As Krampus starts and the velvety strains of Perry Como singing “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” ironically play over scenes of people acting like savages over the days leading up to Christmas, you get the feeling that this isn’t going to be your usual kind of seasonal movie. Where most horror films set over the time of pine trees and eggnog have a malevolent force intruding on the goodwill and cheer, Krampus is literally a slightly different beast – you see this merciless creature of Germanic lore isn’t here to wreck Xmas. No, he’s here to enforce it in the most sinister way possible…
Bracing themselves for the onslaught of their obnoxious, visiting relatives; Tom and Sarah Engel find the mounting pressures of the holiday season putting a strain on their relationship but try to maintain a untitled front in the face of a critical aunt with an A-level in sardonic put downs and an alpha male brother-in-law rapidly grinding down their last nerve. But things get even worse when their son Max, who still believes in the magic of Christmas despite all cynical evidence to the contrary, has his last shred of Christmas spirit shot down by his asshole relatives, overworked parents and a general feeling of non-cheer, he tears up his note to Santa and accidentally invokes something worse than a repeating christmas dinner… the Krampus, a malevolent, goat legged, demonic Anti-Santa from German folklore. It’s arrival brings with it not only an inpenatrable snow storm, but a gaggle of other creatures, such as a clutch of murderous toys and vicious masked elf helpers and proceeds to lay seige to the hapless family, claiming them one by one.
From Michael Dougherty, director of 2019’s flawed but fun Godzilka sequel and not to mention the fantastic, yet criminally underseen Trick R Treat, Krampus pulls a similar trick of fully taking advantage of it’s seasonal setting by perverting many a traditional image into something gnarled and evil, and while it may significantly less bloody than it’s Halloween based predecessor (it could almost be a really intense family film) it’s still a witty, funny slice of creature feature cool that’s hugely entertaining.
Of of the two factors that contribute the most, the first is the suprising gamness of the somewhat starry cast who breathing life into three dimentional characters. Adam Scott, Toni Collette and the ever busy David Kochner do sterling work to make such an out-there concept believable and creepy and seem to be having an utter ball attempting to fend off the ravenous and spiteful beasties that are clamouring for their blood.
The other factor? Well, obviously it’s those aforementioned beasties of course. I can’t state enough how much I adore a good monster-mash and here I’m postively spoiled like a kid on a certain kind of morning. The Krampus itself is a huge, looming, hooded satyr, wrapped in tarninshed Christmas bells, leaping from rooftop to rooftop like a monstrous mountain goat, and wreathed in menace and sinister intent. It’s an impressive beast, to be sure and it’s many and varied helpers, all twisted variations on Xmas gifts and decorations, tread the very fine line between admirably goofy and legitimately freaky. A savage teddy bear with a cavernous maw featuring more points than an episode of Catchphrase, and a perpetually shrieking Christmas tree angel stand alongside a trio of giggling, deranged Army Of Darkness-style gingerbread men and a huge Predator-jowled Jack-In-The-Box that swallows people whole like a festive anaconda. Kudos go to the Weta FX team and the filmmakers for not going digital with this menagerie of yule tide terrors as the “realness” creates an actual and palpable threat to our main characters not to mention a much needed sense of personality and you can feel the effects guys practically chomping at the bit to create and puppeteer these crimbo creatures. It’s plain as day that Dougherty adores monsters as much as I do and his excitement is catching – especially in an animated flashback showing that one of the family members has had a brush with this demonic St Nick before…
If Krampus has a downside it’s in a slightly fluffed ending as it suspiciously feels like that three endings were filmed, one down-beat, one-happy and one somewhere inbetween and no one could make up their mind which to use and so they bunged ’em all in. It’s not a serious problem by any means and the ending ending is just fine, its just a tad messy.
At a mere 100 odd minutes (the perfect running time for a horror movie actually) the film rockets by and never outstays its welcome (unlike the relatives in the movie) and while it’s never terribly scary (think of it more like Nightmare Before Christmas’ badass, tougher, meaner older brother who smokes, drinks and carries a flick knife in his sock… or something) it has a fair few good jump scares and such a great dark fable-y sort of vibe, it surely must be destined to have a sizable cult following sooner or later.
It doesn’t topple Gremlins as the nasty, spiteful-edged Xmas movie of choice (and what possibly could), but they make a Helluva of a double bill.
And that’s a thought feels me with good cheer.
Ho Ho Ho(rror)