Christmas movies are practically unavoidable at this time of year; whether you plan to or not, you’re bound to watch at least one during the holiday season. But even the classics run dry and there’s always a demand for new ones, and personally I like to find the more subversive films. Whether they be action movies, dark comedies or straight-up horror, it’s always nice to get a little variety in the festive movie experience.
Krampus isn’t the first film of its type, we have plenty of Christmas-themed horror films like Black Christmas or Silent Night, Deadly Night or even other films about an evil Santa like the Finnish Rare Exports, but it’s the first mainstream studio one we’ve gotten in a while. Coming from Michael Dougherty, director of the cult classic Halloween film Trick ‘r Treat, the chance of seeing this guy bring horror to another holiday is an interesting prospect. The final result, though certainly flawed, could become an annual viewing pleasure for the more demented Christmas lover.
The set-up of Krampus is fairly standard for a horror movie: there’s a bunch of people trapped in a house with monsters running around outside trying to pick them off, and to survive, these desperate people have to put aside their differences and combat the common enemy. Mixing the conflict found in horror movies with the family bickering so many of us are familiar with during the holidays, however, is a novel concept and does provide some solid commentary on the turmoil and forced merriment of the season.
The first act of the movie is well set-up with comedy evocative of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation before the horror slowly creeps into the story, gradually increasing tension until the film explodes into its true colours. The problem with the horror element, unfortunately, is that it’s very inconsistent about exactly what type of horror it is. The idea of an evil Santa Claus attacking a house with fiendish gingerbread men and killer toys is an inherently silly concept, but the way Krampus treats it flits from scene to scene.
Sometimes it’s more of a standard horror movie, other times it’s a dark fairy tale, and then at points, it turns into an Evil Dead-style goof-fest. All of these approaches are fine and executed well, but to suddenly go from the dread of a monster stalking the snow-covered streets to an evil teddy bear gnawing someone’s leg is kind of a tonal leap. Luckily, the ending is ultimately satisfying, if somewhat predictable, by neither going too sweet and Christmas-y nor leaving you with a gut-wrenching sadness; it’s exactly the right amount of twisted in a film still rooted in the holiday it is celebrating.
Krampus certainly has a solid cast for such a silly film, and though they deliver a lot of credibility along with solid performances, the characters they’re given are a little lacking in material. Emjay Anthony’s Max gets the most focus with his faith in Christmas being just the right amount of cutesy without being annoying, but whilst his story feels complete by the end everyone else feels like they had one but then they’re completely forgotten about when sh*t hits the fan.
Adam Scott and Toni Collette having marital difficulties due to him being away all the time? Never resolved. Collette’s conflict with her uninvited and abrasive aunt? Kind of pushed to the side after one scene. The only other relationship that sees any sort of evolvement is Adam Scott and his brother-in-law (David Koechner playing essentially a variation on Randy Quaid from Christmas Vacation), but even then the resolution feels thrown in for the sake of holiday cheer.
The only other character that feels really solid is Krista Stadler’s Grandma Omi. Whilst her insisting on speaking German despite the fact her character can clearly understand and speak English fine is a little odd, she plays the role of the wise old grandmother strongly and I wish there was a little more to her character.
Visually and aurally, Krampus balances being a Christmas film and a horror film extremely well. Everything has that holiday feel with a lot of greens and reds surrounded by heaps of white snow, and the use of classic Christmas songs in an eerie context ups the creep factor immensely. The opening credits sequence depicting a rowdy mob fighting over gifts set to “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” is an especially enjoyable oxymoron, and there’s a beautiful animation sequence when Stadler flashbacks to her previous encounter with Krampus.
The movie is full of imaginatively designed creatures for our family to combat, all of them eerie twists on Christmas staples, and many of them rendered through cheesy but impressive practical effects. The design of Krampus himself is especially effective when he’s finally revealed, an imposing figure that embodies the film’s subversive nature in one simple but gruesome and memorable creature.
Krampus is a little confused on exactly what it wants to be and doesn’t take the time to effectively set up character, but if you’re in the mood for something more devious than It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol this holiday season it’s certainly worth considering. A lot of thought and imagination has clearly gone into the production that makes certain sequences a blast to watch, but it doesn’t quite pack enough oomph for it to become a must-see. Still, if the concept alone is enough to make you curious, I do suggest giving it a watch whether it be this holiday season or one of the many to come in the future.