When his mean-spirited relatives ruin his Christmas, a boy
accidentally summons a Christmas demon who terrorizes his family.
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, Krista Stadler
After creating a modern cult classic with Trick 'r Treat in 2007, Mike Dougherty delivered this wonderful holiday horror gem. It has quickly become a staple of my seasonal viewing list alongside Gremlins, Home Alone, and Christmas Vacation. This year I watched it on Krampusnacht, or the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas, and was stricken by how well it balances the scares with the comedy. This is gateway horror for a new generation. Where we got spoiled with Gremlins and The Gate, our new crop of horror hounds have this.
As with balancing the funny and scary, Dougherty also sets the world of the film in the madhouse Black Friday opening. He's definitely taking shots at Walmart and other big box chains with their role front and center in the rampant consumer culture George Romero warned us about some 40 years ago. Parents are fighting with each other tooth and nail in the quest to get the perfect gift. It is in this setting that we are introduced to Max (Emjay Anthony) as he fights another kid in front of Santa Claus. His father, Tom (Adam Scott), is a workaholic who can't put his phone down long enough to enjoy time with his family. Toni Collete is Sarah, the neurotic housewife whose house is decorated "like Martha Stewart threw up" (all credit to Conchata Ferrell's Aunt Dorothy). Even with the surprise visit of Howard (Koechner), Linda (Tolman), and their brood it hasn't quite turned into the holiday from hell.
This family feels real to me because I know what it's like to have annoying relatives you can't believe share DNA with. Or that, no matter how old you are, your younger sibling will always be a pain in your ass. It's this relatability that sucks you in to caring about then because we've all been there. Once Max loses it at dinner and rips up his letter to Santa, the fun begins. A mysterious snow storm has set upon the neighborhood and by nightfall, evil is coming to bring parents for this naughty family.
I'm sure there are those who bemoaned the lack of screentime ol' Krampus got but c'mon, we got a Santa suit wearing, Leatherface Christmas demon for goodness sake! See what I did there? Filling in the blanks on what Krampus COULD look like makes him infinitely more scary. The fact that he's wearing another face is fucking terrifying! His minions are a nightmare come true: evil gingerbread men, demonic teddy bear, and a truly horrific anaconda-like Jack-in-the-box THAT EATS BAD KIDS! What more do you want? Oh yeah, Krampus has its own evil elves!
This film only furthers my love of Mike Dougherty and his affinity for monsters. He is also establishing himself as the seasonal horror maestro with Trick 'r Treat and now Krampus. So if you haven't seen this yet get your fireplace burning, put out the milk and cookies for Santa, and pray you aren't on the naughty list because Krampus will come for your jingle bells and deck its halls with your entrails.
With the Christmas movie subgenre filled to the brim with happy endings and holiday cheer, it was a good change of pace to see a Christmas film with some demonic rage. Krampus gives the German legend a modern twist, showing audiences what happens when families don't appreciate Christmas for what it is. From its opening credits showing the dangers of commercialism and obligation, Krampus proves to be the sarcastic and crazy Christmas satire we had no idea we needed.
Krampus succeeds as both a funny comedy and a scary horror film, balancing two genres that either mesh really well or fall apart easily. Though I'd hoped it would be scarier, the film still does justice to the legend of Krampus, even if we only see the demon himself for a limited amount of time. The real scares come from the minions of Krampus, who take the form of traditional Christmas toys with a sadistic freakish twist, particularly the jack in the box slug monster. You'll know what I mean when you see the film.
The ending brings up an interesting bunch of questions and isn't as bleak as I'd expected. The design for Krampus looks scary from the back, but his face looks like it was ripped off the front of a pirate ship. Also, as with most Christmas movies, the existence of Krampus implies the existence of Santa Claus, who is noticeably absent from the film. Just once I would like to see a suitable explanation for the mythology surrounding the Christmas holiday. Still, the film is a new Christmas movie for adults to watch while the kids are watching Charlie Brown.