DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS
Director: Edmund Purdom
Year of release: 1984
Country of origin: UK
Running time: 86 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both though blu ray may be a German copy.
Tagline: "The gift of terror that just won't wait" and "T'was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, they were all dead".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Just a quick note to point out right away is that unfortunately I bought a really bad copy of this film in terms of the picture quality so this will effect the review here and there as on several occasions I couldn't see what was happening. It's annoying as I specifically bought a copy that claimed to be digitally remastered thinking I would be getting a version with good picture quality but it turned out to be just the opposite.
In the build up to Christmas someone is murdering men dressed as Santa Claus on the streets of London. As the big day draws near and costumed Santa's continue to drop Inspector Harris and Sargent Powell of Scotland Yard tackle the case. Harris is suspicious of a young fellow named Cliff, the boyfriend of Kate, the daughter of one of the first Santa victims. Cliff's presence at a couple of the crime scenes attracts Harris' attention while Kate begins to mistrust Harris himself after she begins to do some of her own investigating. After initially being a bit baffled, Sargent Powell eventually begins to harbor similar suspicions about his colleague after a mysterious man claiming to be a reporter shows up at the station saying Harris may have something to hide.
Good points: I liked the small part near the beginning after the first couple of kills where the opening credits start playing. Alongside them we see a Santa Claus candle slowly burning and collapsing in on itself. A simple yet ominous touch which sets the tone for the film to follow.
As one of only a handful of British slashers out there it was refreshing and a bit of a novelty to hear British/Cockney accents. I enjoyed just listening to some of the characters speak. We also see a couple of landmarks like the London Dungeon and the London Underground (briefly or at least we see a sign for it).
The music isn't bad at all and manages to be rather spooky in places. Though nothing all that memorable it never seems out of place and quietly goes about enhancing things ever so slightly in the background.
The killer looks good wearing a couple of different masks, mainly a kind of simplified plastic looking male face with a big smile. This is suitably creepy and also he wears a shrunken head costume near the start though I could barely see that due to the picture quality. He possibly may have worn a third mask in the London Dungeon chase sequence but again the picture quality on my copy was dreadful here so I couldn't make much out. I did feel though that the killer also looked and sounded both interesting and creepy as well once unmasked.
The film has a high body count with lots of kills to keep us satisfied and some decent gore effects here and there to go along with them. Well I think they appeared decent but on what looked to be some of the more bloody ones I couldn't make much out due to the picture quality of my copy. Certainly though the good old use of lots of blood is never something that they shy away from.
Bad Points: Other than the two investigating policemen and Cliff and Kate there aren't many other characters that we get to know with most of those that die just being random Santa workers. Because of this we don't feel much tension or excitement when someone is threatened or being chased as we don't feel we know the victim at all. On top of this the final girl Kate is a bit unsympathetic as her motives aren't clear early on in regards to if she is attracted to Inspector Harris or just suspicious of him and is trying to get close to him just to try and discover something incriminating. Also unexpectedly towards the end the final girl duties get shifted to another woman, a witness to one of the murders who has been taken hostage by the killer. This makes things come across as disjointed towards the end.
On a few points I thought the film was silly and unrealistic mostly in regards to their being so many Santa workers bumbling about on their own in the dark, seemingly drunk in many cases. Surely it was common knowledge that these types were being targeted so you would think they would all be being extra careful and taking their costumes off as soon as they finished work and not going anywhere alone.
It was also weird that the girl later taken hostage doesn't want the police escort after her interview with Powell. After all they already know she works at the peep show so it isn't as if she has anything to hide. The streets are conveniently deserted as well when she is chased.
I didn't see why the blonde model was chased and later arrested for indecent exposure either. Yes she had nothing on under her robe but the policewomen couldn't see that from their position. For all they would have known she was just wearing a dressing gown on her house steps, since when has that been a crime?
Also the kill at the circus with the first decoy looked a bit weird with a blade of some kind popping out of the killer's shoe. Picture quality was so bad here I couldn't see much but it looked pretty odd.
The whole suspicion angle surrounding inspector Harris isn't very well done and comes across as muddled and confusing. It isn't clear at all why he is taken off the case and suspended, presumably due to the fact he is too slow in catching the culprit but it seems harsh. There wasn't enough justification really for him to suspect Cliff and certainly not enough for Kate to suspect him. When she started investigating we needed to see more of her visit to the Parklands Mental Institution as well which could have explained things better instead of just seeing her sitting in reception. As I said before as well it is unclear if she actually fancies Harris in the beginning despite having a boyfriend or if she is straight away suspicious of him. If it is the latter though then she doesn't really have any cause to be. It felt to me like something was missing from the film here, some clue that alerted Kate to Harris' possible involvement.
Verdict: I was feeling very negatively towards this after first watching which was largely down to my dissatisfaction with the picture quality. This of course is more to do with the copy of the DVD I have as opposed to the film itself. Still it put me in a bad mood plus I was tired and nearly fell asleep once or twice. I was thinking of a 2/10. After rewatching some parts I was hazy on a day or two later though I came to the conclusion that it isn't so bad. Yes it is cheesy, confusing and poorly scripted in parts but there are good things sprinkled into the mix as well so I'll give it a 4. Perhaps one day I'll buy a better quality copy and revisit this review, who knows maybe it could even climb to a 5/10 if I see a better quality version.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Santa kissing girlfriend in car: Stabbed. 2) Girlfriend: Stabbed as she flees the car. 3) Mr Brioski (Kate's father): Impaled through the back of the head with a spear at the party. 4) Street Santa: Choked and then face burnt in a fire he was using to roast chestnuts. 5) Drunk Santa: Shot in the face. 6) Santa at peep show: Stabbed in he neck from behind. 7) Woman at London Dungeon: Presumably killed though method unknown. 8) Santa in London Dungeon: Stabbed twice in the stomach. 9) Decoy Santa 1: Stabbed twice, possibly first in midsection and then neck? couldn't make it out as too dark. 10) Decoy Santa 2: Stabbed in the face/eye, again too dark to see though possibly a bottle was used. 11) Theater Santa: Face hacked with a machete and body placed on trapdoor which rose up on to the singers stage. 12) Store Santa: Penis cut off with straight razor. 13) Kate: Choked with tinsel and then stabbed twice in the stomach. 14) Sargent Powell: Somehow electrocuted when checking a car, I didn't understand how this happened. 15) Inspector Harris: Killed in explosion triggered by his brothers gift.