Saturday, December 25, 2010

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

Okay, so seeing as it's Christmas Day, I'll take a break from eating roast potatoes for half an hour to write a Christmas-themed review. This blog being what it is, I'm going with an obscure British oddity from 1984 about a serial killer that brutally murders anyone unfortunate to wander out in a Santa costume at night.

Don't Open Till Christmas, as I learned today, is not really one to watch on Christmas Day. It's a grimy, kind of depressing affair, which in all honesty put a dampener on my Xmas spirit for 85 minutes or so, causing me to ingest a dangerous amount of Cadbury's Miniature Heroes in order to revive my flagging yuletide cheer. To be fair, it's not a complete write-off, but it's riddled with flaws that will make it unbearable to all but the most ardent bad-movie fan. 

There isn't really much in the way of plot - main protagonist Kate's father is murdered at a Christmas party in full Santa get-up, and Inspector Harris is drafted in to solve the case. Harris' main suspect is Kate's boyfriend Cliff, a disgruntled lad who makes his living as a busking flautist. Yes, that's a busking flautist. Meanwhile, the murders become more frequent and it's left to Kate to try to piece the whole thing together herself. 

DOTC is a weird but ultimately fairly dull film. The whole setup for the movie is so grey and lifeless that at times it can be a bit of a chore to sit through. Ordinarily I kinda dig movies with that seedy, grimy feel (movies such as Vice Squad, Maniac etc) but the Soho setting and drab cinematography only add up to something that makes you feel a bit unclean after watching. It doesn't really help that there aren't any likeable characters in the film - presumably we should be rooting for Kate, but she's such a non-entity that we don't care for her well-being all that much. Cliff is an annoying, moany prick and Inspector Harris seems like he could fall asleep mid-sentence at any moment. 

There are a lot of technical flaws in this film, the main one being the appalling lighting (something that's often a problem with older low-budget movies, but this one takes the piss). Almost every murder scene follows an identical formula: man in Santa costume is stalked for some time in almost total darkness, masked killer appears, shoves a knife in him and the film abruptly cuts to another scene of people talking about nothing. This happens many, many times in the movie - in fact the body count is actually pretty high, and there are some pretty rough deaths, but when almost every murder scene is filmed in the same fashion, and happens to someone whose face you can barely see anyway, the novelty doesn't really last.

The acting and dialog in this movie are at times unbelievably bad. Harris' slow motion realisation of the common thread between the murders is hilarious: "It was... The costume he was wearing... He was the victim... Of another..... Santa murder!" When Cliff wanders off with some tart in a Santa get-up, his main concern is not being murdered but rather that people on the street will think "we're a couple of gays". Easily the worst acting in the film comes from a call-girl that the murderer kidnaps and keeps in his basement - her performance is so bad that I was fairly sure she was doing it on purpose for laughs. I mean, nobody could be that terrible, could they...?

Towards the end of the film, things really fall apart as the killer is "revealed" - this is one of those movies where it's blatantly clear from the first few minutes who the killer is. However, rather than climax with the reveal, there is a further 15 minutes or so where the movie seems to just run out the clock in order to make it to the 85 minute mark. There were maybe 3 or 4 points where I was convinced the movie was on it's last scene, but no, on it went. The flashback scene that explains why the killer was driven to his actions is a genuine laugh-out-loud riot, one shot in particular being especially hilarious. What's even more bizarre is after dragging endlessly for the last 15/20 minutes, the movie ends in a truly awkward and abrupt fashion, with a scene that the makers presumably felt ties everything up in a nice, neat package.

And yet, even though it seems like I'm tearing this movie to shreds, I honestly can't say it's a complete waste of time. Even though it's drab and slow, I did appreciate how successful the makers were in creating that grimy atmosphere. It also has a pretty cool score, a kind of throbbing, blippy synth rumble that works well with the grim nature of the movie. I would say it's for hardcore slasher fans only, but I think most slasher fans would be turned off by the fact that this movie just isn't really any fun... So I guess it's just for those of us who have an iron constitution when it comes to bad movies.

This trailer contains all the good parts of the movie, and has an amazing voice-over, so you probably don't ever need to watch the film itself:

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