Directed by Michael Dougherty
Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman & Emjay Anthony
While most oftenly associated with Halloween, the horror film genre has a long history of taking on various holidays and injecting them with a little terror. Christmas is no exception, and while Gremlins, Black Christmas and *shudders* Santa’s Slay have all made their impact known, there’s a new addition to the catalogue this holiday season that has more on its mind than just bringing everyone some Christmas fear.
Krampus comes from writer-director Michael Dougherty, the mad genius behind horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat, and centers on a dysfunctional family who, by failing to embrace the holiday spirit, unleash an ancient evil called Krampus who aims to punish them for not having enough yuletide cheer.
- A Satirical Point of View – One of the most fulfilling aspects of the horror genre in general is that filmmakers are able to use a hellish setting to not only unleash scares, but to take on real issues under the guise of satire. Krampus is yet another horror film that takes this to heart by immediately pouncing on the everyday horrors of the Christmas season in its opening sequence. Commercialism, politics, familial bonds, no topic is safe. And while it doesn’t really explore any of these specific issues in great depth, it does leave you with one thought that is impossible to ignore: the holiday season truly does turn us all into monsters.
- The Creatures – Speaking of monsters, perhaps the most inventive aspect of the film is the array of creatures unleashed on our heroes’ household. There’s maniacal Gingerbread men, a sharp-toothed Teddy Bear, and even a demented Jack-in-the-Box whose favorite hobby is swallowing kids whole. Its great fun watching these creatures try and tear a family limb from limb, and while hardcore horror hounds may be turned off by an extreme lack of gore, the film makes up for it with humor-tinged fight sequences.
- A Great Sense of Fun – One issue that seems prevalent in some of the more negative reviews of Krampus is that while it deals with rather dark material, it doesn’t have the same bite Dougherty brought to Trick ‘r Treat. While, yes, Krampus certainly isn’t on the level of that film, it succeeds at doing something entirely different, focusing on fun rather than fear. The film is pretty lightweight, but that’s exactly what makes it so appealing and has made other holiday classics like Gremlins so beloved around this time of year. A family can get together every year, pop this film in and have fun, without having to worry about whether their grade-schoolers will suffer from nightmares about an evil Kris Kringle. That’s not to say some of the character designs aren’t creepy, but rather that it’s all in service of making sure the audience is entertained and has fun.
- The Characters – While the cast of Krampus is filled to the brim with talented actors, none of the characters they are playing leave much of an impression. David Koechner does his best to infuse the film with his own brand of unique energy as Howard, a loud-mouthed, gun-toting asshat, and Adam Scott plays off him well as former Eagle Scout Tom, but you are not really made to care for any of them. While one of the main points of the film is to showcase how unlikable people can be around the holidays, giving us just a little insight into these characters and their relationships could have really brought the film up a notch.
- The Script – While Krampus is certainly a lot of fun, its plot at times is very by-the-numbers and it never truly takes full advantage of its Christmas setting after the first Act. One of the things that makes Trick ‘r Treat such a great horror movie is that it really capitalizes on showcasing all the unique elements of Halloween, whereas Krampus sets up these Christmas elements initially only to eventually leave them as just window dressing. Snow and Christmas songs work to set the film’s mood, but when one of the big selling points of your film is that it’s a Christmas-centric horror movie, I do expect it to play a bit more of a role.
While Michael Dougherty certainly doesn’t reach the heights of Trick ‘r Treat with Krampus, it’s certainly a fun horror movie that most of the family can enjoy. If you’re looking for a darker take on the holiday season, you may want to look elsewhere, although Dougherty does choose to leave his film on a note that certainly isn’t the most cheerful. My main takeaway from Krampus is that, while we could all certainly learn to treat each other better during the holidays, perhaps unleashing Krampus could do us all some good.