When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.
It’s funny how time flies. It was less than a decade ago that the remake of Black Christmas caused controversy by being a horror film based on Christmas. Now we have not only a Christmas based horror film but one that takes a top spot at the box office. Not to mention the couple that came out on VOD and blu ray.
The biggest, obviously, is simply called Krampus. Of the Krampus based movies this year the one simply named Krampus has been the one I was most excited for. Not only was it the most widely released but it features the return of Mike Dougherty (Trick ‘R Treat) as a director. Trick ‘R Treat is one of my favorite horror anthologies in recent years. It was one of the few films that was able hit the perfect balance of horror and comedy.
The comedy mostly comes from a pitch perfect cast. Sure David Koechner is typecast as the bullheaded, redneck uncle character. The thing is it totally works. It’s easy to see him as the type of father that is not only disappointed in having girls but would raise them to be hillbilly boys. The same goes Toni Collete as Sarah, the family’s put upon mother trying her best just to survive the holidays. It gives off an old school National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation vibe that totally works. Anchoring the cast is young Emjay Anthony as Max. In a rare turn of events this is the one horror movie who has a good child actor. Unlike a lot of horror movies we see that Max can be hopeful and sad and angry and earnest. Essentially he feels like a real kid. I know I just said it but he’s the perfect anchor for a movie filled with wild and eccentric characters.
Things aren’t all laughs though. At it’s core Krampus is a horror movie. While it takes a bit too long to get there it totally works. After a stellar animated sequence Krampus launches an attack full of monsters, horrific reimaginings of Christmas iconography and some great practical effects. While relatively goreless it’s plethora of creative creatures should work great for any horror fan. Even though the evil jack-in-the-box has been the most promoted (which looks even better btw) the actual look of Krampus is pretty great. It had everything I could want from the “Shadow of Santa Claus.” Certainly cooler looking from the direct to video versions we saw earlier this year.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, it takes awhile to get to all of this great stuff. With hints of the Krampus do show up from time to time we don’t get into any of the meat until about halfway through. While it helps establish the characters aside from Max they’re not exactly complicated. You could have easily started the mayhem 10 or so minutes earlier and it would have worked way better. Even though it doesn’t sound like much it’s a major problem this film has. There’s also a bit of a lighting problem throughout the film. While it looks good for the most part there is one scene where an abandoned house is searched that looks more muddled than terrifying. While these are some big issues I can’t say they ruin the film.
Since the reviews starting coming in there has been one film mentioned over and over, Gremlins. While not quite as good it really is a perfect comparison. Like Gremlins it is a horror comedy that pulls off both beautifully due to good writing and a director with a real love for the horror genre. While I can’t quite put it in the top tier of alt-Christmas movies Krampus is certainly near the top and a load of fun. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another 7 years for another Michael Dougherty movie.