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Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

There have been a number of dodgy plot inventions discussed on this website in the past - but few are as truly appalling as the main thrust of this one. I'm not talking about the idea of a maniac killing Santa Clauses in a variety of ever-more disgusting ways - that's more of a variation on a theme than a plot device. No, I'm talking about the idea that a high-ranking policeman on a high profile murder case would receive an unmarked parcel delivered to their home from an anonymous source, and actually obey the command "Don't Open Till Christmas".

Just think about it for a second. There's a nutter running around London, committing atrocities with a festive theme. You're the policeman investigating. You get an unsolicited Christmas parcel. What do you do?

But I digress. Don't Open Till Christmas is a terrible film. If I mention that Alan "Killer's Moon" Birkenshaw is alleged to have had a hand in it, and that it went straight to video in 1984, you might have an idea just how terrible it is. But it's certainly entertaining.

The film is basically a series of scenes featuring men dressed as Santa Claus being burned, hacked, stabbed, emasculated and anything else the film makers could think of at the time. So unfortunately, this review is going to be basically a list of how a bunch of men dressed as Santa Claus get burned, hacked, stabbed, emasculated etc. I hope you'll stick with me…

Actually, for some reason the first killings don't have a Santa theme at all. Seen through the eyes of the killer, a couple making out in the back of a car are approached, the scene soundtracked by heavy breathing and what sounds suspiciously like John Williams' "Jaws" music.

On noticing that they're being watched, the couple stop what they're doing but then carry on anyway - until he gets messily stabbed, she makes a hash of getting out of the car, and then realising that she's pretty much got away from the killer after all, stands still and waits for him to stab her as well.

Luckily, from then on it's Santa deaths a-plenty. The first gets a spear through the back of the head (and out of his mouth) as he stands in front of everyone at a party, the second gets garrotted and shoved head first into his own brazier as he listens to a report of the "Santa murderer" on the radio.

Scotland Yard are on the case, but having no luck. The papers are lapping it up - the latest headline says "Three more killing days to Christmas". Which brings me to another question which kept popping into my head during the film - why are all these men insisting on dressing like Santa? It's a lame thing to do at the best of times, but when you're pretty much guaranteed to meet a messy end just for doing it, why bother at all? Plus you'd have thought that the geniuses at Scotland Yard would have suggested that people not do it this year, just to be on the safe side…

It's at this point that the string of murders lead a police sergeant to pontificate: "Do you think, sir, that we might have a psychopath on our hands?"

Which probably explains why they haven't caught the killer yet.

The police may be stupid, but their nothing compared to our "hero" Cliff, the boyfriend of the first murdered Santa's daughter (Kate). This guy's a real class act. With her father dead for at least half a day, they have this fantastic exchange:

Kate: "There's been another killing."

Cliff: "Big deal… just a chestnut vendor."

Kate: "My father's just been killed!"

Cliff: "You've got to come back into the real world some time…"

Kate is understandably put out by Cliff's bizarre way of helping her deal with her grief, so he attempts to cheer her up by taking her to a photographic studio and suggesting she strip off for some glamour shots (she's not a model, by the way). Already deeply unhappy, she throws a complete fit when the photographer produces a Santa outfit and tells her to put it on - finally deciding to leave Cliff, his mate, and a model called Sharon to it.

Sharon has less qualms about putting the outfit on, and Cliff seems happy enough to let Kate wander off on her own. He's also happy enough to start snogging Sharon in the street outside, later on. Happy, that is, until he spots some policemen coming towards them (Sharon's still wearing the Santa outfit - and very little else).

"They'll think we're a couple of gays!" he tells her (yes, if by "gays" he means a bloke snogging an extremely chesty semi-naked blonde). "Run for it!"

Of course, she runs straight into the killer, who produces a cut-throat razor, runs it across her naked breasts and then disappears (once again, she just stands there and lets him do this). Interviewed by police about the incident, and told she could be arrested for indecent exposure, she flashes them again and replies: "Indecent? I'm a professional!"

Meanwhile, more Santa murders are afoot across town. The first sees a Santa visit a Soho peep show. "Is that it?" he asks the girl behind the glass after she gives her knockers a quick rub.

"What do you expect, Flashdance?" comes the reply. She then sees him get stabbed in the back of the neck.

The next death is a classic (bear with me). A Santa gets chased by some rowdy punks, falls off his bike, climbs over a wall, gets attacked by a dog, runs into a "chamber of horrors" style wax museum, gets a load of axes thrown at him (they all just miss) and eventually gets stabbed in the stomach. A stupid scene - but actually quite suspenseful, believe it or not.

Scotland Yard have now decided on a new tack - policemen will be put on the streets as decoys (which for some reason involves them actually having to do Santa jobs). One gets kicked in the gonads with a Rosa Klebb-style knife-in-the-shoe (all together now, lads: "Ooooooh!"), a second somehow gets his eyeball pulled out. So that idea worked well, then.

The girl from the peepshow is the first to give a (vague) description of the killer: "His eyes… they sort of smiled behind the mask. If I saw those eyes again, I'd recognise him." (pause) "If he was smiling."

Luckily, Kate is also on the case and it's mainly through her diligence and hard work that the killer starts to get tracked down. But not before another couple of Santa murders.

As Caroline Munro (yes, the Caroline Munro - obviously thinking that this could be the start of a singing career) warbles an instantly forgettable tune in yet another seedy club, a Santa turns up on-stage with a knife through his face. And in possibly the most offensive scene in British horror, a fat Santa taking a piss has his nob chopped off, spraying great gouts of blood all over the urinal. Classy stuff.

The film races towards its improbable ending with the killer kidnapping the peepshow girl, yet strangely keeping her alive: "You ungrateful bitch. I give you a few more hours to live, and this is how you repay me?" he shouts at her, after she twats him with a lump of wood; and just about everyone dying - with a less-than-watertight reasoning for the killer's motives being revealed.

Like it's stablemate Killer's Moon, Don't Open Till Christmas is a hideous farrago of a film. The combination of nasty deaths, unlikeable characters, that bizarre cameo from Miss Munro and assorted red herrings and plot "twists" (believe it or not, I've left a fair amount of storyline for you to discover by yourselves) adds up to something which is slightly less enjoyable than Killer's Moon, but still an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes.

Last updated: February 22, 2010

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Don't Open Till Christmas 1984

Don't Open Till Christmas 1984

Don't Open Till Christmas 1984

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