Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)

As an editor, dangling modifiers are a mistake I see often in writing. So when I read the description on the back of the Don’t Open Till Christmas DVD sleeve (“A deranged killer is stalking the streets of London murdering people dressed as Santa Claus”), I assumed the film was about a killer who dresses as Santa Claus, not a killer who murders people who are dressed as Santa Claus.

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Turns out I wasn’t giving the DVD packaging copywriter enough credit as a grammarian. I was also giving the filmmakers altogether too much credit. Because while the “killer Santa” idea is hardly original, it has the potential to be scary.

We are raised to give Santa unrestricted access to our homes and to confess to him our secret desires. His omniscience is the stuff of song. Anyone who’d exploit our trust in Santa has violated the social contract in such a fundamental way that we’d be surprised if he didn’t kill at random. No one is safe from such a monster.

A person who kills faux Santas, on the other hand… well, that’s someone from whom almost everyone is safe. Just, you know, don’t wear a fucking Santa suit!

Of course, I live in the real world and not in 1980s video nasty London, where one apparently can’t swing a knife without hitting a Father Christmas look-alike (even after a newspaper runs a front-page story with the headline, “Only Three More Killing Days to Christmas”).

These ersatz Santas are especially easy to hit since they all seem to be in a permanent state of inebriation and/or horniness which renders them barely able to walk, let alone change clothes or call for help.

Of course, a true psycho wouldn’t limit himself to using knives to kill drunken Santas. He would use a full arsenal of guns, garrotes, bombs, razors, sharpened sticks, and chestnuts roasting on open fires. Our killer here doesn’t disappoint.

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Don’t Open Till Christmas took three directors two years to make. After actor Edmund Purdom and screenwriter Derek Ford were successively booted from the director’s chair, editor Ray Selfe shot some additional footage and cut together something resembling a movie, although the end result predictably lacks continuity.

To the extent that there is a cohesive plot, it mostly concerns Cliff Boyd, an obnoxious 20-something Londoner who, in one grimace-inducing scene, tries to convince his girlfriend, Kate Briovski, to do porn one day after seeing her dad murdered. (“You have to come back into the real world sometime,” he says.)

Kate demurs, so Cliff goes outside to make out with another girl (Sharon) who is naked except for—wait for it—a Santa jacket! After fleeing from the cops (because, in Cliff’s words, “They’ll think we’re a couple of gays”), Sharon finds herself face-to-face with the masked murderer, who undresses her at knifepoint but lets her live. Sharon and Cliff thereupon disappear from the film.

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Meanwhile, Kate is hard at work solving the “mystery” of the Santa murders. The police are baffled, even though the killer calls them 15 minutes into the movie, telling them he has information to help them crack the case and identifying himself by name. (They have him tailed but somehow miss his multiple nightly homicides.)

In another major setback, the cops’ plan to dress themselves in Santa suits and go—unarmed—to a dimly lit Christmas carnival ends with the killer kicking one officer to death with spiked shoes and gouging another’s eye out.

The plot pretty much falls apart at this point, most notably when disco starlet Caroline Munro performs a literally show-stopping musical number titled, “Warrior of Love”.

Don’t Open Till Christmas is a largely unremarkable entry in the Christmas slasher subgenre. Its shocking death scenes are too few to prop up a feature film. Because the main characters are never threatened and the victims are killed mere moments after they are introduced, there is no suspense to sustain us between the grisly deaths. 5/10

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