Color, 1984, 86 mins. 39 secs.
Directed by Edmund Purdom
Starring Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Gerry Sundquist, Kelly Baker, Caroline Munro
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC), Edition Tonfilm (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Film 2000 (UK R0 PAL)
Apart from the masterful Black Christmas, holiday slasher movies have been a very silly bunch. From the crackpot Christmas Evil to the lunatic Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, there's something about that special time of year that brings out the goofiest excesses in low budget filmmakers. Case in point: Don't Open Till Christmas, a British spin on the '80s Christmas slasher formula. This time the twist is that instead of a killer Saint Nick, the victims here are all dressed as Santa Claus thanks to a maniac with a yuletide axe to grind. It also marks the sole directorial effort for actor Edmund Purdom (who of course does double duty here appearing as a Scotland Yard inspector), whose bizarre career includes Ator the Fighting Eagle, 2019: After the Fall of New York, and of course, Pieces. How much Purdom actually directed seems to be a source of contention given the patchwork nature of the finished film and its reputation as a very troubled production, but whatever the truth may be, it's a big holiday helping of stupid fun.
There isn't much else to say about the plot here as the film is essentially a string of stalk and slash sequences, with guys in Santa outfits (and sometimes their attractive female companions) getting offed via a skull-piercing spear, wire strangulation, a knifing in a porno booth, a knife shoe swiped out of From Russia with Love, and an infamous bloody-spraying scene at a urinal you have to see for yourself. There's also a protracted Santa-hunting scene in a horror wax museum that temporarily plunges into Italian Gothic horror territory, plus an incredible cameo appearance by Caroline Munro (apparently hoping to recapture the magic of Maniac) doing her finest Olivia Newton-John impersonation in a musical act (climaxing with another grisly Santa death, natch). In between there's some filler about the inspector looking into the case, the first dead Santa's daughter Kate (Mayne) and her boorish boyfriend (Sundquist), and a woman of loose virtue named Sherry (Baker) who lives to tell about her near-death attack.
A look at the rest of the talent behind the camera should tell sleaze fans a lot. For example, this was written by one of Britain's most notorious sexploitation purveyors, Derek Ford (who also appears as one of the targeted Santas), the director and scribe who gave the world Suburban Wives, Girl from Starship Venus, and the sickest and most graphic U.K. porn flick of the '70s, Diversions. The cinematographer was Alan Pudney, a busy '80s trash lenser who also worked on Caroline Munro's next slasher film, Slaughter High (which is a whole different discussion altogether). However, most notably it was produced by Stephen Minasian and the colorful Dick Randall, the team who also gave the world the aforementioned Pieces and Slaughter High.
Randall should be a familiar name to fans of Mondo Macabro who also unleashed his Living Doll, For Your Height Only, and The French Sex Murders on an unsuspecting public. Their crack at this particular film is especially welcome as it rescues this title from decades of shoddy, murky transfers on gray market labels (usually derived from VHS); not surprisingly, it was also trimmed down by over two minutes in the UK by the BBFC when it hit VHS, eventually coming to DVD there in a slightly longer version in 2003. The American DVD from 2011 is uncut and sports a dramatically improved transfer, accurately framed at 1.66:1. It still looks like a low budget '80s slasher movie, of course, with some pretty shabby lighting in many of the night scenes limiting the visual appeal of some sequences. However, when everything's lit and in focus, the transfer looks great with punchy reds and lots of detail in the graphic murder scenes. Both of the major video extras have been available separately on some of the earlier Mondo Macabro/Dick Randall titles listed above, but they're worth repeating and in one case work much better in context on this DVD. "The Making of a Horror Movie" (51m59s) is a staggering VHS-made doc about the making of Don't Open Till Christmas, with a goofy and leering Randall and Minasian in a screening room watching busty girls in Santa outfits and sifting through plentiful footage from the set. Much of it focuses on the gore, of course, but you get some fun goofing around from the cast and production crew as well as the entirety of Caroline Murno's musical number from different angles (followed by a few comments from the scream queen about her preference for classic horror villains like Dracula). The other extra is "The Wild, Wild World of Dick Randall" (32m40s) which encapsulates this shady and shameless showman from the perspective of those who knew and worked with him. The typically excellent notes about the film and participants provide plenty of valuable information, including a breakdown of the various directorial hands involved including some last minute salvage work by Alan Birkinshaw, whose gleefully absurd Killer's Moon would make a great double feature with this bloody stocking stuffer.
A German Blu-ray and DVD edition eventually surfaced in 2014, featuring an improved transfer but meager extras including a condensed 14m7s version of the vintage making-of, a German VHS trailer, and an alternate VHS German title sequence. (The same Blu-ray was also used to source a bootleg release in Spain.) Far better is the incredibly stacked 2022 Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome, which features a new 2K scan from the 35mm internegative. The past transfers looked very good but this improves with more vertical image info and increased detail, which obviously still fluctuates given the patchwork nature of the film itself (some of which looks fantastic and crisp, other bits not so much). The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds nice for what it is, with optional English SDH subtitles provided.
The 52-minute making-of is carried over here, but otherwise it's all new bonuses starting a new commentary by the always great Amanda Reyes and veteran extras producer and slasher enthusiast Ewan Cant. They immediately start off in a festive mood and sort through the tattered beast that is this film, covering the various cooks in the kitchen over its two-year gestation and noting connections to many other slashers and British productions. In "Don't Direct Till Christmas" (20m3s), Birkinshaw looks back at his professional relationship with Randall, the state of his own career when he was approached to salvage this one, and the colorful memories he has from the period including the fun of "killing a few Santa Clauses." In "Slashing Miss Munro" (34m36s), the legendary scream queen recalls the heyday of British horror working for Hammer and crossing paths with Randall, which led to her cameo in this and a starring role in the challenging Slaughter High (which also involved multiple directors). She also talks quite a bit about Maniac for you Savini and Spinell fans, too. "Purdom Babylonia" (16m35s) features the star and director's daughter, Lilan Purdom, sharing stories from her dad's entire career from his early screen dreamboat days through his interest in writing and theater and his various adventures in European films, such as his dubbed appearances in Italy. In "Birkinshaw Uncut" (56m10s), you get an earlier interview with the filmmaker covering his entire career from his early entry into directing and Killer's Moon through his Randall adventures and his wild detour to South Africa where he worked with Harry Alan Towers on Ten Little Indians for Cannon and the crazed Masque of the Red Death and House of Usher. He also covers assignments like his TV work on Space Precinct and the morphing nature of special effects over the years. "A Dangerous Place for Santa" (14m39s) offers a then-and-now comparison with Cant showing off the London locations of the film (and his Spookies garb) with a keen eye for detail when it comes to most of the outdoor scenes. Don't miss the end credits with him reenacting Murno's dance number and various other highlights with Eugenio Ercolani, too. One fascinating bonus is a collection of deleted and alternate scraps of footage from a rough cut of the film (16m9s), provided by Birkinshaw from a videotape copy; it's a significant amount of extra dialogue and character detail that was obviously deemed extraneous to the slasher antics but is great to have here for posterity. Finally the set closes out with a gallery of production photos (2m17s) and the outrageous theatrical trailer.
Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray
Edition Tonfilm Blu-ray
Mondo Macabro DVD
Updated review on December 8, 2022.