Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Horror Violence/Terror, Language and some Drug Material
Directed by: Michael Dougherty
Written by: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony & Stefania LaVie Owen
Director/writer Michael Dougherty already wowed horror fans with his 2009 anthology TRICK ‘R TREAT and has now moved his scary sensibilities onto another holiday with the aid of creepy German folklore. Christmas has long invaded Halloween (with stores putting up decorations ridiculously early and annoying neighbors hanging their lights before trick-or-treaters even arrive), so why can’t Halloween have its turn invading Christmas. KRAMPUS is a delightfully demented piece of horror-comedy that’s perfect for the holiday season. Not only is this one of the best Christmas horror movies in existence (not exactly a huge compliment when you consider the competition), it is also one of the best Christmas movies of recent years. I had a blast watching this film and already want to sit through it again.
Christmas is three days away and Max is a pre-teen who still believes in Santa. He knows that most people think old Saint Nick is merely a marketing ploy and a silly story for younger children, but Max prefers to imagine that the spirit of Christmas is alive and well. This idea is not appreciated by his douchebag cousins who proceed to make Max’s life a living hell upon their arrival. Upset with his entire family, Max rips up his letter to Santa and throws the pieces out of his window. When a freak blizzard arrives and the electricity goes out, it appears that something strange is occurring outside. Somehow, the torn up letter to Santa has summoned a darker entity, Krampus, who has arrived to take Max’s “naughty” family to the underworld.
Much like in TRICK ‘R TREAT, Dougherty knows how to capture a holiday atmosphere here. While he keeps a cheery Christmas mood for the first 15 minutes or so, he then showcases a much darker view of traditional holiday images. There are only a couple of spots involving identifiable CG that I can recall and those bits didn’t look bad as they were played up for campy laughs. The practical effects look absolutely fantastic in bringing bloodthirsty toys and evil elves to life. As for Krampus himself, he’s mostly kept to the shadows in the tradition of the unseen monster being scarier than showcasing it in the opening scene. We get little glimpses of the cloaked Christmas demon, but we don’t get a full-on, close look at him until the final third. His appearance is unique, creative and creepy. I don’t want to say anything more about it (no spoilers) other than it wasn’t what I expected and that was mostly a good thing.
The characters are more than just your typical horror movie victims as they start off unlikable and gradually gain sympathy as the plot moves forward. I was surprised at how humanized David Koechner’s redneck father became, especially seeing that he seemed set up as a mean-spirited quasi-Uncle Eddie (from CHRISTMAS VACATION) comic relief at the beginning. Adam Scott, Toni Collette, and Allison Tolman are also solid as the rest of the parents. The child actors are particularly impressive, with young Emjay Anthony being the stand-out as Max.
Dougherty unfolds his twisted holiday tale with style and a sense of humor. The plot progresses well as attempts of suspense are built up (not all of them being entirely successful) before we get on-screen monster action and threats. The backstory of Krampus is given in a very special way that surprised me (I won’t spoil it with specifics). The comedy really works here and the horror is light-hearted enough to the point where I was never really scared, but was still having an absolute blast. Though I might not have been creeped out while watching the film, I particularly enjoyed how grim the plot gets. The PG-13 rating never once popped into my mind. They even sneak in gore with Krampus’s various helpers. The ending perfectly caps off the whole experience and got actual applause in the theater from quite a few people. It sends the viewer out on a very satisfying final note.
KRAMPUS is one of the best horror films of the year. Though I never was scared, it didn’t matter because I was having an absolute blast the whole way through. The Christmas spirit is captured through a horror-comedy lens. The characters are a lot of fun to watch. The monsters are brought to life through some stellar puppetry and this story plays out in near-perfect fashion. Aided by creepy German folklore as inspiration and standing alongside RARE EXPORTS as a hugely entertaining take on an anti-Santa Claus monster, KRAMPUS is a dark delight that will likely become an annual Christmas classic for horror fans.