Christmas time means a lot of things for a lot of people. For me, it means I get to crank out the time old tradition of watching my collection of beloved Christmas movies to get into the Christmas spirit via cinema. However, Christmas has also been oddly paired up with the horror genre on more than one occasion (Gremlins, Silent Night Deadly Night). Now Michael Dougherty, who brought us the excellent Holiday horror film Trick R’ Treat, is back to give a proper big screen delivery of his latest season scare fest with Krampus. Young Max (Emjay Anthony) is the only member in his family who still cares and believes in the spirit of Christmas. But when his obnoxious extended family comes and sours the season for him, he abandons the Christmas spirit and joins his dysfunctional family’s cynical views.
However, his disillusionment inadvertently summons a dark, ancient Christmas spirit known as Krampus: the demonic shadow of Santa Claus. Now Krampus has sealed off Max’s family and the town with a blizzard, and is now unleashing monsters and minions to punish Max and his family; forcing them to work together in order to survive Krampus and his creatures. The first thing that came to mind when I saw this was Gremlins, if you liked Gremlins or remember what kind of horror/humor it dished out, then you got a pretty good idea of what Krampus has in store for you. This is an interesting mixed bag of a film; capable of making you feel humor, horror and legitimate warmth for this kid and his family’s plight. Krampus touches on all of the worst things we dread dealing with around Christmas: rude relatives, lousy weather, and most importantly: the capitalistic monopolization and desecration of the true meaning of Christmas.
The monster and family are presented in a way that makes them simultaneously likeable and unlikeable. There are a lot of painfully similar situations and people in this movie that parallel our families, or at the very least a family we know of. Krampus is a punishing, comedic monster romp that keeps things from getting too dark (especially with a PG-13 rating). But for the way in which Krampus and his legend are represented, morally, it actually makes a lot of sense. Having the likes of comedic actors like Adam Scott, David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell makes it easier to understand what kind of tone this movie is going for. Those expecting a truly bone chilling Christmas flick will be quite surprised when you see evil Gingerbread men climbing down the chimney.
What I adored best about this movie, besides the witty script and daringly unusual ending, was the use of practical effects with the variety of monsters. Far too many films (horror or otherwise) utilize CGI and continue to create the most lifeless life like characters again and again. Dougherty wisely used puppets and animatronic creatures, proving that a physical prop or puppet of a monster or alien will always look a thousand times more real than a computer generated one. From sharp toothed teddy bears to man eating Jack-in-the-box snakes, Krampus offers a unique visual feast of Holiday horrors and enough intensity to keep you from getting too laugh happy. My primary criticism is that the film’s structure doesn’t leave any room for any real surprises or development. Once the Krampus’s hooves hit the ground, it’s a pretty basic by the numbers horror film that leads you down a very predictable path (until the ending that is.)
Overall, Krampus is another warped Christmas classic in the making; just like Gremlins. The humorous look at our own jaded Holiday-isms and the magnificent monster effects provide a uniquely entertaining Holiday horror film, the likes of which we need more of. The cast is solid, the humor and horror blends surprisingly well, and even with the bizarrely ambiguous ending and limited elbow room for the story, Krampus is a Christmas monster miracle I want wrapped and left under my tree this year.
I give Krampus 3 stars out of 4.