Before Krampus, Michael Dougherty directed a very fun horror anthology called Trick ‘r Treat (2007? it’s been that long?!) It was irreverent, scary, and fun (i know, i already said that). And it was a loving tribute to our favorite holiday, Halloween. The most wonderful time of the year. A time when theaters are showing classic and new horror films, leaves are crunching underfoot (regionally), and fans of horror are looked to for movie recommendations, finally being recognized as the valuable members of society that we are. There’s another holiday that many people (probably more than the Halloween lovers) call the most wonderful time of the year- Christmas. A time of snow (regionally), hot cocoa, Christmas decorations, and tales of a jolly Big Brother watching everything you do with the ultimate goal of branding you NAUGHTY or NICE. In western folklore, Santa’s biggest punishment for the naughty is a carbon-based stocking deposit. But elsewhere, children are scared straight/nice with tales of the anti-santa, Krampus. And, since Dougherty is in the holiday movie business, who better to co-write and direct a film about the horned bastard?
Max is too old to believe in Santa, but he does anyway. He does, despite knowing the guy isn’t real. Max loves Christmas and fully embraces the Christmas spirit. He’s even willing to fight for it. He’s having a rough Christmas this year because the family isn’t doing their Christmas family traditions like he wants them to. He just wants Christmas to be “like it was”. Alas, his mom and dad are busy with whatever parents are busy with (work?) and barely have time for each other/the family. His sister is a teenager and doesn’t hang out with him anymore. She’d rather hang out with her boyfriend and an xmas themed bong. At least his “Omi” (german for grandma maybe?) has time for him. And she too believes in the power of the Christmas spirit. But, his super-terrible, trashy, gun-nut aunt and uncle and their 3 crappy kids (and one good one. but that’s only because she’s a baby), and his mean, drunken great-aunt don’t make things any better when they arrive and annoy the shit out of everyone. The last straw comes when one of his cousins steals and reads aloud his letter to Santa. He tries to rally his Christmas spirit back, but his anger and disappointment win out. So he tears up his letter and throws it out the window, where it is whisked up into the air a la Mary Poppins. The magical being that is summoned by this action is a tad more demonic than Mary Poppins though. It is none other than Krampus himself, come to fuck up all the NAUGHTY people in the house (with some rather horrific helpers).
Krampus is a ton of fun. From the warped Christmas music snippets sprinkled throughout the score, to the dark twist on the classic elf, Dougherty and co. have made another holiday classic. They’ve made the frustrations of the holiday relatable even though they are presented in (slight) characature. The opening scenes set in a big box store are disturbingly funny. And the Christmas Vacation-esque family dynamic is a perfect exaggeration of every family’s. I do wish David Koechner was put to better use. Sure, he plays the Koechner character that we’ve come to know and love, but I wish he was let loose a little bit more. He’s such a blast to watch when he really gets going. I’m getting off-track here. Bottom line: the cast is great (Allison Tolman is a particularly badass mama bear). Pitted against the hulking Krampus, they cower, crack, fight, and run with believable urgency. (i’m not sure i would make all of the same decisions in their place. but what do i know?) And the creature and practical effects are awesome. There’s an unseen stalker under the snow that is terrifying. And the creatures in general are all frightening bastardizations of familiar Christmas imagery (the spooky snowmen were creepy as hell!). The trailer spoils one of the best creature effect reveals though. So, if you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t until you’ve seen the film. (you watch trailers even after you’ve seen the film, right?) My one complaint in the effects department (no, it’s not that there were digital effects. they were fine) is that I wished that Krampus’s mouth and face would move. His eyes blink, but that’s it. Is he wearing a mask? Did I miss that? Otherwise, the creature design for that bad boy is fucking brilliant.
THE FINAL CUT: Krampus is a genuinely scary Christmas movie that also manages to be a ton of fun. The characters are sympathetic and/or ridiculous (in a funny way) and the creatures and practical effects are top-notch. This is definitely going on my seasonal to-watch list.