As silly and improbable as it may sound to those who've gotten to know me, I was once completely and utterly terrified of the horror section at the video store situated near my childhood home. While my parents would embark on a quest for entertainment, I'd mindlessly wander the aisles, eyeballing unnerving VHS box covers warily as I tip-toed through carefully through the genres.
To this day, I vividly remember the overwrought nightmares I had upon seeing the case for Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" for the very first time. I'm sure my parents spent countless hours wondering how, exactly, they'd managed to raise such a cowardly child.
The VHS artwork for director Edmund Purdom's gloriously inept 1984 British Christmas slasher "Don't Open Till Christmas" was another psyche-scarring offender, so much so that it's taken me several long years to actually watch the damned thing. The cover, a somewhat cartoonish depiction of a knife protruding from an innocent Christmas present, caused me great distress as a kid.
Who in their right mind would violently stab a harmless holiday gift? I wondered. More importantly, what in the hell would cause the package to bleed all over the floor? Images of adorable puppies and kittens wrapped tightly inside tiny cardboard boxes filled my impressionable mind. Yes, it's kind of pathetic, and, yes, I'm slightly embarrassed. What can I say -- I was a strange kid.
All of this adolescent nonsense is slightly humorous given how weirdly atrocious the film actually is. It's the sort of train wreck that often draws a rabid cult following, through, truthfully, "Don't Open Till Christmas" might be too technically inept and needlessly confusing for most to process without permanent physical and emotional damage. Hyperbole aside, it is truly one of the absolute worst movies I've ever seen, a woeful attempt to cash in on the slasher craze that was booming in the early 80's. Looking at the finished product, it's incredibly hard to believe it took the filmmakers two long years to complete the film. As bad as it is, I'm certainly glad they did.
The story -- which is supposed to unfold three days before Christmas, though it feels much longer -- follows the rather lame attempts by Scotland Yard officials to catch a deranged killer with an insatiable desire to violently murder people dressed like Santa Clause. Their methods of detection aren't exactly sharp, thoughtful, or logical, allowing this holiday-soiling psychopath to run amok as the happiest day in the year rapidly approaches. Buried beneath the cinematic mire is an unintentional comedy of errors, a farcical look at crime and punishment in the proverbial big city. Although it may seem tarnished, it's actually quite beautiful. In a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of way, of course.
To its credit, "Don't Open Till Christmas" sports a surprisingly high body count, though each kill is generally of the "stab once and die" variety. However, a few notable exceptions -- the surprise castration, for instance -- do exist. The suspense generated during these lacklust scenes is almost non-existent; the setup is strictly stalk-and-slash, and almost every instance is ruined by limp-wristed direction and insanely poor editing. One sequence inside a seriously bizarre art exhibit comes close to making your skin crawl, only to drop the ball at the last conceivable second. It's definitely more comedy than horror.
To be perfectly honest, I don't care about the film's storied production, it's three "revolving door" directors, or their inability to accomplish anything of significance whatsoever during the course of the picture. "Don't Open Till Christmas" is an outhouse diamond, a priceless gem buried in the inky black bowels of your diabetic cousin's congested colon. If you can stomach the community college acting, the complete lack of cohesion, the countless poorly-executed murder sequences, the horrendous editing, the abrupt conclusion -- if you can look past these misshapen trees to embrace the crooked forest, the film is an endless delight. And while the scenario shown on the VHS box never occurs during the film, the final scene is a worthy substitute. A personal favorite.