Don't open 'Til Christmas (1985)

Dir: Edmund Purdom/Derek Ford/Ray Selfe

A real oddity this. A rare excursion for Brit flicks into full blown American Slasher territory (with a few lame Giallo sprinklings) and also a film with a nightmarish production history…..

London, England. A masked psycho is killing off Men who are dressed as Santa Claus. 'Scotland Yard' Detectives, Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom) and Sgt Powell (Mark Jones) are hot on the case though.
Meanwhile a mysterious Man named Giles (Alan Lake, Husband of ex British film sex bomb Diana "From Beyond the Grave" Dors, who would commit suicide before the film was released after Diana died of Cancer), who says he is a reporter, is taking a sinister interest in the murders.

When a 'Santa' is killed, via a sword through the back of his head, in front of his Daughter Kate (Belinda Mayne) in a crowded nightclub she and her cocky boyfriend Cliff (Gerry Sundquist) are drawn into the case. A case where everyone, even the Police themselves, seem to be suspects….

A real mess of a film this. Made around 1983 but not released till '85 (and then heavily cut in the UK by the British censors) this was originally Directed by it's star Edmund Purdom ("Pieces"/"Absurd"). Purdom was then fired and the writer Derek Ford took over (Ford was a veteran Director of grimy British sex romps) who was himself replaced by the films Editor Ray Selfe (some sources say that Alan "Killer's Moon" Birkenshaw also had a hand in the film!). More graphic murders were the main addition to what Purdom had shot and the very obvious omission of plot sequences.

Shot in London itself the film does have a certain sleazy atmosphere and effectively captures the feel of a City going through the grimy hangover between the vibrant 60's and the big business, money fuelled culture of the late 80's 90's. There is certainly a tacky charm to the whole thing. And a very 'so bad it's
good' vibe. But everything else is basically low rent and just plain so bad it's bad.

The lead actors are mostly bland and the support/extras look like they just strolled, bemused, onto the set.
Check out the scene where Kate's Father is killed. It's a packed nightclub where Santa suddenly has a sword blade exit from his mouth and, one weak scream aside, everyone just stands around without any kind of reaction! This is bad film making folks. Bad.

The script is harder to judge. The story is a mess but that may be down to the editing hassles. For example…Cliff suddenly appears in the Police Station (which is actually a series of sparsely furnished anonymous rooms) being released from custody as a suspect in the murders. Yet the last time we saw him he free and busking (playing a flute no less) in the street with Kate.
And in the end credits a 'Doctor Bridle' who actually appears nowhere in the film. And the totally out of the blue solution to the killer and their (weak) motive would seem to imply that this scene with the Doctor was a crucial one.

But in many other cases the script is just dreadful anyway and no excuses can be given,
Stand out (and very entertaining in a cheesy/trashy way it has to be said) moments are the following:

1) One of the Santa victims has to be one of the most fated Men ever to walk the Earth. He stumbles out of a pub and gets on a bike. He is then chased by some hysterically realised Cockney 'Punks'.
This chase ends up with him falling off his bike.
Then, in a trashy rehash of the equally unlucky/unlikely coincidence seen in Argento's "Tenebre", he is chased by a mad dog.
He flees the hound by hiding in the famous 'London Dungeon' waxworks (which for some reason is easy to walk into, despite being the middle of the night) only to be bumped off by our psycho.
It's a long-winded, wildly improbable set of events in itself. But the big question is...*what the hell was the killer doing waiting in the closed, deserted (except for a bizarre women who seemed to be blind - not much point going to the waxworks then) 'London Dungeon'???* Were they really waiting to see if a Santa Claus decided to walk in!!?? And seeing as the Santa that was there was only there due to the most unlikely series of events, then he can't have been waiting specifically for him. Crazy!

2) Cliff, the caring boyfriend that he is, takes the mourning, Fatherless Kate to his friend Gerry's photographic studio (Kevin Lloyd, later to appear in Family friendly TV series "The Bill" and who your reviewer once bumped into coming out of "The Lion King" in London. It's true you know). Gerry is in the middle of shooting some topless photos and tactless Cliff thinks it would be therapeutic for Kate to get naked with the other girl for a double spread! Needless to say she storms out leaving caring Gerry to flirt with the model!

3) Guess what Gerry wants to dress the girls up in for his topless shots?? You've got it! A Santa suit! What a coincidence! And this stupidity carries on when the model walks out of the studio still dressed in the costume! At this point the movie is playing like one of Ford's cheesy sex romps.
Of course our killer is watching and heads out after 'Santa'. But at least this silly scenario gives us a delightfully sleazy scene where our confused psycho discovers that Father Christmas is really Mother Christmas!

4) Again leaving all sense of reality or seriousness behind the topless model later drapes herself in her bed as she is questioned, ending the scene by flashing at the bored looking Harris and Powell!

5) Caroline Munro! Yes. That's right…Caroline Munro. Normally this is a good thing, but not in this case. Ms Munro (all 80's glittered up big hair) appears in this as herself…*singing a song*! She is warbling this appalling tune when a Santa with a machete in his face bobs up out of the trapdoor/lift in the stage floor.
This is not only a bad scene for Caroline, but completely pointless as far as the plot is concerned.
The reason she is in there is clear though. Her Husband at the time was involved in the film. Just like the way she was given more screen-time in Lustig's infamous "Maniac" (the only real bad part of the film as it's so unrealistic) because the same Husband was putting up some of the money for that too.

6) Time is all shot to hell. You never know when something is happening. Days seem to end (or not) and drift into one another. And the supposed 3-day lead up to Christmas seems to look like weeks.

7) A Women is chased down a large London street and yet there is no one in sight. Plus she passes house after house yet never runs to any of them. She acts and it's set-up, like she's is running through a deserted wastland or something.

8) And I guess this is the big one! With all these killings of Santa's and the press/TV coverage about them. People are still walking around dressed as Santa!!

We also have some enjoyably bad dialogue…After a stripper in a totally false looking Peepshow (owned by her Mother!!) witnesses one of the killings (a naughty Santa who looks like Brit stand-up comedian Jasper Carrot!) she says to the Police that she can recognise the killer by his eyes; "His eyes… they sort of smiled behind the mask. If I saw those eyes again, I'd recognise him…If he was smiling."

The gore is also cheap and tacky and the murder scenes themselves clumsily edited.
Except for a few knife stabs (one is satisfyingly messy) we rarely see the actual moment of death either. Obviously to save on effects we simply go to the aftermath (as in a very funny eye gouging, a face burning or the machete in the face) or have the most basic of visuals consisting of nothing more but , very false looking, blood spurting set ups.
The best death (the aforementioned knifing aside) is the infamous castration in a public toilet. It's trashy, just as it should be.

It all ends in a right old mess that leaves the viewer scratching their head, in between shaking it at the crazy Brit high jinks that have just unfolded before them

The film is best summed up by comparing it to the Christmas decorations in Kate's flat.
They are ragged, cheap, shoddy and generally thrown around and stuck up in such a lackluster fashion you really wonder why she bothered. And yet they hold a perverse, masochistic fascination in their tackiness.