Horror fans have had a good year: It Follows, We Are Still Here, Bone Tomahawk and Ash vs Evil Dead were all fine entries into the genre.
While director Michael Dougherty’s Krampus isn’t quite up to the level of the aforementioned films, it does do the Christmas-horror genre proud in many ways.
This sucker has a seriously grim attitude that it sticks with until the very end. There will be no happy Christmas message in the land of Krampus, so don’t take this one in if you are looking to get into the holiday spirit. It’s more of a film for somebody who pisses and moans when the Christmas decorations show up at Macy’s before Halloween.
Max (Emjay Anthony) still believes in Christmas and Santa Claus, and he takes a lot of crap from family members as a result. When a bunch of relatives come to his house for Christmas, his cousins taunt him while his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) deal with an annoying aunt and uncle (David Koechner and Allison Tolman). Throw evil Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) into the mix, and Max’s family is in for one lousy yuletide season.
With only his grandmother (Krista Stadler) supporting his Christmas beliefs, Max tears up his letter to Santa and denounces the whole Christmas thing. That’s a bad move, because that torn-up letter goes straight to Krampus the Christmas demon, who is more than happy to screw up Christmas for everybody.
The skies go gray; snow falls in dangerous amounts; and the street on which Max lives gets a visit from sinister Krampus. OK, he’s only sort of sinister; he’s about as sinister as a PG-13 rating will allow. Damn these PG-13 rated horror films! If Krampus has a problem, it’s that the demon can never be too nasty or too scary. Dougherty proves he can get some decent scares with minimal gore, although I could imagine an unrated version featuring some blood spurts. Also, despite the PG-13 rating, the kids in the film are not safe. In fact, the kids have a really, really, really bad time.
Working with a fairly small budget, Dougherty relies mostly on practical effects for Krampus and his nasty little helpers. Save for some impressive-looking CGI featuring Krampus leaping upon rooftops, the monsters are often animatronic or people in costumes—and they look pretty good, all things considered.
This one is classified as a horror-comedy. It’s no laugh riot, but it does benefit from the presence of comedy vets Scott, Koechner and Collette, who get sporadic giggles among the scares. It’s great to have solid actors and actresses around, especially when they have to handle both humor and horror. However, it’s actually Conchata Ferrell who gets the bigger laughs.
Perhaps this film could’ve benefited from a few less attempts at humor, and more of an emphasis on the horror. I wanted this movie to be as nasty as possible, and I feel like it pulled a few punches in favor of humor. If you are going to include humor, it needs to be consistently dark and funny. The laughs in Krampus are mild, at best.
I’ll still mildly recommend Krampus; its bleak ending and overall commitment to sinister things puts it over the top. Dougherty already has a cult hit holiday film to his credit with Trick r’ Treat (2007). Thanks to Krampus, he shall hitherto be known as the Holiday Horror Film Guy.
Krampus is playing at theaters across the valley.