Not to be confused with that other holiday-timed movie starring the anti-Santa, Krampus: The Reckoning, director Michael Dougherty, the mastermind behind cult Halloween anthology “Trick ‘r Treat”, takes on a more pleasant holiday with his superior film, Krampus: Christmas. But don’t expect just another holiday farce. Dougherty and co-screenwriters Todd Casey and Zach Shields inject horror, with a generous helping of comedy, into the yuletide holiday. And timely, given how much Krampus is experiencing a surprising surge in pop cultural relevance.
Krampus, a nefarious companion to St. Nicholas, is a popular presence to those living in the German Alps. While St. Nicholas showers good children with gifts, the rotten bunch are paid a visit by Krampus, a punishment for being naughty and wicked. Krampus is depicted as an anthropomorphic horned beast, resembling a goat on it’s hind legs, with fur dark as coal, and a long snakish tongue.
In preparation for the big holiday we find Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) readying themselves to receive Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband Howard (David Koechner), and their four unruly kids. Sarah and family have embraced the WASP-y lifestyle in suburbia, while Linda and her family – Pittsburgh Steeler fans all – embrace a more blue-collar, gun-crazy, and less refined behavior.
It doesn’t take too long for both matriarchs to clash – barely through the threshold Sarah expresses her displeasure of forthright, drunkie Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) invitation to the festivities.
When Stevie and Jordan, Sarah’s tomboy daughters, mock Max (Emjay Anthony) for his belief in Santa Claus, the upset boy rips up his penned letter to Santa and tosses it out the window. As we’re soon to find out, Tom’s mother, “Omi” (Krista Stadler), the grand German matriarch of the family, shares with them the story of the demon Krampus, who only appears when one has lost all faith and spirit of the holidays. Her tale is illustrated through an animated sequence, strife with allusions to German expressionism, which never fails to cheer me up.
Immediately following the destruction of Max’s letter, a blizzard begins to blow through the town, which loses all electricity in the process. Sarah’s daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), worried about her boyfriend, insists on checking up on him to make sure he’s fine (raise your hand if you agree sending your daughter out in the middle of a blizzard feels like bad parenting).
It’s here where the real fun begins, and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling some the more inventive ‘Gotcha!’ moments that horror films require. But keep in mind that Krampus is a rare mix of both Christmas movie and bloody horror; having the ability to retain its Christmas spirit while, at the same time, celebrating the entirely Germanic Krampus holiday figure in an authentic horror film is nothing short of a real cinematic accomplishment.
Behind the innocent suburban celebration and comical bits by its familiar cast, most known for their comedy films, Krampus is the real deal. From a broad smiling sharp toothed teddy bear, multi-lipped jack-in-the-box, to giggling and murderous gingerbread men, this holiday delight is never short on amusement.
And yet…Krampus, it turns out, is much lighter than expected, often ceding its murderous streak for a joyous Christmas feel at times. The film’s surprising PG-13 rating is miles away from the director’s considerably more violent “Trick ‘r Treat.” It isn’t until the third act where the film begins to tip the scales to a more balanced combo of holiday spirit and the macabre.
But don’t let that distract you; what Krampus lacks in gore goodness is made up in comedy from the antagonizing families and amusing thrills – though this takes entirely too long to arrive. It’s like waiting up all night to see Santa. But once Krampus and company kicks in, the fun doesn’t stop. With any luck, this will be another cult hit for Dougherty, and makes a nice alternative to all the gushy holiday options currently out there, like this year’s “Love the Coopers”. As a morose observer of Christmas, I’ll be adding Krampus to my growing list of Christmas favorites that include “Die Hard,” “Bad Santa” and “P2.”