Twelve Days of Axe-mas: Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)

I am taking part in The Chicago Creepout’s Twelve Days of Axe-mas holiday viewing event. This is my day six.

While watching the execrable excuse for a movie that is Don’t Open Till Christmas, I had a feeling similar to a moment that happened a little over four years ago.

Let me set the scene.

It was the wee hours of the morning in the Music Box Theatre. This was the first of the 24-hour horror movie marathons known as The Massacre that I had attended. At approximately six a.m., after the Mario Bava classic Black Sabbath had shown to generally positive vibes, a film began playing that almost defies description in its awfulness. That film was called Pieces.

It was just your basic slasher film with some slightly gorier than usual moments, but it was not the familiarity of its concept that made it so very bad, it was the shoddy filmmaking that brought it to the screen. While most low-budget slasher films from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s were bad, many of them were still competently put together by actual professionals who understood the art of composing a shot and editing for coherence. Even if these filmmakers were only able to put together the rudimentary elements of a film, at least it still operated as a recognizable entity.

Pieces could not even boast the claim to being put together by competent hacks. From the opening scene–a flashback to the ‘40s where a character uses a touchtone phone, never mind they were not yet invented–the film careened from one vague scene to the next. Characters had different motives from one scene to the next, plot points happened that the audience never was told about, and every few minutes there was a murder. Logic never entered the picture as scenes were presented that served no purpose, bad acting was heightened by shoddy lighting and amateur camerawork, and the story that failed to make any sense in the beginning just became more confusing through horrible editing until an ending that felt like everyone involved just gave up.

The worst part about Pieces was not just that it was incompetently made, it was boring. It was a movie so haphazardly put together that there wasn’t even satisfaction to be had by mocking it. A few people tried, but they gave up after a few minutes as the film proved to not even be useful for that kind of dubious entertainment. About halfway through the running time, I wondered what the hell I was doing by subjecting myself to such pure trash.

Around 1:30 this morning, I asked myself the same question. Don’t Open Till Christmas is the same style of incompetent trash as Pieces and it filled me with the same sense of self-loathing that I had subjected myself to such a film. I tried to mock the editing, the random character motivations, the improbable killings, and the bad acting, but I failed to find this entertaining. It was a terrible movie and I wondered if it was even worse than Pieces. That’s the point when I did a little research and came up with the name of Dick Randall.

Before a quick run through his filmography, I had never heard of Dick Randall, the producer of over fifty films from sexploitation to Bruce Lee knockoffs to slasher films that included Don’t Open Till Christmas and—you guessed it—Pieces. Randall was the kind of schlocky producer who made Roger Corman look like David O. Selznick (or, if you want a more apt analogy, he made Al Adamson look like Roger Corman).

I suppose I could look at the ninety minutes of my life I gave to watching Don’t Open Till Christmas as being useful. I learned to avoid anything to which Randall attached his name. But that theory is shot down by the fact that he was a producer on Mario Bava’s entertaining Four Times that Night.

No, I can’t see any useful purpose to watching a movie as bad as Don’t Open Till Christmas. It’s scraping the bottom of the barrel bad. Anyone who ends up watching this movie loses. All I can do is warn you not to follow in my path.

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