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New Review: Krampus (2015)

Updated on December 11, 2015

Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koecher, Allison Tolman, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Queenie Samuel, Lolo Owen, Maverick Flack, Conchata Ferrell

If there’s anyone qualified for making a Christmas-themed horror film about a giant goat demon, it’s Michael Dougherty. This is the same man who did wonders for the season of Halloween with Trick ‘r Treat, a movie that featured, among other things, a sinister being with a child’s body, a pumpkin for a head, and a chewed off lollipop that could decapitate a grown woman if he chose to use it in such a way (which he did). That movie was carried not only by an ingeniously crafty narrative structure, but also an infectiously macabre tone that managed to find the right balance between black comedy and gory horror.

With Krampus, it seems as though he’s misplaced some of his magic. The horror and comedy scenes mix uneasily with moments of sentimentality, and the movie trips up more than once on tired genre clichés, such as characters who behave foolishly once the crap hits the fan. What else can you say about a married couple that allows their teenage daughter to travel four blocks to her boyfriend’s house while a blinding snowstorm rages on outside? Given the weather conditions and the fact that her boyfriend isn’t answering his phone, you’d figure that someone would offer to drive her there.

The title creature is described as “the shadow of Saint Nicholas,” and comes out every Christmas to terrorize families who have lost their holiday cheer. Such is the case with one dysfunctional suburban family – parents Sarah (Toni Collette) and Tom (Adam Scott) and their children Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and Max (Emjay Anthony) – especially when Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman) and her family – right-winged buffoon of a husband Howard (David Koecher) and their children Jordan (Queenie Samuel), Stevie (Lolo Owen), and Howie Jr. (Maverick Flack) – come to visit for the holidays. To make matters worse, Sarah and Linda’s sour Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) has decided to pay a visit as well.

"Maybe I should've asked for a ride!"
"Maybe I should've asked for a ride!"

Tensions brew almost immediately. Howard likes picking on Tom because he was an Eagle Scout in his youth, and Max’s cousins embarrass the lad by reading his letter to Santa in front of everyone at the dinner table. Heartbroken, Max rips up the letter and tosses it out the window, where the pieces of paper fly preternaturally toward the night sky. From there, all hell breaks loose.

The first time we see Krampus is when Beth walks over to her boyfriend’s house to check on him. Here, Krampus is nothing more than a giant shadow on the roof of a house, and as Beth runs away screaming, he chases after her by jumping from rooftop to rooftop. It’s an effectively creepy scene (largely because our view of Krampus remains obscure at best), but it’s nothing compared to the scene where Tom’s German speaking mother Omi (Krista Stadler) tells about her experience with Krampus when she was a child, which is revealed in a terrific flashback sequence filmed using gorgeous stop-motion animation.

There is really a lot to admire about this movie. The performances are all very good, and visually, the movie is marvelous. Credit Dougherty and cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin for turning an ordinary suburban neighborhood into a blue-tinted, dream-like landscape where even the sight of a dozen or so snowmen in a front lawn can send shivers down one’s spine. The creatures at Krampus’s command are often quite surprising. The trailers have revealed the evil Jack-in-the-Box and the teddy bear with rows of razor sharp teeth, but just wait until you see a trio of gingerbread cookies terrorize Howard with a nail gun (it’s actually quite funny).

"Let's split up and investigate those strange demonic noises we've been hearing!"
"Let's split up and investigate those strange demonic noises we've been hearing!"

And while many of the characters are obnoxious and grating during the earlier scenes, they start to grow on you as the movie wears on. This is especially true of Howard, who is mercilessly mean toward Tom in the beginning, but grows to respect him over time, and even apologizes for his behavior to him at one point. Scenes like that help the audience to grow a little fond of the main characters. This is the rare horror movie where we kind of want to see the characters make it to the end alive.

I say “kind of,” because every once and a while, they’re prone to making stupid decisions that’ll have you wanting to scream advice at the screen. Take the scene where Jordan and Stevie venture into the attic in the dead of night, simply because a creepy voice (which they, for some unknown reason, mistake for Beth’s) tells them to. There comes another moment where Aunt Dorothy has the opportunity to shot the evil Jack-in-the-Box with a shotgun, but doesn’t because she hears a strange noise outside. This is one of the few instances where I’d recommend shooting first and asking questions later.

The climax is a series of showdowns with evil supernatural creatures, the worst involving a scene in the attic where the shaky camera work makes the action difficult to follow, and a final twist that’s kind of given away in one the movie’s advertisements. There is so much about Krampus that’s good, that it’s more than a little disappointing to see it make so many missteps over the course of its running time. In the end, the only thing I was left wondering is how much could have been avoided if Max had decided to throw the torn letter away in the garbage can instead of out the window (that's what you get for littering!).


Rated PG-13 for violent images, some strong language, some drug content

Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 17 months ago from Oklahoma

      I'm actually really excited about this film. Just sounds like a fun idea. Can't wait to get out and see it.

    • priley84 profile image
      Author

      priley84 17 months ago from Warner Robins, Ga

      It is a fun idea and they didn't do too horribly with it. I hope you enjoy it! :)

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