Holiday themed horror films are arguably one of the hardest films to craft as they can normally degenerate to nothing but pure silliness. Though they have taken a major hiatus after flooding the market full of them during the mid to late 80’s, director Michael Dougherty seeks to bring them back in full force. Enter Krampus the story of a family who’ve lost the spirit of Christmas and the pack of demented monsters bent on punishing them for it.The concept alone is one that most directors could easily ruin, yet Dougherty shows such confidence that you cannot help but enjoy every minute. Krampus is not just one of the best holiday horror movies, but one of the best horror films this year.
From the opening sequence of a slow motion Black Friday stampede it’s obvious that Krampus is not dealing in any sense of subtlety. Dougherty takes obvious shots at the Western consumer culture, the politicizing of the holidays and a child’s loss of Christmas wonder. The latter dominates the majority of the film’s narrative message as only the main character Max (Emjay Anthony) believe in Santa Clause while the rest of family have lost their holiday spirit. While this can fall into the trap of being utterly cliche, it’s the overbearing tone of dread that lets Krampus stand out. Once the we get the arrival of Krampus and his helpers (will get to them) the film does not spend a large amount of time dictating this message. By refusing to be weighed down in explaining its messages even further, it allows for a far better paced movie.
The only issue with the story is once we get towards the third act, which is when Krampus doesn’t appear to know what it wants to do. Krampus appears to have multiple endings, but they hardly connect competently with one another in any way. It’s as if the director decided on three separate endings and could not choose which one he liked best. This comes off as disjointed and weighs down the latter portion of the movie to the point where it loses all sense of tension. During the “second ending,” Dougherty does throw in a nice curve ball that fits with the actual character of Krampus but is swiftly passed by.
Speaking of Krampus, I must comment I was skeptical at first on how exactly he’d appear on the screen. Bringing to live an “Anti-Santa” seems silly enough, but his overall design was exceptionally creepy. We do get a peek under the massive hood, but Dougherty goes for a less is more approach to his main monsters design. This is to his benefit as it bestows a sense of the unknowing and allows us to experience his reveal with the family themselves. His helpers, on the other hand, take center stage providing both terrific scares and laughs throughout. Done mostly practical, with the exception of some hilarious Ginger Bread Men, their familiarity harkens back to an age before PlayStations and iPads. They’re genuinely creepy and it’s clear how much of their personalities were influenced by the Puppet Master series. This gives them a bit more depth beyond just being scary looking toys. His elves, on the other hand, are underwhelming at their best as they look completely out of place with the rest of the monsters.
However, it’s the films main cast that truly shine out in Krampus. Actor Adam Scott does a commendable role as Tom, offering both witty jokes and some genuinely emotional moments. You feel the weight of the world on his shoulders at times, which only makes the events that play out even more interesting. David Koechner and Allison Tolman play the “annoying” family that comes to Christmas every year. Once more Dougherty shows his directing chops by turning this incredibly unlikable family into ones we are actually rooting for. They are still complete jerks to Tom and his family, but you cannot help to care for them. The other children aside from Max are largely forgettable and uninteresting. Grandmother Omi is probably the deepest as we learn her previous connections to Krampus through a beautifully created animation. Clearly paralleling the classic claymation Christmas children films, this sequence gives the exposition on Krampus more life.
Krampus is one of those horror films that can easily be dumped into the B-movie genre and forgotten in a year. However, it’s the genuinely relatable characters and messages that give it far more life and energy. Blood and gore fans may be disappointed at the PG-13 horror, but the violence is handled is a fun stylistic way. There is a dark playfulness to Krampus that may surprise some moviegoers, but this is intentional. It’s not a film trying to take itself too seriously but provides a sufficient amount of laughs and tension that left me satisfied. Congratulations Krampus, you are officially the creepiest Christmas movie of all time.
- Acting: Both Scott and Anthony stand out among the rest of the cast as the relatable father/son duo. While the mother (Toni Collette) takes up a lot of screen time, her persona feels a bit more forced than the rest. Acting is generally good all around, aside from the other three children who are utterly forgettable and dull to watch.
- Cinematography: Krampus shines in both visual storytelling and the genuinely creepy looks of the monsters. Nothing feels thrown together and while the CGI may stick out from time to time, the general use of practical effects help easy this issue. Editing and lighting are generally solid, but the flashback sequence stands out as one of the film’s best scenes.
- Story: Dougherty gives a balanced amount of both laughs and frights. By not getting weighed down on the overall message, Krampus feels like a far better paced movie. The only point of contention are the endings, which feel sloppy and tacked together. They do not flow well and it breaks the experience of the movie as a whole.
- Characters: Watching the family’s dynamic shift and change over the course of the film’s events is generally interesting, but the monsters steal the show here. Full of personality and a demented sense of dark humor, they give Krampus a fun and unique aspect to it all.
- Fun mix of horror and comedy
- Scott and Anthony's Performance
- Great Creature Design
- Beautiful Flashback Sequence
- Disjointed endings
- Some characters forgettable
A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.