Friday, December 23, 2016

Forgotten Films: Don't Open Till Christmas (1983)

I covered this one as a 'Random Movie Trailer' a couple of years ago.  I thought this might be an opportune time to briefly revisit it, having finally seen the movie in full, (during the Summer, perversely).  First up, it has to be said that Don't Open Till Christmas is a hugely frustrating film.  It's central premise of a maniac killing people dressed as Santa Claus is simple, yet brilliant.  It should make for an effective seasonally themed slasher film.  Indeed, it could even have made a fair facsimilie of a giallo movie. Unfortunately, the concept's execution leaves much to be desired: a muddled script, uneven tone, poor continuity and an inconsistent style.  None of which should be surprising as the film suffered from having 'too many cooks', or, in this case, directors.  Credited to its star, ageing matinee idol Edmund Purdom, a long way from his brief Hollywood heyday, much of the film was actually directed by the likes of Ray Selfe and Derek Ford.  The presence of these sexploitation veterans probably explains why the film can never quite make up its mind what it wants to be: veering between, police procedural, psycho thriller, sex film and horror film.

At times it feels as if sequences have been edited together randomly - an impression not helped by obvious changes of season between scenes, making it obvious that reshoots and additional sequences had to be shot after test screenings in order to plug plot holes.  Some sub plots, such as the sleazy photographer and the Soho sex show, seem to have been inserted, not just to pad out the running length, but to reshape the film to make it more appealing to adult film audiences.  (To be fair, though, these are some of the best scenes).  Other sequences seem quite random, most notably those in the theatre, which seem merely to be an excuse for having Caroline Munro perform her latest song - she has no other role to play in the plot.  The patchwork nature of the film emphasise the weakness of its script, which just doesn't know how to develop its central idea.  Indeed, every time the action flags and the police investigation reaches an impasse, another Santa murder is thrown in to keep the audience interested, regardles of whether they make any sense, plot-wise, or not.  Moreover, it leaves so many questions unanswered, such as how Alan Lake is able to keep on wandering into the incident room at Scotland Yard unchallenged, despite having no credentials whatsoever, (and nobody seems to bother checking his claim of being a journalist).

Despite all of these problems, Don't Open Till Christmas remains perversely enjoyable. For one thing, it is commendably sleazy, with lots of action in early eighties Soho, before it was 'tamed' and 'gentrified'.  The murders themselves are suitably bizarre and are devised and filmed with a genuine relish.  It can also boast of some genuinely suspenseful moments, notably the Santa being chased through what appears to be the London Dungeon.  It also boasts a fantastically nihilistic ending, which leaves none of the main characters in the land of the living.  The problem is that none of these elements ever seem to quite satisfactorily gel into a coherent whole.  As I said, it is a hugely frustrating film - whilst watching it I was constantly thinking of how good it could of been with a better script and a single director.  Nevertheless, as it stands, Don't Open Till Christmas is still well worth watching.  Not a classic, to be sure, but still a zestfully nasty but enjoyable B-movie.



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