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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

"...t'was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring...they were all dead!"


A psychopath is targeting men dressed as Santa and killing them all in violent fashion in the run-up to Christmas. Inspector Harris of Scotland Yard is given the task of tracking the killer down. But with so many people dressing as Santa for the festive season, how many more people will be killed before the murderer is caught?


Don't Open 'Til Christmas is a nasty, sleazy and mean-spirited little holiday flick along the same veins as Silent Night, Deadly Night - only this time Santa is the victim, not the killer. Unlike the off-beat charm that infamous slasher had, this has very little charm and is a real mess of a film. It's almost as if someone thought up the single idea that a psychopath goes around London murdering people dressed as Santa at Christmas and thought it would make a good film, without worrying about any other nuances like characters. I mean, the question arises if this was happening in real life, then surely the police advice would just be to not go out dressed as Santa. It cuts off the killer's modus operandi. But things like this clearly didn't worry the makers of this seedy and very un-British 80s slasher.

It's not surprising though, given the production history of the film. It took two years for Don't Open Till Christmas to be completed, Original director and star, Edmund Purdom, was fired, only to be replaced by the film's writer, Derek Ford, who was then in turn fired and replaced with the film's editor, Ray Selfe, after only two days. So perhaps we could be looking at three different directors all putting their mark on the film, with re-shoots taking place, scripts re-written and whatever footage they had all cobbled and edited together to try and form something resembling a feature film. It's obvious from early on that things are going to crash into a screeching mess and Don't Open Till Christmas is a monumental mess. Events and characters are mentioned in the film which haven't been shown yet (there is Doctor Bridle credited as one of the characters and he's mentioned but never shown on screen). Various plot threads which seemingly lead to somewhere, end up in a brick wall. Characters are introduced in the film, only to completely disappear shortly afterwards. And the key to any solid narrative is that there is no central figure for the audience to root around.

There's no one to identify with outside of the detective and given that he is played by Edmund Purdom, the first director to be fired, it's clear that the new creative minds wanted to reduce his role and significance to the plot because they couldn't/wouldn't get him back for the reshoots. So without a proper protagonist, there’s no one to elicit sympathy from the viewer. Not one character lasts throughout the film for us to root for and every ten minutes or so, it appears that a new character enters the fray who we assume will become the focal point. But then they're killed off or just vanish from the narrative. I guess that's the result of the numerous directors, all coming in and butchering the film, editing it left, right and centre to suit their own vision before the next guy came in - there is no obvious single vision. The eventual ending and subsequent plot twist finale just reeks of desperation and pointlessness. Did we just sit through the rest of the film for that?

Don't Open Till Christmas counteracts all of this nonsense with the script with a real bloody, nasty mean-spiritedness. The scenes of various people dressed as Santa being sliced, diced, strangled and stabbed don’t gel with the rest of the film. Every now and then another kill is thrown in for no apparent reason than just to up the body count. Arguably these moments are the best bits of the film as the various ways of dispatch are quite brutal, especially for liberal Britain no less. One Santa even gets his manhood lopped off when he's at the urinal. One of the victims has to be the candidate for the most unfortunate character ever to grace the screen as he gets chased by some obnoxious punks, falls off his bike, climbs over a wall, gets attacked by a guard dog, runs into the London Dungeon of wax exhibits, gets numerous weapons thrown at him which all miss, narrowly avoids a guillotine before finally being stabbed in the stomach. The scene lasts for about ten minutes and does a fair job of creating some tension but the chain of events leading to his eventual demise are ridiculous and something out of a slapstick comedy movie.

No mention will be given to any of the cast since I find it hard to believe that any of them found any work after this, with the exception of Caroline Munro who shot her scene in a single day. One final mention must be given to the soundtrack. It's quite eerie - one of those 80s synthesised slasher scores (you know the type, whenever we follow the killer's POV this seedy porn music plays) and its mixed with some traditional Christmas music to create something effectively anti-festive and totally undeserving of the rest of this atrocious shambles.


Final Verdict

Don't Open 'Til Christmas is a confusing mess of a film, arguably one of the worst Christmas-themed horrors out there. But there is just something about the film which demands at least one watch. It's a grotty little flick, full of bad taste and loads of anti-Christmas sentiment but it's got its own sordid, seedy charm about it that could only have come from the 80s.


Don't Open Till Christmas

Director(s): Edmund Purdom

Writer(s): Alan Birkinshaw (additional scenes written by), Derek Ford

Actor(s): Edmund Purdom, Belinda Mayne, Mark Jones, Gerry Sundquist, Alan Lake, Kelly Baker, Kevin Lloyd

Duration: 86 mins


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