Wednesday, December 19, 2012

#23: Don't Open Till Christmas

Drive In Movie Classics
Disc 4: Side B

As far as yuletide horror flicks go, there’s only one bona fide classic: 1974’s Black Christmas. The rest are like an inedible brick of a fruitcake, a lump of coal in the bottom of a stocking, an unwanted pair of socks under the tree, and other assorted overused Christmas-themed metaphors I’ve decided to use up in one go. This undistinguished subgenre ranges from the passable--Christmas Evil--to the sleazy--Silent Night, Deadly Night--to the Hulk Hogan-starring--the-not-technically-horror-but-still-pretty-horrific Santa With Muscles. Add to this sorry ilk the plodding British slasher Don’t Open Till Christmas, which features a plastic Santa Claus catching on fire and melting over the opening credits--just in case you didn’t, you know, get the point.

Next we’re treated to a lame-ass office Xmas party with costumed revelers shimmying halfheartedly to a limp disco beat. Backstage the boss sits in front of a mirror, fretting over his Santa costume. His daughter Kate (Belinda Mane) comes in and slathers some makeup on his face. “I shall look like a gay old queen,” he bemoans before trudging out front to deliver gifts to his weakly-boogying drones. Almost immediately a mysterious masked figure appears and thrusts a sword through the poor homophobic bastard’s skull.

Cut to Chief Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom) and Detective Sergeant Powell (Mark Jones) of Scotland Yard, the bickering, unpleasant, somewhat dimwitted duo assigned to the case. “It was the costume he was wearing,” Powell explains to Kate. “He was the victim of another Santa murder.” Cue a ragged-looking Saint Nick in a darkened alley roasting a batch of chestnuts over a grill. Suddenly the killer appears behind him and shoves his face down on the hot coals, after which the ill-fated Claus improbably bursts into flame. This is how the rest of the movie goes: Harris and Powell putz around--“Do you think we might have a psychopath on our hands?” Harris dimly wonders at one point--then another Santa is abruptly dispatched, then Harris and Powell putz some more, then yet another doomed, anonymous Kris Kringle is slain without even the slightest attempt at suspense-building.

Who could be behind these murders? Is it Giles (Alan Lake), the snooping, shifty-eyed loner who falsely claims to be a reporter? Is it Inspector Harris, whom witnesses pointedly remark is the same height as the killer? Or is it Cliff Boyd (Gerry Sundquist), Kate’s slimy, flute-playing, subway-station-busking boyfriend who tries to convince Kate--remember, her father was just skewered before her very eyes--to pose for a couple topless photos at his equally slimy buddy’s studio? Or perhaps the better question is: What idiotic, nonsensical, pseudo-Freudian motive will Don’t Open Till Christmas give its Santa slayer?

Really, there’s only one worthwhile scene in the entire thing. Late in the film, a drunken Santa stumbles out of a pub and hops on a rickety bike, only to be harassed by the least threatening gang of local punks ever. “Pedal power!” one of them calls out. “You’re drunk!” observes another. Santa flips the punks off and the punks give chase. “Stop pedaling, mate,” one of them politely requests. Eventually this Santa, too, will be abruptly and unimaginatively murdered. But as the giggling group of mohawked goofs scramble after him--all that’s missing is a jingle-bell-tinged rendition of “Yakety Sax”--Don’t Open Till Christmas seems like some forgotten, so-bad-it’s-good gem. Considering how dull and dispiriting the rest of the movie is this brief bit of absurdity is like a freakin‘ Christmas miracle.    


  1. "Eventually this Santa, too, will be abruptly and unimaginatively murdered."

    I'm here for the writing.

    1. Thanks, Molly. The worse the movie, the more inspired I am to write about it. Is that weird?