Like a child on Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait. I did not heed the title’s warning, but instead opened Don’t Open Till Christmas in March. This 1984 British horror film was released on DVD a few months back, just in time for the season, but there was no way I was paying 20 bux for it, even if it IS an 80s slasher. So I waited for the price drop. And after watching it for the first time in decades, I must say—it has everything that makes 80s slashers good and bad.
This isn’t your 80s-obsessed gay uncle’s Silent Night, Deadly Night or Christmas Evil, with Santa hacking and slashing his way through all the naughty sluts. This time, the killer is taking out anyone who dresses like Santa! Which begs the question, why did they never make Silent Night Deadly Night vs. Don’t Open Till Christmas???!!! The could have beat Freddy vs. Jason by a couple of decades!
There’s so much 80s goodness in here I wanted to jump into the screen and experience the decade all over again—being sure not to wear a red Michael Jackson jacket and fluffy white leg warmers, lest I be mistaken for Santa. The eerie 80s synth score alone is awesome. On top of that, everyone looks like extras who stepped off the set of Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” video to be extras in this film. A female ‘dancer’ gives a perverted Santa a show, and when he expresses dissatisfaction, she shoots back, “What do you expect? Flashdance?” Plus, there are neon-Mohawked punks, walkmans, turntables, vinyl records! My only 80s disappointment is that they didn’t feature the Band-Aid classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (released the same year) during the closing credits. The line “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” is so fitting, don’t you think? Now that would have made this the perfect 80s Christmas slasher.
The movie sure portrays England as having some really unique Christmas spectaculars that bring the Santas out by the dozens. There’s a Christmas costume party (do they not have Halloween in England?); a Christmas circus; a freaky wax museum dungeon attraction; Father Christmas at the mall; an adult peep booth joint; a theater featuring James Bond girl Caroline Munro—who’s been in more horror movies than you’d ever imagine and actually recorded a song with Gary Numan—performing what I think is supposed to be some sort of cool 80s new wave song but which sounds more like bad 70s muzak. Wish she would have performed the Gary Numan song, “Pump Me Up,” released the same year, instead.
Every time a Santa turns a corner to escape the Kringle Killer, he’s stepping through some back alley door and into some sort of ‘show.’ The entire city knows that someone is killing guys in Santa suits, so why does everyone keep dressing like him and hanging out in dark alleys? I guess it’s so that we can be treated to the great Technicolor blood, grizzly gore, and nasty kills. The first one is a classic killer POV as a couple (the man dressed as Santa), has sex in a car in an alley. Minutes later, a guy dressed like Santa at the costume party gets speared. There’s a Santa BBQed in an alley; a Santa head splattered to bits in an alley with a gun; perv Santa slaughtered in the alley peep booth as the female dancer watches on the other side of the glass; a Santa killed in the wax museum dungeon; a black Santa stabbed in his big shlong with a fricking shoe blade at the circus, his white Santa friend beaten with blade-knuckles right after—which results in a nasty oozing eye; a Santa with a cleaver through his face on the theater stage; mall Santa’s wiener sliced off in the bathroom. Good Christmas, that’s a lot of dead Santas!
Besides the fact that the killer wears a mask—one of those creepy clear masks and a so-80s hoodie—this film is not the most conventional slasher. First of all, the majority of victims are older men! That wouldn’t much hold the adolescent straight male’s attention. So we are introduced to a ‘model’ who poses with her tits out, slips into a Santa coat, ends up in an alley, and is then confronted by the killer, who naturally parts her coat to check out her tits—before running off and leaving her unscathed. So thoughtful of him to provide the much needed slasher T&A. The skanky be-otch’s survival is just one of many instances when the film leaves you wondering who is actually going to make it to the end alive. All that slasher goodness aside, I can’t exactly say the film is even slightly scary. No tension, no jump scenes. Just some fun atmosphere and blood.
Although, if chase scenes are your thing, then this is your perfect Christmas gift!!! The longest feels like one of those trippy chase scenes right out of an Argento film. A Santa on a bicycle is chased by the punk rockers. He gets off the bike and climbs down a big rock wall. He’s confronted by a vicious, snarling German Sheperd. He flees into a tunnel, where he is now being pursued by the killer. He sneaks into a wax museum dungeon loaded with great weapons for the killer to use…. (but aren’t those usually fake?). In a similar bizarre chase, the peep booth chick is shocked to learn the man she’s flirting with is the killer. He smashes through the glass. She runs out into the alley (why don’t these people stay out of the damn alleys?) and out to the street in broad daylight. But there are NO people around!!!! She runs along the sidewalk, hides behind a brick wall, then takes to the street again. The killer somehow ends up in front of her, grabs her, drags her through a door, and throws her onto a mattress in a grimy room, where he chains her up. 1984 celluloid England seems just as scary a place to live as 1984 celluloid New York City.
Don’t Open Till Christmas contains a few messages of gay panic as well, perhaps as an apology for the lack of female bodies. One dude about to go out on stage dressed as Santa claims he looks like a gay old queen. Next, a dude standing outside with a chick in a Santa suit spots two cops and stammers, “They’ll think we’re a couple of gays!” and runs off in terror. Isn’t it amazing how even when everyone knows that a killer is slaughtering people in Santa suits, the bigger concern is that they’ll be mistaken as gay??? But I can forgive, considering they throw in a really cute muscle dude working the ticket booth at the theater. He can make my yuletide gay anytime.
In the end, the film does have some essential 80s slasher predictability. At the beginning, a detective gets a gift in the mail that says “Don’t Open Till Christmas.” So you know that this is going to be the final ‘shock’ scene. Our killer comes from a loony bin (I guess he told Myers to stay in his padded cell that week, that this was his holiday). And we need to know what kind of sexual perversion our killer witnessed as a child on Christmas Day that makes him hate Santa so much. What better way than a flashback? And last but not least, we have the final girl. She knocks the killer over a banister and he falls flight after flight after flight. Surely, he must be dead, right? Why shouldn’t she approach the body to check and make sure….?