Horror for the Holidays: Krampus Review
Upon sitting down to check out Michael Dougherty’s new film Krampus, I realized that up until that moment, I had never seen a Christmas horror flick that used the infamous holiday demon as its titular character. Sure, there’s been literature, songs, and even a Venture Bros. episode where Krampus showed up to ruin the family holiday party. In terms of a live action film, though, I think you’d be hard pressed to find one, which is why I think it’s great that we now have a fun, over-the-top horror film that puts the legend of Krampus front and center for audiences.
The story focuses on young Max who just wants his family to be happy again. However, after one of his cousins steals his letter to Santa and reads it aloud to the entire family, he tears it up in a fit of rage and tosses the pieces to the wind, thus summoning Krampus and plunging the entire town into a horrific blizzard.
Dougherty does a great job building tension. We get glimpses of strange things occurring on the first day of the blizzard, like snowmen that keep popping up in the front yard, and the sound of something large and angry walking on the roof. When paired with the fact that they’re in the middle of a snow storm that no sane human should be outside in, it does a great job of creating an effective sense of dread and claustrophobia.
Also, I want to point out that sometimes in a film like this the characters have a tendency to come across as static or flat. That’s not the case with Krampus. There are definitely archetypes, but they’re played well and work for the film rather than against it. For example, Tom (Adam Scott) is your typical non-confrontational guy and acts as the antithesis to Howard’s (David Koechner) gun-toting, testosterone heavy attitude. We’ve seen these two before in other incantations, but both roles are played earnestly, so when they start working together the audience believes these two genuinely want to like and help one another.
What’s great about the film is that it’s very self-aware. It never tries to be more than a fun horror flick about a family trying to work together if they’re going to survive the night, and that’s why it works so well. You know what you’re getting from the very first scene where Dougherty shows us the insanity of a Black Friday sale in slow motion all the way to the film’s final shot. And unlike a lot of Horror films to come out in the last few years, Krampus shies away from relying heavily on gore. There are gross and scary moments, but the film doesn’t need buckets of blood to keep you interested and on the edge of your seat. Instead it employs interesting characters and visuals to hook you and maintain your interest.
The costume and creature designs are fantastic. Before we even get to Krampus, we’re given a gang of demonic toys and gingerbread men that look like the nightmares of H.P. Lovecraft somehow slithered into Christmas—one of the standouts being the monstrous Jack-in-the-box that can swallow children whole.
The Krampus design doesn’t disappoint, either. The creature is huge with massive hooves and horns, but what I found to be really effective was the face. A quick image search for Krampus online will bring up images of a more animalistic monster. Dougherty’s beast, however, has the face of an ancient and emaciated Santa Claus, which is a hundred times more disturbing because it shows us something familiar turned evil, especially when the long black tongue starts probing the air.
Some folks might be turned off by the ending, but I found it to be clever and fitting to the entire tone. Overall, this is a really fun film that will remind you of how much fun you had watching Gremlins or even Ghoulies. So, instead of putting on A Christmas Story for the hundredth time this year, go get scared and show Krampus some love.
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