“Don’t Open Till Christmas”: ‘Tis the season for a Christmas-themed Santa-killing slasher flick

By on December 21, 2018

‘Tis the season for a Christmas-themed slasher flick, and there are many to choose from, but we thought we’d tell you a little ’bout a little low-budget favorite of ours, 1984’s Don’t Open Till Christmas.

“From the makers of Friday the 13th” — or so it said on the back of a Vestron VHS video box for this British horror cult classic (we believe it’s currently in the public domain).

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Don’t Open Til Christmas — released to theaters on December 19, 1984 — isn’t about a killer Santa, it’s about a psycho killer on the loose in foggy ol’ London town… and he’s killing anyone dressed up like Santa (a.k.a. Father Christmas in England).

This creepy low-budget thriller begins with a bad ol’ Santa (John Ashton) and his ol’ lady (Maria Eldridge) fucking in the back seat of a parked car when someone starts spying on them through the fogged-up windows.

The man in the Santa suit gets out of the car to confront the peeper, only to be stabbed, followed quickly by the lady’s swift demise.

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Next, we’re at a fancy dressy Christmas party, as “Kate Briosky” (Belinda Mayne) helps her father (Laurence Harrington) get into his Santa costume while her boyfriend “Cliff Boyd” (Gerry Sundquist) cracks jokes.

It’s no joke when this dad Santa gets onstage and has a sword or spear stuck down his throat, though.

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Scotland Yard’s “Inspector Harris” (the film’s director, Edmund Purdom) gets the assignment to figure out who’s behind the savage Santa slayings, but he’s frankly stumped and eventually replaced by “Sgt. Powell” (played by bald former sex actor Mark Jones).

When Kate phones up Inspector Harris, she is informed by his housekeeper that he’s visiting Parklands, a mental institution, which now makes us think he’s a suspect.

Meanwhile, another Santa — this one selling roasted chestnuts — has his faced shoved into an open fire.

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A newspaper reporter named “Giles” (Alan Lake) takes an intense interest in the case, contacting Kate and Sgt. Powell, who he offers up advice to on how to solve the Santa killings.

Scotland Yard’s finest decide to start deploying decoys, but not everyone wants their police protection.

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The reporter then bumps into an old pal named “Gerry” (Kevin Lloyd), now working as a smut photographer.

He’s snapping photos of a model named “Sharon” — Pat Astley, an adult film actress who’d previously appeared in Dr. Sex and Nymphmania – dressed in a red Santa coat, thigh-high boots and a pair of panties.

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When the police see her flashing her tits to Cliff, they both make a run for it, sprinting off in different directions.

When Sharon runs down a dark alley, she finds she’s gone the wrong way when the psycho killer slashes her naked boobies.

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By now, Inspector Harris believes that Cliff might be involved in these “Santa” killing since he’s had no alibi and been involved in at least two of the incidents.

What they need is a witness, and that’s exactly what they get when a London back street club stripper “Sherry Graham” (Kelly Baker) sees the killer dispatching another department store Santa (Wilfred Corlett), although he was wearing a mask.

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Finally, we get to see the lovely scream queen Caroline Munro, singing her newest rockin’ disco hit, “Warrior of Love” (Munro wrote the lyrics).

The appearance of Munro — who at the time was married to George Dugdale, the director of Slaughter High, who was also involved — is much too brief, though, and all but ruined when she screams bloody murder over another dead Santa (this one with a meat clever in his face).

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We learn who the killer is by this point in the story, when poor Kate is confronted in her home by the man.

She learns he was just released from Parklands (it turns out he’s the younger brother of Harris, who changed his surname from Harrison after his brother was committed).

Trivia-time: the actor playing the killer committed suicide shortly before Don’t Open Till Christmas opened in theaters (his wife, iconic British star Diana Dors, had died earlier that year).

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Don’t Open Till Christmas was directed by Edmund Purdom from a screenplay by Derek Ford and Alan Birkinshaw.

The film was actually delayed in development and early production for two years, beginning in 1982.

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Purdom (who plays Inspector Harris) was the first director to take on the assignment, but he walked off the set.

The first replacement was the film’s main screenwriter, Derek Ford, who’d directed sexploitation fodder like The Wife Swappers (1969) and The Sexplorer (1975), but he was fired after just two days on the job.

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The next director to take on the job was Ray Selfe, who’d previously owned a London sex cinema, but he didn’t work out either.

The distributor then brought on Alan Birkinshaw, who re-wrote parts of the script he didn’t like, including the original ending and the London Dungeon sequence (we’re reminded of Scotland Yard’s actual dungeon-y “Black Museum,” which we told you about here).

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Finally, Edward Purdom returned to the director’s chair towards the end of filming, retaining the sole director credit although footage shot by Ford, Selfe and Brinkman was credited as “Additional scenes written and directed by “Al McGoohan,” a curious way to credit them collectively, like a British “Alan Smithee.”

There were numerous other oddities associated with the film’s production and credit scroll at the end, including one character “Dr. Bridle” (Nicholas Donnelly) who is credited in the film’s end credits despite that role ended up on the cutting room floor.

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Don’t Open Till Christmas “shatters all barriers of horror,” said Vestron Video, calling the film “the thrilling and bizarre murder mystery where nothing is sacred — even Santa Claus!”

There are better Christmas-themed slasher flicks — Don’t Open Till Christmas was released a full decade after the best Christmas slasher of them all, 1974’s Black Christmas, and a year after the excellent Silent Night, Deadly Night — but if you’re looking for an odd little Xmas slasher you might have missed, seek out Don’t Open Till Christmas.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.