With a tagline like “From The Producers Of Pieces,” you’d figure that Don’t Open Till Christmas would be as delightfully stupid and nonsensical as Juan Piquer Simon’s masterpiece. It’s certainly absurd throughout with a few ‘so bad-it’s good’ moments and poorly conceived characters, but it never really goes “out there.” In fact, Christmas is a little too normal for its own good.
After the modest success of Pieces, producers Dick Randall and Steve Minasian decided to reuse the same slasher formula and set it during the holiday season. To their credit, we’ve seen tons of flicks with Killer Santas and serial killers dressed up as the big guy, but Don’t Open Till Christmas is the only one I know of in which the killer targets people dressed up as Santa. Edmund Purdom, who also starred, took the reigns as the director and the film began its troubled production as three people were brought in after him to help salvage it and reshoot death scenes to make them more violent, including Christmas’ alcoholic screenwriter Derek Ford, editor Ray Selfe, and Alan Birkinshaw. The death scenes are among the biggest highlights of the film (and they happen frequently), not the least of which is a chestnut cart owner who is cooked to death on his own roaster.
Like Pieces, it has a really great WTF scene right before the credits roll, but more importantly, it kicks things off with a healthy dose of dumb. When the first couple is killed, the man – dressed as Santa, of course – gets stabbed in the stomach and dies in about two seconds (isn’t that supposed to be the longest, most excruciating way to die?) while his canoodling female companion makes a dash for the corner of a dark alley. At first, it seems like a great idea since there’s a door there, but she doesn’t even try the handle. She just stands there, waiting to get stabbed. The mind-blowing intelligence of the screenwriters don’t stop there, as a victim wanders through a wax museum unphased by the blunt projectile weapons being thrown at him, and a police captain spends most of his time “investigating” sitting at his desk in front of a giant map – seriously, all his scenes must have been shot in under an hour. And then, of course, there’s the fact that after two or three deaths, Scotland Yard would probably warn everyone not to wear Santa outfits to prevent any more murders.
Dick Randall is known for quickie exploitation films like Pod People and The Mad Butcher, and Don’t Open Till Christmas is definitely of that caliber, but it’s incompetent and OK, rather than extremely bizarre and entertaining. The weird stuff is definitely weird, but it happens a little too infrequently.
The Wild, Wild World Of Dick Randall (32:40) – A lengthy documentary on the exploitation producer which was originally included on the French Sex Murders DVD release, featuring interviews with David McGillivray (House Of Whipcord), Alan Birkinshaw (Don’t Open Till Christmas), and Corliss Randall (Ninja Strikes Back). He was indeed a wild, free-spirited guy, operating outside of the Hollywood system, making films wherever he could produce them the most economically (which is why he shot overseas a lot) and selling them for a decent profit. Since this is an overview of his entire career, they go over a lot of flicks in all genres, so the doc is a good jumping off point for exploring his filmography, most of which looks fun.
Making Of (51:59) – Hosted by Dick Randall, this archival making-of goes behind-the-scenes of Don’t Open Till Christmas and includes make-up tests, raw footage, and interviews with cast and crew members. I assume this was made for potential distributers, as it’s kind of surprising that a featurette would’ve been made during the early 1980’s for fans, since nobody was going to pay upwards of $80 for a VHS doc.