Director: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler
Plot: Max (Anthony) is losing faith in Christmas and while his dysfunctional family clash over Christmas plans he decides to not bother with the holiday at all while unwittingly summoning Krampus who plans to punish all the non-believers in town.
Review: Riding in on a surprise wave of popularity for the Krampus mythos that unsuprisingly saw a huge number of these films being released, the majority straight to DVD with this one unquestionably being the standout film, no doubt thanks to director Michael Dougherty being attached to the film whose best known for directing the cult holiday horror “Trick ‘r Treat”.
Now switching holiday’s to Christmas as he opens to slow motion crowds battling for holiday deals while introducing Max as he brawls with a portly bully during a nativity play which really sets the playfully chaotic tone of the film. Of course the tension between the family is only added to when Sarah’s (Collette) sister Linda (Tolman) and her redneck family roll into town for Christmas while also bringing aunt Dorothy (Ferrell) in tow.
Linda’s family are an amusing counter to Sarah’s who on the surface seem to be living this suburban dream in their perfect house. Linda’s family meanwhile are crass and slovenly which makes the casting of David Koechner as Linda’s husband Howard all the more perfect especially when he’s spent the best part of his career playing these kinds of characters. Thier kids meanwhile are no better as their daughters are a pair of tom boyish bully’s who when not wrestling in the lounge are tormenting Max making you wonder if they are playing the role of the sons that Howard wished he has, especially as his only son Howie Jr. (Flack) is an almost permanently mute lump.
This mixed bag of characters are of course forced to put their differences aside as a mysterious snow storm blows into town bringing with it Krampus. Now for those not familiar with the mythos of Krampus he is a character of Germanic folklaw who takes the form of a half-goat half-demon who like Santa rewards good children with presents while punishing those who have been bad. Needless to say its the punishing of the bad which takes the main focus here with Dougherty bringing a truly monstrous vision of the character to the screen and whose legacy is explained by Tom’s (Scott) German mother Omi (Stadler) with the flashback to her childhood encounter with Krampus being delightfully told via old school stop motion animation so that it resembles a twisted Rankin / Bass Production but its a great way to sell the mythos of this fantastical character.
In something of a switch-a-roo here Krampus is largely kept to the background as he plays the prankster taunting the family inside the house while unleashing various demonic toys aswell as his troupe of creepy masked elves. This might prove something of a disappointment for some especially with Krampus being shown as this hulk of a creation you’d expect him to be laying siege to the family home rather than tormenting them from afar. What makes up for it though are the demonic toys he unleashes on the family including a man-eating Jack in the Box aswell as a fantastic were-bear! The real standout here though are the killer gingerbread men who as soon as I saw them welding a nail-gun capturing that same anarchic sense of fun that made “Gremlins” such a blast.
The character design of these various demonic beasts are incredible as well as highly original in their contruction with Krampus for the most part seen in the distance of cut off by the screen, though by the time we do get to see his face at the end he still can be seen wearing a Santa mask, playing up the idea here that Krampus is Santa’s shadow / dark side. The elves keeping with the theme are also wearing creepy masks which really keeps with the dark theme and I appreciated the fact that they where kept to the final quarter making their sudden appearance all the more surprising and ultimately effective when they did appear.
While the film might not be heavy on splatter and gore it is none the less still an effective piece, with Dougherty building the tension for the first half before unleashing all kinds of chaos in the second half. While there might not be much in terms of gore, here is still manages more than a few surprising moments thanks largely to the demonic Jack-in the box while at the same time the order he chooses to despatch characters is far from as predictable as it might seem and certainly caught me by surprise when a character I expected to be there till the end was suddenly dispatched and its only the more credit to Dougherty that he will happily remove one of the children as willingly as any of the adult characters slowly whittling the group down to its key players as he builds to his biblical finale.
If I had one nagging point it would the ending which while it could certainly be perceived in a number of ways, my main issue came with the fact that it felt so tacked on and almost as if it has been added further to a note from an unhappy studio exec unwilling to let the film end on a potentially downbeat ending. Thankfully the ride up to this point that it makes it easier to get past especially when it ultimately isn’t taking anything away from the film as whole.
Dougherty really has created something special with Krampus and while part of me would love to see him follow it up with a part 2, the other side of me doesn’t want to do anything to risk ruining or watering down the experience he gives us here, let alone take away any of the mistique of his take on the creature. Needless to say this is one film I’d happily add into my year alt. Christmas rotation of films.