There is something inherently wonderful about adding a widely celebrated holiday to a horror film. While the Friday the 13th franchise didn't necessarily take advantage of the holiday, the Halloween films, April Fool's Day, Gremlins, and many more delightfully exploit our ingrained feelings about specific days of the year.
Adding horror to Christmas, though, is really something special. Maybe it has something to do with spoiling the image of excited and smiling children or messing with Jesus' birthday, or just the powerful image of blood and guts sprayed across a pristine white background. Regardless of the reason, a Christmas horror move is what we as a nation needed and deserved.
Krampus has been an internet meme for years now, so explanation might be pointless, but here it goes anyway. Krampus comes from an Alpine folktale where he is basically the opposite of Santa (or Saint Nicholas). He punishes the bad girls and boys in a myriad of different ways. He sometimes puts the little brats in his satchel and spirits them away to the underworld or beats them with birch branches and leaves them awful dead things under the tree.
The film version of Krampus arrives because young Max (Emjay Anthony) has a crisis of faith. His parents are fighting, his sister is mean, and his annoying aunt, uncle, and cousins have arrived for Christmas. Every year he writes a letter to Santa and mails it, but this year, due to all the outside pressures, he tears it up and flings it out the window. This displeases Krampus and as a blizzard descends upon Max and his family's home, so does the dark pagan god of bad little girls and boys.
This was directed by Michael Dougherty, the twisted mind behind Trick 'r' Treat, the cult classic Halloween horror anthology film that has become a part of the regular October film rotation in the Rasic household. His swooping camera and painstakingly framed style melds perfectly with his second film about a holiday made worse by creatures hungry for the screams of the innocent. His style makes every frame of the film fun, even when it's just family members bickering over petty differences.
The performances are all a ton of fun with the always excellent Adam Scott and Toni Collette as Max's parents, and David Koechner and the astoundingly brilliant Allison Tolman (from Season 1 of "Fargo") as Collette's sister and brother-in-law. Max's parents are Blue State liberals and the in-laws are gun-toting Republicans, so while some of the fruit is fairly low hanging, it is still pretty topical and entertaining.
Watching some interesting and sympathetic characters have to deal with some of the most frightening monsters since Pan's Labyrinth is a blast. The design of Krampus and his minions is flawless, creating nightmare fuel for an entirely new generation of kids, which is what this film is after.
See, the film is PG-13, so as scary as the monsters are, the film is almost entirely bloodless. Not that every horror movie needs to be a gore-fest, but no matter how scary the monsters actually are, the film never becomes inherently scary itself because we don't really know what Krampus is doing to the people he grabs. We don't get a real sense of the danger because our imagination fills in all the blanks from what we already know about the legend of Krampus. I'm glad teens have a fun new horror flick they can actually go to, but I can't help but wonder what the non-toothless, R-rated, gore-fest version of this movie would be.
Even with my sick mind making me somewhat disappointed overall, Krampus is still a hell of a lot of fun. It came out at the perfect time when we could collectively use a movie like this to relieve some of the daily stresses reality is starting to place in our way. If horror movies aren't your bag at all, go see it with your kid and ruin Christmas for them forever. Better you than the internet, anyway.
Dir. Michael Dougherty
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