Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas
Director: Edmund Purdom
Starring: Edmund Purdom, Mark Jones, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Gerry Sundquist
Killer only kills people wearing Santa suits.
I’ve been finding it nearly impossible to get through serious movies lately—I watch half of them, then they sit on my desk for a month—so I decided to eschew the last half of Fearless for a selection from my increasingly indispensible 50 Drive-In Movie Classics collection, where I discovered this wonderful little gem. I tell you, you know you’re in for something fun when your opening credits look like this:
That little wax Santa burns down to nothing throughout the credits. Lovely! But before that, we’ve opened with a man coming out into an alley in a Santa suit, where he meets a woman and they get into the car and make out. Someone comes up and stands right next to the car, and the couple sees him there and shoos him away. But he just stays there, and when the man gets out to confront him, he gets stabbed repeatedly in the stomach. Then the credits, during which we learn that this film features some scenes written and directed by a totally other guy than the main director. Then a man is on stage in a nightclub, wearing a Santa suit, and performing a comedy routine. Club employees are on edge because they know of the Santa murders, and are freaked out by the presence of a guy in the crowd wearing a costume and mask. Santa dude is performing in front of everyone when he gets an inconvenient spear through his head! Surprise! They run out to the crowd to nab the guy in the mask and find—he has set the mask and cape up on a stick, and is long gone! I am starting to REALLY like this movie.
We now meet our detectives on the case. There’s an older one, Inspector Harris [played by Edward Purdom, also the director], and a middle-aged one, Powell, who I pretty much fell instantly in love with. He’s bald with a little beard and has a great deep voice [the movie is dubbed into British English—from what I can only assume is Italian], and looks a little bit like a friendlier-looking Sean Connery. Unfortunately later he is a real belittling dick to women, which I can’t really support… and which is also what makes me suspect this movie is originally Italian. Anyway, ya-de-ya, they’re on the case.
Then a guy is standing in an alley wearing a Santa suit—just standing, hangin’ out in the alley in his Santa suit, as I’m sure you do every Saturday—and he gets killed by a man wearing a very creepy mask with a wide, disturbing smile. We suddenly cut to a present on the back of a motorcycle. This is delivered to the home of Inspector Harris, and received by his housekeeper. He doesn’t have time to look at it, so he instructs her to just place it on the shelf. It says prominently: Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas. If you suspect that this package will contain the identity of the killer and that Harris will forget about it until the very end of the movie—well, why do you always have to be right? But luckily this movie has additional surprises up its sleeve.
After a man makes a threatening call to Powell, and another drunk man in a Santa suit stumbles down the street to his doom, we meet our young heroine, Kate. She is the daughter of the first victim, and has a boyfriend, Cliff, who thinks sure her dad was just brutally murdered, but it’s been like a day already and shouldn’t she just get over it? Geez. And we are just getting started with these two, who will definitely earn the title of Couple of the Year right now: Cliff takes Kate over to meet this photographer friend of his. They make a thin excuse to go back to the photographer’s studio, where he asks to take some "artistic" shots of Kate. In fact, they have another model on her way over, and she and Kate have already been arranged to shoot a scene together!
When Kate is justifiably appalled that her boyfriend would set up a porn shoot for her without even asking, Cliff tries to guilt-trip her that he already promised she would pose as a favor to his buddy the photographer, and when she still refuses, he says “Well, we’re here anyway…” So she might as well make a porno? Wow, this guy is a PRIZE! But amazingly, all the coercion to do porn isn’t what really bothers Kate about it, you know, THAT she can forgive, but what she cannot countenance is that Cliff wants her to do it in a Santa suit, days after her father was just killed in a Santa suit. So she storms out. Meanwhile, the other model shows up and gets in the Santa suit, but the shoot is off. Cliff walks her out as she’s leaving, and turns down her offers of love although he does give her boob a little squeeze, but they’re seen by a cop, so she leaves. He turns to find he’s locked out! So the model is walking home nude underneath a Santa suit, when our killer shows up. He holds a straight razor right up to her face, STARING at her from behind that creepy smiley mask, then runs the razor down between her breasts to her punanny, and back up again, then takes off. She is soon interrogated by the police, whereupon she comments that sure it wasn’t great being terrorized by a razor-wielding psychopath, but “it was bad enough being dumped by Cliff.”
Can you believe that head-spinning last ten minutes?! I think after that you’ll see why you must make arrangements to watch this movie IMMEDIATELY. And I say this because I am about to seriously advise you to skip the spoilers and watch this movie before reading further, because it very cleverly goes in some very unexpected directions, plays with the standard conventions of the stalker film, develops some very interesting relationships, and is just all-round much better if you don’t know what’s coming. There are very few surprises left in movies, and this movie has many of them, so you should protect yourself. I will say up front before you go that this is by far the most purely enjoyable movie I have watched in quite some time, and I wouldn’t recommend that you not read the spoilers if they weren’t secrets worth keeping. Go watch it now!
SPOILERS > > >
So now we join a woman who makes her living by performing sexual acts for money from behind a glass screen, while communicating with her customer on the other side through a telephone. She is later referred to as Miss Graham, although the credits list her as the “’Experience’ Girl,” since her place of employment is The Experience. So this lonely department store Santa comes in and starts chatting her up, nervously telling her it’s his first time there. “Yeah it’s my first time here, too,” the lovely Miss Graham replies. Then the guy, as usual, begins to feel that he has a special connection with this girl and they should meet someplace where they won’t have a pane of glass between them, when the killer appears from behind him and slits his throat, spewing blood all over the window!
Then this rather introverted fellow Giles shows up in Powell’s office for a visit. He is Inspector Harris’ brother. Meanwhile this guy in a Santa suit—and by now you’re like “Wait a minute, were there REALLY this many guys running around in Santa suits in the London of 1984?”—gets chased by the killer into this INSANE kind of wax museum/haunted house kind of thing—I still don’t really get it—and is not long for this world. Then Cliff trades Kate for sex, and takes the money.
Then there’s this sort of outdoor Christmas carnival where Cliff is playing holiday tunes on his flute and Kate is trying to collect money—this is how they make a living! When he’s not pimping her body, that is. I swear, these people are the COUPLE OF THE YEAR. Anyway, there are also two undercover policemen dressed as Santas, hoping to lure the killer out of hiding. One of them steps around back to take a whizz when the killer comes up, a dagger pops out the front of his shoe, and he kicks the cop in the crotch! OWW! Then he stabs him in the throat, and when the other cop comes to help, he gets a knife in the eye for thanks. You know, no good deed goes unpunished.
Then Miss Graham, the Experience Girl, goes in to meet with Powell, and this is the beginning of where I started to dislike Powell, as he is a belittling dick to Graham and later to Kate. This is also, for this very reason, when I started to suspect that this movie MUST be Italian. Well, not to mention that if it really WAS British, it seems unlikely that everyone would be dubbed. Powell makes all sorts of snide insinuations about what kind of person she must be to work where she does, and regards her with disgusted contempt when she can’t identify the killer—although he had a mask on. He tells her she will have a guard watching her, as she is now a witness, and she shouldn’t go back to work. But the girl has bills to pay! So she sneaks away and goes back to work. A customer comes in, she explains the pricing structure, and the camera suddenly tilts up to his eye—and she recognizes the killer! He bangs though the glass, she narrowly escapes, and is suddenly out on the street. In the broad daylight of an overcast afternoon! That was quite a surprise… you don’t see a lot of stalking scenes that take place outside in a fairly busy public street in the dead middle of the afternoon. Then he grabs her, right off that fairly busy street, and drags her down into this basement, where he chains her up. He tells her she’s essentially a slut for having the job she does, and leaves her for a while, asking her to “think of the error of her ways.”
We next meet this drunk guy dressed as Santa and wandering around the streets—is this, like, COMMON? Do THIS many people really walk around dressed as Santa? Anyway, he encounters the killer, then turns and runs into the backstage of this theater, which leads into an effective suspense sequence wandering through the maze of this theater’s backstage, I found it very creepy, and this act onstage is getting ready to perform, leading up to that sudden moment of unexpected bliss when you go suspense… suspense… SUDDEN DISCO! Yes, the curtain suddenly opens and you have this woman on stage in this tight red dress and she spends quite a while doing what can only be described as her “ass dance.” That is, she wiggles her ass around a lot and rubs at it with her hand, during the long lead in to her AMAZING disco song “I’m Comin’ To Getcha.” WHAT a pleasant surprise. I wish more movies would just suddenly and unexpectedly burst into completely unforeseen disco songs. Anyway, this woman looks like Tammy Wynette and sings like Olivia Newton-John during her disco-pop phase and, ladies and gentlemen, this woman is: CAROLINE MUNRO. The star of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dracula AD1972, The Spy Who Loved Me, Maniac and Starcrash! Obviously, God has smiled on us all just a little bit.
Then! Kate tries to tell Powell some crucial and quite interesting information she has dug up on her boyfriend, the sleazoid Cliff, but dickhead Powell pretty much comes out and calls her stupid and says to call him when she has something worth telling. Then a man in a Santa suit stops off at a restroom to use the urinal and, well, let’s just say that’s a bad time to meet a man with a straight razor. Soon after Kate finds herself alone with the killer, who is: Giles, Inspector Harris’ BROTHER! Actually, we found this out a while ago, I just thought I’d string you along a little longer. Giles and Kate have quite a civilized little conversation, considering he’s a psychopathic killer, and he discusses a little bit of his motivation in the killings: Harris “used to tell me about his police work… so I thought I’d give him a real case to work on.” Then, surprise—HE KILLS KATE! I guess she’s not going to be our final girl, then.
Giles then goes out again, and we see him rigging up some wiring, possibly a bomb, on someone’s car. Well, it’s not just someone’s, it’s Powell’s car, and he didn’t just rig a bomb. Powell comes out, grabs the door AND IS FLAMBOYANTLY ELECTROCUTED! Okay, that’s it, I LOVE this movie.
So Giles goes back to see Miss Graham, the Experience Girl, and they have a fairly long discussion, which is another thing that sets this movie apart… we find out who the killer is a little over halfway through, and we get to know him fairly well. Worse yet, he seems reasonably sane—until someone asks him about Christmas. Graham makes small talk until she can grab a stick and boff Giles over the head. And you start to think “Oh, maybe SHE’S the final girl, which would be kind of cool, one of the victims who no one thought anything of would be the one to kill him.” She makes it to the door, and it’s locked. Giles stands there holding the key, taunting her. She throws a chain at his face, takes the key, and escapes! He goes after her, chases her up many stairs, and ends up falling to his death!
We go into a sudden flashback, where we see Giles as a young boy, receiving tons of presents, including a knife. There is discussion of how he should wait for his brother, Harris, before opening presents. Then Giles is sent to bed, only to find his Dad in his bedroom in a Santa suit, screwing some young girl! Giles stands there shocked when his Mom comes in, is surprised herself, and ends up falling down the stairs to her death! That’s enough to traumatize a child. Then Harris wakes up—this was his dream. He goes into the living room, where he finally finds the present delivered a few days earlier. There’s a note, “From your loving Brother.” He opens it, and it’s a music box. It plays, winds down, then explodes, killing Harris!
< < < SPOILERS END
So I’m watching this, thinking “Oh this is fun,” then later “These are some creative murders,” then “This movie is really going in some unexpected directions,” but in the last third, this all became “Wow, I LOVE this movie.” It is suffused with a sense of fun and is really over-the-top in an amusing way, and just ridiculous enough to stay on the lighter side, while also being a little scary and having a truly smart, scary killer. But it really gets going in the second half, when the film really starts playing with the conventions of the genre, playing with the expected order of who will make it to the end, and revealing the killer fairly early on and spending a lot of time letting us get to know him. It really keeps you on your toes, and more importantly, the decisions it makes are smart ones. And then you have the added attraction of sudden, astonishingly cheesy disco numbers sung by Caroline Munro.
Now, IS it Italian? It would seem that the director, Edmund Purdom, who also plays Inspector Harris, worked almost exclusively in Italian films from not long into his career. So I suspect that this movie was made with an Italian cast and crew, but shot in Britain. I mean, it seems odd for a truly English film to then [poorly] dub its characters voices with British accents, no? Plus, it really SEEMS Italian. It has that giallo rhythm and feel. And misogyny. Apparently Purdom quit the film, then it sat around for two years, until others were brought in just to get it finished.
That’s about all I have to say! This is the most purely enjoyable movie I have seen in some time, and by the time it was over, I was truly in love with it. If you like gialli [this should be considered in that category] but with a British sheen and very clever tweaking of conventions, get this movie now!
You totally, totally should.