Directed by Michael Dougherty. Produced by Michael Dougherty, Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, and Thomas Tull. Written by Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields. Release date: December 4, 2015.
Christmas movies come in all shapes and sizes, but likely the least frequent type we see is the Christmas horror movie. Why is that? Probably because both of those types of genres seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. Christmas movies are here to make you feel warm and gooey while horror movies should, ideally, frighten you. While some certainly exist – Black Christmas, Gremlins, the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise – they’re a rarity compared to the more traditional Christmas movies. Well, this year we have a theatrical Christmas horror movie called Krampus, which is far better than you might expect. I know; I’m shocked, too.
The set-up is essentially a supernatural home invasion flick, but over Christmas and with “Saint Nicholas’ shadow” as the villain. A large extended family gets together a couple of days before the big day, but problems ensue the moment they meet up. Nobody seems to like one another – the adults are constantly making snide comments, and the kids are fighting – and the Christmas Spirit seems to be ruined. It’s gotten so bad that one of the youngest children, Max (Emjay Anthony), rips up his annual letter to Santa Claus. It’s at this point that a terrible blizzard rolls into town, killing the electricity, radios, cell phone service, and essentially isolating the family from the rest of the world.
At this point, you’re probably guessing that the family will band together, learn to appreciate what one another has to offer, and they’ll be able to fight off the bad guys. Well, you’re in for a treat. Krampus is too good for that. While we do get some familial bonding, it doesn’t necessarily save these people – and that’s a good thing. Most of these people are pretty despicable, and the film only rarely actually tries to make us root for them. It knows we’re watching to see Krampus irreversibly muck up their lives, and that’s exactly what it’s going to deliver.
Well, that, and one of the most insane sequences you’ll see all year, one in which various toys come to life and wage an all-out assault on the family. You get to see a giant jack-in-the-box clown, a demented teddy bear, an evil porcelain owl doll, a very stab-happy robot, laughing gingerbread men with a nail gun – and we haven’t even gotten to the elves or Krampus itself yet. The second half of Krampus features some pretty wonderful imagery, and it toes the line between being a serious and atmospheric home invasion movie and an over-the-top, campy one. It works. It’s the same type of tone that director Michael Dougherty instilled in his last horror movie, Trick ‘r Treat.
In addition to that fantastic – and very trippy – sequence of events, the film’s sole moment of exposition distracts us from how expositionary it is by acting like an animated short film – one that changes things up and is pretty interesting in its own right. Krampus throws in little touches like this every now and then, ensuring that we don’t get bored. It even does this with its conclusion, which was so close to being an eye-rollingly cliched Hollywood ending – more than once, actually – but subverts it every time. This was a make-or-break moment for me, and while there was still a better way for the film to end – it fades out earlier and should have concluded there instead; you’ll know it when you see it – this was more than satisfactory.
A Christmas surprise, Krampus might not be a great movie, but it’s successful at doing what it wants to, and if you chose to go see it, you’ll likely not leave disappointed.
The stars of the movie are the effects, costuming, and makeup used to create our villains – although we don’t see much of them. We don’t get a full view of Krampus until very close to the end, and that’s a good thing! The more you see of the monster, the less scary it becomes; Krampus has a strong sense of atmosphere because of this. But with his horns, hooves, hunchback, and deformed face, he’s quite a sight to behold. The aforementioned sub-villains I mentioned earlier are just odd enough to make them feel less-than-real, which works in the film’s favor. There’s just a little bit of magic to the story, after all.
Meanwhile, the actors of note include Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, and Conchata Ferrell. They’re mostly playing stereotypes, but they work well enough and get some good banter going at times. It’s especially funny to hear Koechner criticize the Boy Scouts so soon after Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. And Conchata Ferrell owns the cranky aunt role. None of the kids are very good, but child actors typically aren’t. The important thing is that none of them were bad enough to ruin the film. Much of the weight is placed on Emjay Anthony, whom you might recognize as the kid from Chef (the chef movie from the last two years that isn’t Burnt and is actually good), so at least he had experience getting lots of screen time. He’s competent.
Krampus still isn’t all that scary, it has a few useless characters, it eventually gets a bit repetitive, and there’s really only so good a movie with this premise could be. It’s fun, yeah, but there’s nothing much beyond that apart from some decent technical filmmaking. But, as far as I’m concerned, it being fun is enough, especially because it’s not trying to do anything beyond that. Its goals aren’t lofty, and, as a result, it manages to meet them.
A Christmas surprise – particularly since it’s a PG-13 horror movie that was not screened for press, none of which are good signs – Krampus might not be a great movie, but it’s successful at doing what it wants to, and if you chose to go see it, you’ll likely not leave disappointed. It’s a decent supernatural home invasion movie with a couple of fantastic (and trippy) sequences, some funny moments, a strong sense of atmosphere, and some wonderfully created villains. Krampus is good enough to warrant a recommendation.
Bottom Line: Far better than one should have expected, Krampus is a perfectly fine – and in some areas, better than that – horror movie.
Recommendation: You want a perfectly fine horror movie in December? Well, go see Krampus.[rating=3]