Monday, July 25, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Christmas Stalking

Year: 1984
Director: Edmund Purdom
Cast: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Caroline Munro
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: Don't Open Till Christmas takes place in London during the lead-up to Christmas day. By night, a killer is stalking the streets murdering people who dress like Santa Claus. On the case are Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom of Pieces) and Detective Sergeant Powell (Mark Jones), though they might just be shown up by amateur sleuth Kate (Belinda Mayne), whose father was one of the first victims, and her boyfriend Cliff (Gerry Sundquist of the same year's Blind Date). Also on the case is Daily News reporter Giles (Alan Lake), who keeps getting under the feet of the Scotland Yard professionals.

Analysis: Even in a darker period for the slasher, producers couldn't resist getting those slay bells jingling.  In 1984, we got two entries in the hallowed subgenre of Christmas slashers, and Don't Open Till Christmas is rightfully the far less prominent title, behind Silent Night, Deadly Night. The film is from the same producers that brought us Pieces, and while it has every inch of that movie's general incoherence, it doesn't carry the same spark of charm that makes it a bad-good classic par excellence.

The film is narratively compromised to an almost violent degree, presenting a whodunit that lacks both viable suspects and a real sense of investigation. Most of the important facts of the case are discovered by Kate in offscreen moments that she then describes later, which robs the proceedings of any sense of fun. It doesn't fare much better as a formula slasher, failing to imbue any of the vast slate of victims with any sort of personality, batting away its Final Girl before the climactic third act chase scene, and making the fate of the killer frustratingly opaque rather than ambiguous in a "final shot of Halloween" kind of way. This may be a result of the fact that the movie changed hands between three different directors during production, and while I understand that, they could have just... not released the movie.

Fortunately, while the kills are disjointed, some of them do pack enough of a classic slasher punch to at least be entertaining to witness, and they come at a brisk enough frequency that the taste of the poorly lit and executed ones is washed out of your mouth almost immediately. It would take a person with more moral purity than I to complain about the fact that this movie contains an eyeball sliding out of its socket, a Rube Goldberg-esque car electrocution, a spear through the mouth, and a Santa getting his dick slashed off while he uses a urinal.

There are also some elements that are genuinely good, though those are much fewer and farther between. First off, the score incoporates a minor key rendition of "Jingle Bells" that works wonders to boost the holiday spirit of the story. There is also a general sense that the creators of the film saw the German krimi movies and decided they could make a Scotland Yard murder mystery even more hyperbolically British than those. The film also doesn't want for good locations (including a scene set in the basement of the Tower of London), though it does want for the lighting necessary to really make those locations pop and drive the atmosphere in a real way. Frankly, in general it's a piss ugly movie. If every frame of a film is meant to be a painting, the shots here look like they accidentally sat on a painting.

Don't Open Till Christmas is not exactly a miserable experience to sit through, but I could point you to a half dozen Christmas slashers that are far more worth your time, and that's just off the top of my head.

Killer: Giles (Alan Lake)
Final Girl: Sherry Graham (Kelly Baker), randomly. Her lack of overall importance to the story is indicated by the fact that she is credited as "Experience Girl."
Best Kill: A Santa has his face cleaved in twain backstage at a show and is sent onstage from beneath a trapdoor in the middle of the performance.
Sign of the Times: After rubbing up against a woman wearing a Santa coat, Cliff is worried they'll be mistaken for a couple of "gays" and get arrested.
Scariest Moment: A man comes to Sherry's peep show and begins to talk about his weird relationship with his mother, at which point he is revealed not to be the killer.
Weirdest Moment: The performance that was so cruelly interrupted by the arrival of a dead body was being put on by consummate slasher vixen Caroline Munro of Maniac, The Last Horror Film, and Slaughter High.
Champion Dialogue: "I am welcome everywhere. I am a member of society."
Body Count: 13
    1. Makeout Santa is stabbed in the chest.
    2. Makeout Woman is stabbed in the stomach.
    3. Daddy Santa is impaled through the back of the neck with a spear.
    4. Cigarette Santa is garroted with wire and has his face burned.
    5. Alley Santa is shot in the head.
    6. Peep Show Santa is stabbed in the neck.
    7. Drunk Santa is stabbed in the gut.
    8. Carnival Santa is kicked to death with a shoe that has a knife in it.
    9. Silly String Santa is cleavered in the face.
    10. Urinal Santa has his dick slashed off.
    11. Kate is stabbed in the gut.
    12. Powell is electrocuted by his car.
    13. Mom is pushed down the stairs.
    14. Ian Harris is exploded by a rigged music box.
TL;DR: Don't Open Till Christmas is incoherent and stupid, but it's mildly entertaining nevertheless.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 938

No comments:

Post a Comment