Krampus (2015, 98 mins.)
The frenzy and stress of pulling off a perfect Christmas can put a damper on the spirit of good will, charity and the more important things in life. In Michael Dougherty’s Krampus, we learn there is a price to pay when we ignore these core values of the holiday spirit.
The Engels are stressed out. Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Colette), have organized an elaborate Christmas spread for their family, including Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband Howard (David Koechner), their four rambunctious children, and Omi (Krista Stadler), Tom’s German mother. In tow is the gate crashing Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), who just can’t be pleased. Presents, food and decorations take the spotlight as they gather for some holiday cheer. Unfortunately, they argue, toss barbs at each other, and Aunt Dorothy adds a certain acidic spice to the train wreck festivities. Right in the middle is Max (Emjay Anthony), Sarah’s son, who tells his concerned Omi that he hasn’t sent his letter to Santa yet, sad that his family has forgotten what Christmas is about. After being ridiculed for his letter by his mean cousins, he rips it up and tosses it out the window. To his Omi’s dismay, Max unwittingly awakens the sinister Krampus and his nightmare minions who terrorize the family amidst a freak storm.
This pixie loves the legend of Krampus. I’m sure if I was aware of him as a child, I would have been gleefully terrified and perhaps developed a phobia, but luckily I came across this horned hellion in my old age. It’s scary, it’s pagan, and it keeps all the shiny happy people in their place during the Christmas season. With the many Krampus contributions to the big screen, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale being my Krampus litmus test, I think this one is a decent effort.
Dougherty, the mastermind behind the Halloween modern classic Trick ‘r Treat, conveys the Krampus legend with a slightly schmaltzy, feel-good message. He emphasizes the importance of remembering love and family during the holidays, and the film is a mixture of references such as Gremlins, Puppet Master and a touch of Home Alone, but that’s surprisingly o.k. Despite the routine holiday spirit lesson, the need for a shorter second act, and the slightly predictable ending, there’s an ominous vibe that makes the film really work. The large cast jibed well off each other, with the comedy star power of Koechner and Ferrell keeping the one-liners sharp and smart. My only wish would have been to see the versatile Collette flex her comedy muscles a bit more.
What Dougherty also does right is the Krampus character design which was simply delightful. I loved his take on the Yuletide demon with gigantic hooves clomping thunderously through suburbia. And be sure to pay attention to the evil toys Krampus leaves the family. Another display of great character design created with both practical and digital effects. Definitely the highlight of the film.
It’s fair to say that despite a few minor issues, Krampus should be added to your horror Christmas roster. It’s a ton of fun overall, does justice to a great creepy Christmas legend, and perfect for scaring all the little brats in your life.