the car and annoys the man inside who thinks he is a voyeur. The man gets out and confronts our unseen killer. The killer's hand stabs out a long blade into the abdomen of the Santa. The woman screams and panics trying to get out the far side of the car. Through the killers eyes we watch her trapped in the alley looking desperately for a way past the killer. She backs against the wall of the alley and the killer again lashes out killing her.
The other longer, and maybe too long scene to note is the cat and mouse between the killer and a drunk Santa who realizes his plight and flees into a the London Dungeon wax museum. There is quite a suspenseful scene before he fails to escape.Also in the scene is the poor woman working there, played by Paula Meadows who has an interesting career in real life as an erotic artist by the name Lynn Paula Russell
There is a wide variety of Santa damage being done in this movie. Most are sudden and violent and gruesome, spear through the head, Long knife stabbing, burned in a fire, shot through the head, stabbed through the neck, it really is quite an amazing collection of deaths they added into this film. Overall though the film fails to really tell a consistent story, with Kate sort of becoming an investigator on her own and Harris suspended and a suspect in Kate's mind. It all gets so strange at the end with the revelation of who the killer is and his absolutely strange behavior.
Similar to Christmas Evil (1980) The trauma that set the killer off totally has to do with an event on Christmas involving Santa and sex and in this case the death of his Mother. Walking in on Dad dressed as Santa, having sex with a blonde hottie is too much for the kid and his Mom to take. Unfortunately Mom falls down the stairs and dies forever setting Santa in the kids head as someone to hate. The very last scene too is unexpected but considering how strange the whole thing is it is not unreasonable.
I can't really say this is a film you should seek out unless the practical gore effects are your main interest. Even if that is the case they are things you have probably scene before. It is a remarkably underwhelming film and You can totally understand why the violent brutal attacks were added. If they had put this film out without them it would be a plodding psychological thriller. So no recommendation will be made here.
Rating (3.2) 5.0 and up are recommended Some more recommended than others.