The Making of a Horror Film chronicles the train wreck of a production that was Don't Open Till Christmas, possibly the most unlikely film to have spawned its own spin-off documentary. A less than serious affair, what goes on in this documentary is so ridiculous that were it not for the existence of Don't Open Till Christmas itself you'd swear the whole thing was an imaginary spoof on zero budget film-making, the British horror equivalent of The Rutles or Spinal Tap if you will.
Purporting to show an average day in the life of producer Dick Randall, both Randall and his director/star Edmund Purdom seem especially game for sending themselves up. It opens with Dick being 'surprised' by two glamour model floozies in Santa outfits (one is Linzi Drew) who strip off to remind him of his films title. Far more lively than he appears in film itself Edmund Purdom claims he first became interested in horror and suspense after "one of my wives nearly did me in in the bath" and in one priceless moment becomes distracted from location scouting at Portobello Market by a parrot that eventually perches on his head. Having established that Edmund was not the ermmm most focused film director in the world, we go on to see an actor playing a Santa victim revealing himself to be merely a passing drunk "I was sitting in a pub guv'nor and this bird came up and said how would you like to get your head blown off for money", a cat eating the film's special effects, a botched murder scene cum explosion leaving a studio uninhabitable and a real life bomb scare enabling the crew to shoot lots of footage of police with Purdom encouraged to mingle with them so that it can be incorporated into a film where he plays an Inspector. Did all this really happen or is it just Dick Randall pulling our leg? so many bizarre stories about what went on behind the scenes of Don't Open Till Christmas have leaked out over the years that anything seems possible, even the documentary's anonymous, porkpie hat wearing host struggles to decipher fact from a wind-up. Randall's renowned sense of humour certainly runs riot through the documentary, witness a crew member being interviewed while sporting a joke shop Groucho Marx disguise even a Margaret Thatcher lookalike makes an appearance on set. Randall jokingly explains he plans to record the Thatcher impersonator's voice giving her blessing to the production in case they later try to throw him in jail for making a "Video Nasty", maybe he should have made a film called The Clones of Margaret Thatcher.
As 2005's fine documentary 'The Wild, Wild World of Dick Randall' is testament to, Randall was the last of exploitation film's truly colourful characters. Even encountering him through the bit parts he did in his own productions, in-joking cameos as roly poly sleazebags usually seen inhabiting brothels, is an unforgettable experience, arguably he scene steals most of Mario Bava's Four Times that Night. Playing his best ever film role, himself, Randall is the true star of The Making of a Horror Film as well but you do get to see a few other characters that inhabited his shoestring universe. Derek Ford's right hand man Alan Selwyn, ever the walking ID of a shifty casting agent, is seen phoning for extras while Ford's wife Valerie is given the thankless job of going to the local butchers to get more special effects "the nearest meat to human flesh .and some calf's liver". Mrs. Derek Ford in what is likely her only on camera appearance sports huge Elton John glasses and a wig, the reason for the disguise becomes obvious when you see what her next assignment is, buying a fake penis from a Soho sex shop for use in the film. Goodness knows what the makers of Don't Open Till Christmas wanted a fake penis for, do we really want to know? One of those 'now missing' scenes perhaps? There are a few scenes on view here that clearly didn't make the final cut, including a discarded gore scene involving a Santa victim having Christmas tree lights crushed into his face, more curious still is a sequence in a hotel lobby with Purdom discovering something nasty and telling a passing policeman to "go get the police'. Eagle eyed viewers may also spot that another scene being shot, the one in which the department store Santa is killed in the Soho peep show, features completely different cast members than the ones who appear in the final film! (the doc does admit the film was recast at one point but remains elusive as to why). Pity poor starlet Alison, the original 'peep show girl', who seems awfully sweet from her interview, can there be a more career crushing blow than being ditched from Don't Open Till Christmas? If its any consolation 21 years on, recent allegations as to why the film was recast point to this being ironically, nothing to do with the cast themselves. This credit-less curio has sometimes been described as a 'promotional' film, though how exactly this was meant to promote the film is anyone's guess, it feels more like a private joke about the production for Dick to amuse his friends with than anything else and the production comes across as being at best a good natured shambles.
Still its all fascinating stuff, like being given a backstage pass to peek in on what was left of the crumbling British exploitation film industry by the mid-Eighties, the film that most of them came to regard as a bad joke and a producer unable to take himself seriously even when promoting his own film. Arguably the documentary's funniest moment comes right at the end, when after watching the rushes in a screening room we cut back to Randall who has fallen asleep. "Can't win 'em all" shrugs the narrator.
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