Just in time for the holiday season — for all you who don’t like your yuletide cinema sweet and sentimental — comes this seedy Santa slasher stocking stuffer from Mondo Macabro. Presented by the men who previously gave you the campus chainsaw antics of PIECES, the British slasher epic known as DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS is different than the same year’s SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT in that Santa (or in this case, Santas) is the victim, not the stalker.
In London during a Christmas party, a man dressed as Santa is speared through the mouth right in front of his daughter Kate (Belinda Mayne). Not long before, another working Santa is knifed in his car along with the woman he was trying to get cozy with. Scotland Yard now believes some psycho is killing anyone dressed as Father Christmas, with Kate’s street performer beau Cliff (Gerry Sundquist), a sneaky newspaper reporter named Giles (Alan Lake), and even Chief Inspector Harris (director Edmund Purdom) who is in charge of the case, all being prime suspects. As there are dozens of fellows festively garbed as jolly old Saint Nick, the mad murderer will be hot on their trail, slicing and dicing in a number of gruesomely novel ways.
After being based in both Rome and Hong Kong and churning out every sort of exploitation picture possible, New York-born producer Dick Randall relocated to the United Kingdom, once again teaming up with his PIECES co-producing partner Stephen Minasian (a main partner of Hallmark Releasing Corporation) for another highly marketable exercise in sleaze. Attempting to further indulge the early 1980s audience cravings for uninhibited blood and guts, they employed PIECES star Edmond Purdom (a veteran British thespian and one-time matinee idol) to headline the picture, but he demanded he also direct. Although by all accounts he was a sweet guy, Purdom had never directed before and his inexperienced work ethic proved disastrous. He was then replaced by writer Derek Ford, who reportedly indulged in too many holiday spirits. Editor Ray Selfe and KILLER’S MOON director Alan Birkinshaw (here credited as “Al McGoohan”) also helped beef up the script and on-screen proceedings, even re-shooting some of the gory killings after Purdom’s dailies proved less than “Video Nasty” worthy.
The final results of DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS can easily be deemed a hodgepodge, with numerous scenes of alley and sidewalk Father Christmases (most of them drunks, tramps or perverts) being offed in grotesque methods which utilize the talents of make-up man Giuseppe Ferranti (NIGHTMARE CITY, CANNIBAL FEROX). The killings are shot in such an inserted way that they feel disjointed from the central characters, even though female witnesses attempt to single out the masked culprit to the befuddled viewers as having “smiling eyes" to give him some sort of distinction. It doesn’t matter that these hapless males imitating the North Pole do-gooder are too intoxicated (or just oblivious) to follow the tabloid headlines about the Santa killer, or that the ho ho ho-hating executioner is constantly in their presence without a constable ever in sight; the film is just an excuse to showcase one explicit Santa slaughter after another. Garbed in the traditional U.K.-style red robe, pointed hood and long white beard, these Father Christmases are seen charcoaled in their own chestnut grill, stabbed in the belly, or having their eye gouged out or even brains blown out. One cheery chubby department store Saint Nick is castrated while on his bathroom break, and in one of the film’s best scenes, a drunk is extensively chased through the London Dungeon wax museum (with the camera spending more than enough time on some on its outrageous exhibits) before meeting his untimely death.
Because of his turn in PIECES, it’s hard not to watch this film and think that silky-voiced Purdom is not the killer, or at least linked to him in some kind of disturbing way. Going with the disjointed nature of the film, Purdom’s chief character floats in and out of the case, which is largely taken up by his younger assistant (played by Mark Jones, dressing more like Quentin Crisp than a police sergeant). Caroline Munro (who by this time had to resort to starring in slasher films rather than gothic horror or family-friendly fantasies) appears briefly as herself, singing a pop/disco tune wearing a skintight pink dress and glittery big 1980s hair. Sexploitation starlet Pat Astley (at one time, Mr. Grace’s nurse on the Britcom “Are You Being Served?”) ups the nudity quota as a photographer’s model who can’t seem to keep her clothes on. Tragically, this was the final film for actor Alan Lake, who shortly after making it, took his own life after the death of wife, screen legend Diana Dors. Des Dolan provides an unimaginative synth score which defiantly ups the cheese factor a great deal.
Mondo Macabro has newly transferred DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS from the original negative, and it looks simply fantastic. Even though the production is extremely cheap-looking overall, the 1.66:1 widescreen anamorphic image is crisp in detail, with only occasional grain and hardly any print blemishes to be found. Colors are strong and the film’s numerous nighttime scenes are never too dark, always coming through nice and clear. The mono English audio track is also in good standing; clear with no noticeable hiss or distortion.
The central extra here (and it’s quite a doozy) is a 52-minute “making of” documentary which was produced during the time of shooting. Shot on videotape, it not only has a lot of behind scenes footage of the actors, crew and make-up and effects artists, it also shows Dick Randall at work, looking every bit the cigar-chomping producer that he was (it’s obvious that a lot of his comments, and even some of the narration, is in jest). Co-producer Stephen Minasian takes his interview footage more seriously, mentioning his sensational promotion behind the Hallmark Releasing landmarks MARK OF THE DEVIL and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (he mentions that he was planning a sequel to the latter!) and why it’s easier to make horror films than comedy. Purdom can be seen on the set directing in an overindulgent, yet lackadaisical sort of way, with several of his shot scenes (including where one of the Santas visits a red district stripper behind a glass booth) ultimately re-shot (with different actors) or omitted entirely (the narrator even exclaims how Purdom was let go from his duties, but never goes into details). Munro is also interviewed about playing herself and singing for the first time on film, and she admits her fondness for classic Dracula pictures over the more modern slasher pics she was subjected to appearing in at the time. The excellent 30-minute documentary “The Wild, Wild World of Dick Randall” (which appeared on several other Mondo discs) is also included, as are some production notes on the film, profiles on key personnel and the famous Mondo Macabro preview reel. (George R. Reis)
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