12 Days of X-Mas: Krampus
Michael Dougherty made a name for himself with his Halloween horror omnibus Trick ‘r Treat, which has become something of a cult film after being released on DVD in 2009. While it never received a proper theatrical release, obviously someone at Universal Pictures and Legendary Studios saw potential in him, and set him to direct Krampus, another seasonal tale about the spirit of Christmas, rendered through purely nightmarish proportions.
From the opening scene, in which a horde of holiday shoppers burst through the doors of a Wal-Mart-like superstore, aggressively fighting amongst one another under the spell of consumerism, it’s clear that Krampus is taking aim at the deep cynicism which has slowly but surely become a fixture most Americans are bound by. Our central cast of characters are the Engel family, whose youngest child Max is at the age where he’s not supposed to still believe in Santa Claus or the sentimentality that flows through the season. Tensions run high between him and his parents Tom and Sarah, who are also dealing with the visit of Sarah’s blue-collar relatives, who directly oppose their quaint liberal leanings.
Krampus comes across as a typical family Christmas film from the start (akin to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for the twenty-first century), and unfolds to include a range of dynamics between each in-law and cousin, though gradually the dark, frightening presence of the titular folklore takes over. The story doesn’t settle into its fantastical side until roughly the 20 minute mark, but once it does, it becomes something quite noteworthy in the realm of holiday horror. When a letter Max writes to Santa is read aloud at the family dinner table to his embarrassment, he tears it up and throws it to the howling winter winds. The next morning, a blizzard of epic proportions cuts off all power throughout the neighborhood, and while at first it seems like something with an explainable basis, soon enough the force of Krampus invade the Engels’ home, and a fight to survive Christmas is underway.
Because the idea of Krampus itself, a gigantic horned demon who steals young misbehaving children from their families, is a fable with some ludicrous aspects, Dougherty makes sure that his film is not a straight serious endeavor. Sure, the idea of some kind of monstrous entity that parents are unable to protect their children from sounds menacing, but it makes the overall plot more enticing, especially with the range of monstrous minions Krampus has at his disposal. Amongst all the tense sequences, there is a good-humored sensibility amongst the primary character interactions, and the casting of actors who are reliably strong in comedy and/or drama like Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, and Conchata Ferrell makes for a charming ensemble.
While it is a PG-13 rated horror, which gets a somewhat negative connotation in the horror community, the film actually works better from not having to rely on a lot of bloodshed to be effective. In the same spirit as PG-13 horrors made in the 1980s like Poltergeist, Gremlins, and The Monster Squad, there’s a lot of terror and tension in the mix, and given the amount of kids in the film, its great that a younger audience won’t be forbidden to watch it.
Krampus is a great mixture of horror, comedy, in providing a perverse message about what can happen when one loses their faith in the holidays. It’s very well made and delivers in the scare department (thanks to the range of work from special effects house WETA), and has the mark of a quality product – the rare studio produced horror film that’s surprisingly well thought out and of high entertainment. If you missed it in theatres last year, don’t delay any further, as it is the perfect kind of abnormal movie to put on your Christmas viewing list this season.