Krampus: The Best Holiday Horror Film in Years

Late year horror films in the mainstream market nowadays tend to always fall by the wayside.

The Woman in Black 2 and The Pyramid last year were underwhelming and horrible respectively, and truth be told I can’t even remember the last time we got a half way decent horror flick in December.

Typically this is Oscar/crowd pleaser season and I’m not sure the surprisingly effective new film Krampus fits into either of those categories.

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“St Nicolas, is not coming this year” says a foreboding Grandma Omi (Krista Stadler) about half way through the film.

The line kicks off one of the most impressive animated sequences of the year that…wasn’t in an animated movie.

For those who don’t know, Krampus is an Alpine folktale that is essentially an evil version of Santa Claus. Sadly we don’t get an epic showdown between the two like I was hoping, but what’s here is still pretty good regardless.

The story takes place several days before Christmas and focuses mainly on Max (Emjay Anthony). A kind hearted kid who has a bit of a debacle with a classmate at the mall.

This kicks off a dreadfully anticipated visit from his extended family.

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His parents Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) are too busy stressing out to give Max the heartfelt Christmas he yearns for from year’s past.  However, things going from simmering to boiling over once the rest of the family shows up.

His boorish Uncle Howard (David Koechner), his mostly kind but passive Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman) and his three bizarre cousins whose names aren’t particularly important or memorable, are the main culprits of making the holiday less jolly…at first.

Krampus uses a typical holiday set up of dysfunctional family gatherings as a cornerstone to tell a much darker story. Of course we are treated to the slightly heavy handed themes of Christmas being about giving and not receiving.

Or the hilariously pointed shots at our current cultures obsession with Holiday sales, gloriously displayed by an opening scene of mall shoppers trampling, screaming, tazing and all around mauling one another for the hottest Christmas gifts.

It’s all a bit on the nose, but director Michael Dougherty and crew have enough of a wink wink, nudge nudge so that none of it feels off or overbearing.

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Now this movie is being billed as a horror film, despite a total dearth of actual scares. Fortunately it seems like the writer’s foresaw this and decided to give the movie a rather hilarious edge.

What the movie lacks in frights it makes up for in humor and a chilly atmosphere. It’s also apparent that the director did his horror homework, because the film manages to subvert a lot of tired genre cliches. Especially by not having completely stupid and overreacting characters.

In some ways it seems like they are actually under-reacting which gives a bizarre and often goofy tone to the proceedings.

It’s hard to fully discuss all the little details and nuances of Krampus without spoiling a lot of it and this is one film where the element of surprise (or at least diversion) is key. So I’ll leave this review with a few quick thoughts instead of delving into specifics.

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The creature design is out of sight and seriously begs for a sequel. To me this is the one aspect they needed to hit hard and they knocked it out of the park.

Then there is the ending, which employs an effective little fake out before finishing off on a rather grim note. This is one movie that didn’t cop out on it’s ending, even though it had every opportunity to. This is a major plus.

In the end it’s hard for me to imagine the film appealing to a wide auidience, but for fans of comedies, horror or Christmas films, then Krampus is a delightfully naughty treat.

★★★½ Whether you’ve been naught or nice this year, treat yourself to an early Christmas gift and check out Krampus in theaters!

All images provided by Universal Pictures

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