(UK - 1984)
Directed by Edmund Purdom and Al McGoohan (Derek Ford, Alan Birkinshaw). Written by Derek Ford and Al McGoohan (Alan Birkinshaw). Cast: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Gerry Sundquist, Mark Jones, Caroline Munro, Kelly Baker, Pat Astley, Kevin Lloyd, Wendy Danvers, Lawrence Harrington. (Unrated, 86 mins)
The November 9, 1984 release of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, with its concept of a homicidal, axe-wielding maniac dressed as Santa Claus, was the subject of a major controversy, a media circus, and a ludicrously hyperbolic condemnation from Siskel & Ebert. It's not like the idea of Christmas-themed horror was new: we'd already seen Bob Clark's terrifying BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), the original "the calls are coming from inside the house!" scenario with a hidden killer stalking the stragglers at a sorority house during Christmas break, and the opening "And All Through the House" segment of Freddie Francis' TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and Lewis Jackson's CHRISTMAS EVIL, aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT (1980) both dealt with the idea of a killer Santa long before SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was nearly banned because of it. The breathless panic and the cries of "What about the children?!" that surrounded SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT had more to do with the mindset of the time than anything inherently offensive in the film, which, for the record, is not very good, though even it has its one legitimately iconic moment. Thanks to HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), and the flood of imitators that hitched a ride on the bandwagon, the popularity of slasher films was at an all-time high. Much like today's debate over the violence in video games, there was much parental concern about things like movie violence and the "Satanic Panic" of the era, with heavy metal acts like Ozzy Osbourne, W.A.S.P., and Judas Priest being the favorite targets of outraged parents. There was a growing belief that if kids were bad, it had to be the movies they were watching, the music they were hearing, and the books they were reading.
re-release generating little fanfare. It's still revered as a "classic" by '80s horror fans prone to grading on an overly nostalgic curve, and it spawned four sequels (the last two in-name-only) and an abysmal 2012 remake. But late 1984 also saw another Santa-themed slasher film that fell through the cracks: the British-made DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS only got a very limited release on December 7, 1984 by exploitation outfit 21st Century Distribution Corp. before turning up in video stores several months later courtesy of the immortal Vestron Video. DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS was produced by veteran American schlockmeister Dick Randall, who had just set up shop in London after a decade-long run in Italy and Hong Kong, and Steve Minasian. Minasian was a veteran in grindhouse distribution and theatrical exhibition, a co-owner of Esquire Theaters and Hallmark Film Distributors. Minasian helped conceive the infamous "vomit bag" campaign for Hallmark's 1970 release of the German WITCHFINDER GENERAL ripoff MARK OF THE DEVIL. He was Randall's business partner on a number of 1980s European ventures, including the Spanish PIECES (1983) and the British SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986), but is perhaps best known for being involved as an investor in Georgetown Productions, the company that independently-produced FRIDAY THE 13TH. Minasian knew producer/director Sean S. Cunningham, who produced the Hallmark-released Wes Craven debut THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). Minasian was a money man, had no creative input in FRIDAY THE 13TH or the first four sequels that carried a Georgetown Productions credit, and he isn't individually credited anywhere on the film, but that didn't stop him or Randall from exploiting that connection to the box-office phenomenon time and again throughout their partnership.
|DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS newspaper ad
from the Temple of Schlock archives.
|SLAUGHTER HIGH newspaper ad
from the Brain Hammer Picks from the Crypt archives.
|Purdom in a 1954 MGM publicity shot
FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1973), featuring the infamous credit "and Boris Lugosi as Ook the Neanderthal Man." Purdom would appear as Vittorio De Sica in the 1980 TV-movie SOPHIA LOREN: HER OWN STORY and had small roles in a pair of 1983 miniseries: THE WINDS OF WAR for ABC and THE SCARLET AND THE BLACK for CBS--all American productions with scenes shot in Purdom's base of Rome--but by the 1980s, he was mostly appearing in things like Joe D'Amato's HALLOWEEN ripoff MONSTER HUNTER (1982) and grimy Randall fare like Alan Birkinshaw's INVADERS OF THE LOST GOLD (1982) and the legendary PIECES, as the chainsaw-killer college dean assembling a human jigsaw puzzle out of the body parts of his victims. It was Purdom's friendship with Randall that led to their final, doomed collaboration: DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS.
A STUDY IN TERROR and the sublimely trashy 1968 Peter Cushing plastic surgery laser hippie freakout CORRUPTION, but eventually found himself in the smutty 1970s British sex farce gutter with the likes of I AM A GROUPIE, THE SWAPPERS, SUBURBAN WIVES, and COMMUTER HUSBANDS. Randall wasn't happy with Ford's work and after a few days, fired him and brought in Alan Birkinshaw, the man responsible for the truly pathetic INVADERS OF THE LOST GOLD and now in charge of saving CHRISTMAS. Now that Ford was gone, Birkinshaw was assigned to completely overhaul the script to factor in the star no longer being around, take over directing the film, and reshoot some earlier Purdom sequences with which Randall was dissatisfied. Purdom wanted to make an old-fashioned thriller, and in a revelatory archival making-of on Mondo Macabro's 2011 DVD release, he's shown directing one murder scene involving the porn-booth stripper and says "I'm not really interested in showing a lot of blood here," demonstrating a fundamental disconnect with everything Dick Randall. Both the actress and the Santa actor are not the ones in the finished film. Birkinshaw reshot this sequence with a different actress (Baker) and buckets of blood and was actually responsible for almost all of the gory murder sequences. Purdom wasn't interested in splatter, and, by all accounts, was an eccentric and well-meaning guy who wanted to direct a movie but was in over his head and really didn't know what he was doing behind the camera. This is evident in a lot of the scenes in which Purdom is acting, which have the actors positioned in odd ways in shots that have a tendency to end abruptly, sometimes in mid-sentence, in an editorial necessity that can probably be chalked up to little or no coverage. Even with Birkinshaw's reshoots, new storylines, and massive re-edits, the film just doesn't cut together well at all.
|Caroline Munro in DON'T OPEN
TILL CHRISTMAS, for some reason
|Diana Dors and Alan Lake in
happier days, in an early 1970s
photo with their son Jason
THE MUSIC MACHINE (1979), a knockoff of the 1977 blockbuster SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER that never got released in the US. Outside of the UK, he's known for the 1978 German sex comedy BOARDING SCHOOL, a favorite on late-night cable in the early '80s thanks to an early appearance by Nastassja Kinski, but his most high-profile role in the US was as the love interest to Esmeralda (Lesley-Anne Down) in the Anthony Hopkins-as-Quasimodo CBS/Hallmark Hall of Fame TV-movie THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1982). Sundquist also had a supporting role in the 1984 ABC miniseries THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII just prior to DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, but his momentum was quickly stalling. The actor was plagued by depression throughout his life, and he developed a serious drug problem as his career fizzled out in the mid '80s. He only managed to score a few sporadic TV guest spots over the next few years, and his personal issues worsened into the next decade. In 1993, the 37-year-old Sundquist committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at London's Norbiton train station. DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS was the final film credit for both Lake and Sundquist.
|Purdom in his later years