Friday, September 30, 2016

103. Don't Open Till Christmas and 104. Treasure of Tayopa

Jump to Treasure of Tayopa (1974)

103. Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
Director: Edmund Purdom
Writers: Alan Birkinshaw (additional scenes), Derek Ford
From: Drive-In

A serial killer stalks the streets of London in the run-up to Christmas murdering people dressed as Santa.

A man in a Santa suit is making out with his girlfriend in the back of a car when they're both murdered. Later, at a party, a man dressed as Santa gets a spear thrown through him. This happens in front the Santa's daughter Kate and her boyfriend Cliff. Inspector Harris and Detective Powell of Scotland Yard are put in charge of the case, one they have to solve quickly since, as a newspaper headline notes, there's only “three killing days till Christmas.” Enjoy that because that's the end of this movie's wit.

Cliff is strangely glib about Kate having watched her father get murdered and keeps trying to get her to go outside, loosen up, just relax. “Why you so uptight? I mean, you just witnessed a brutal murder last night, and it was your dad. I don't want to be crass, but you can't mourn forever.”

He meets up with a photographer friend and the couple go to the photographer's studio to find him taking pictures of a model doing light bondage. Cliff tries to talk Kate into joining in, and she leaves in a huff because what the hell, man? Seriously! The funeral hasn't even been arranged! Cliff sticks around, makes out with the model while she's dressed as Santa, and the killer shows up. Cliff bolts (our hero) and the killer threatens the model, but doesn't kill her after she shows him her tits. Cliff, having been at the scene of two encounters, is now the primary suspect, but is also not part of the movie from this point on.

Meanwhile, Giles, a man claiming to be a reporter, is contacting Detective Powell to imply that Harris is the real killer. Powell keeps giving him the brush-off, but becomes increasingly suspicious of Giles himself and has him followed.

A Santa gets killed in a peepshow booth and the girl who was working there is taken in for questioning. She didn't see the killer's face, so can't identify him. Rather than accept the police escort home, she goes back to work and is immediately kidnapped by the killer.

Just geniuses throughout this picture. Pure geniuses.

Kate starts investigating Harris and finds out he visits a mental institution every week. When she meets with Harris for dinner (because two (?) days after your father's murder it's normal to accept a date from the chief inspector), he tells her it was to visit his brother who was committed as a child. Kate goes home and finds Giles in her apartment where he admits to being both the killer and Harris' brother, and the reason he's been killing is he wanted to give his brother “a real case to work on.” Powell calls Kate, but Giles kills her as she answers. Powell hears her death and rushes to the apartment where he chases Giles into a junkyard. Giles is cornered, but somehow manages to electrocute Powell anyway.

Giles returns to his lair where Sherry, the peepshow girl, is tied up. He unties her because she promises not to try to escape, and tells her she's going to suffer for all the evil that infuses Christmas. She runs, manages to shove him over a stairwell, but when she investigates the body, he suddenly wakes up and kills her.

Flashback to Giles as a child seeing his dad dressed as Santa cheating on his mother. His mother walks in, the couple fights, and Santa-dad shoves her, knocking her down a stairwell and killing her. Which means he wasn't killing just to play Moriarty to Harris' Holmes, but actually did have something against Santas. Or maybe not. It's impossible to care.

Cut to Harris' apartment on Christmas. Harris has been fired from the department and is opening a gift that was sent to him at the beginning of the murders. It's a music box with a note indicating it's from his brother which, of course, explodes, killing him. The End.

The movie makes no sense. They say it's going to take three days, but what follows takes far more than three days, although it's impossible to tell what the timeline of this movie is. None of the characters even matter because it's not their story. The movie is just a series of people dressed as Santa getting murdered in various ways—the most notable one having his face pressed down over an open flame after singing “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire.” Of course the forced irony of him dying then is entertaining, but he just bursts into flames. It's hilarious.

The rest of the movie, though, not so much. It's not even clear who the main character is supposed to be. In one version of this movie, it would be Cliff trying to clear his name, save his girlfriend, and redeem himself in her eyes. In another, it'd be Inspector Harris using whatever tools he has at hand to get to the bottom of what's really happening. It's neither of these things, though. It's just some anonymous figure murdering random people in Santa suits. That's not a plot. The strange thing, for me, is that I've written so much about this. The movie sounds like it's full of plot and incident, but it's not at all. The movie itself is only 86 minutes, and it drags because none of it matters.

The movie, in and of itself, isn't particularly fun, but works all right if you don't pay attention to it. I screened this as part of a Winter Solstice party a couple years back, and it works okay in that context: no one's really paying attention and can pop in and out of the movie when a hilarious death is occurring. For those who are curious, the party was a sundown-to-sunup movie marathon with Gremlins, Black Christmas, Christmas Evil, Don't Open Till Xmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, and, planned, but not watched, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. There's no shortage of great winter/Christmas/Solstice-themed horror movies and you can leave a comment with your recommendations. I may do it again this year using exclusively Krampus-themed flicks. I don't think I'll ever return to this movie, though.


104. Treasure of Tayopa (1974)
Director: Bob Cawley
Writers: Robert Mason, Philip Michel
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A group of treasure hunters are trekking through the Mexican wasteland in search of Tayopa, an abandoned mission. They’re followed by a stranger intent on ending their journey and threatened by divisions within their group.

The movie opens with footage of an actual cockfight and can there be any more succinct review of a movie than, “You literally watch something die”? From the cockfight, we launch into a voice-over telling us the “Legend of Tayopa,” only it doesn’t relate the legend or tell us anything about Tayopa. Coincidentally, I’m in the midst of grading student papers, so the failure of creators to tell us what they’re trying to tell us is the leitmotif of my day.

The narrator appears on-screen, listed in the credits as “Host,” because he's not actually part of this movie, and finally tells us that Tayopa was a 16th century Spanish mission in Mexico. The missionaries forced the local natives to mine for gold until the natives rose up and killed them. Since then, the exact location of the mission and its treasure has remained a secret.

Thus Kathryn Delgadillo, the last descendant of someone associated with Tayopa, bearing her family’s undefined curse from that place and knowing its secret location. She’s narrating the movie now and has important information relating to Tayopa or the curse or herself, but it’s lost in a bad edit so that we can return to the real star of this movie: the music.

So little happens on-screen until the second half, and that may be generous. The structure of the film is narration—musical montage—narration—musical montage—dialogue—musical montage. This was less a movie than a music video collection for generic lite FM desert ballads.

In the movie itself, Kathryn's team of treasure hunters has the stoic and experienced Tom as leader, quiet and affable Felipe as translator, and sociopath man named Sally to work the metal detector. Three guesses as to who’s going to make trouble. Early in their journey, they encounter a stranger who seems to only speak Spanish. Felipe gets directions from him to the mountains, but the stranger, who speaks English, overhears them mention Tayopa and follows them from a distance. Later, his band of thieves harasses the group, but ultimately leaves them alone.

Sally can’t leave it be, though, and takes Felipe back with him to kill the band because they jostled his horse. Yeah. Forget, "scuffed my Adidas," this is "bumped my horse" (although that does sound like a euphemism that would be worth fighting over). Before Sally carries out his plan, we get to see the band discussing killing the treasure hunters and kidnapping Kathryn to rape cause every character on every side in this movie is charming. The stranger tells them to wait and goes off to monitor the hunters while Sally and Felipe arrive and murder everyone. The stranger returns to find Sally’s hat at the scene and so dedicates himself to seeing them all dead.

The stranger steals all their horses, the group treks across the scrub on foot, Felipe starts narrating because apparently this is Abraxas and everyone deserves equal time on the mic, and they find water. Everyone goes swimming, Sally tries to assault Kathryn, but Tom stops him and threatens to shoot him if it happens again.

They finally arrive at Tayopa, but can’t find the treasure. Sally eventually finds the mine, assaults Kathryn, then kills Tom and Felipe. Kathryn, presumed dead, follows Sally back to the mine and brains him with a rock. Then she stumbles away looking for help. She kills and eats a snake, which I don’t think was a prop, is visited by a monk that gives her water, but it’s not clear if he’s a hallucination or not. Then the narrator reappears to say the treasure is still out there.

So a real slog of a movie. The big problem is that there’s nothing happening and no real outside threat. Sure, the stranger steals their horses, which puts them in real peril, but never actually rises to the level of the threat posed by Sally. And there’s never any doubt that Sally’s where all the trouble is going to come from. Early on, the treasure hunters make reference to the fact that they can’t be found by Mexican authorities because they’re carrying guns, but that never becomes an issue. Also, the curse is invoked at the beginning, but the details of it are never articulated. Was the whole trip a manifestation of the curse? I don’t know.

Ultimately, there’s no content here, very little movie, just long stretches of bad music with mediocre visuals. If I wanted that, Nickelback has a Vevo, I’m sure. So not a recommend. There’s what appears to be a valid copyright notice at the end, but Mill Creek smooshed their logo on to my copy so it doesn’t matter anyway.

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