Film Review: Krampus

For those who have been following me long enough, you can tell I’m quite the fan of Santa’s Satanic Helper!  Of course, I’m referring to the Krampus.  For those out of the loop, Krampus is a creature originating from Germanic folklore.  He trails Santa around the world to punish naughty children, while Santa takes care of the good.  Specifically, Krampus hits you with his bundle of sticks before sweeping you into a bag full of little hell raisers!  This holiday horror looks like a diabolic monster with coarse black hair all over him, usually with horns and cloven hooves.  For centuries, the image of this creature has haunted and fascinated countless people.

Needless to say, Krampus has slowly been catching on in the United States.  Whether it’s pop songs or animated parodies, the Christmas Devil himself has been popping up in public consciousness.  A couple of years ago, the creators of “Trick R’ Treat” had announced they were bringing this being to life in a new movie.  As of December 2015, that movie is out and the Krampus will punish all of those who dare act naughty during this season.  So, how does the movie itself hold up?  Read onward to find out. (Warning: Some spoilers ahead!)

For starters, the premise takes a lot of inspiration from the other big film that creator, Michael Dougherty, is known for.  That film of course is Trick ‘R’ Treat.  However, Dougherty himself admitted that this new film is part of an expanded universe of sorts, where Sam (Trick ‘R’ Treat) and Krampus exist within the same reality.  So, it’s no wonder the films have a bit of overlap.  However, where as “Trick R’ Treat” follows different groups of people in a non-linear anthology format, “Krampus” follows the family of one of the characters in more traditional film style.

The story follows Max, a young man whose tired of his family shitting on him for enjoying Christmas time, as well as bickering with each other.  Only his grandma seems to understand him, but in the end that’s not enough to keep his spirits high.  He tears up and throws his literal connection to the holiday, a letter to santa, out the house window in distaste.  But, like many things in Dougherty’s universe, it’s not a wise idea to turn your back on a holiday.  Soon after, an ominous blizzard comes in and bombards Max’s town; the power and heat are cut off within moments.  Similar to that episode of Doctor Who, evil snowmen begin to materialize on the property.  Max’s sister Beth decides she’d rather crash with her boyfriend, only for a stalking demonic creature to strike as she tries to flee.  Both Max’s dad and his uncle go out in the storm to find her, only to find out the delivery man, snowplow service and the house of Beth’s boyfriend have been attacked by some simply diabolic.  All of them huddle back into the house and board things up.  As the family regroups and plans to escape,  festive horrors attack and begin to kidnap the family.  The Grandma informs them this is the work of The Krampus.  He’s a devilish creature that antagonizes anyone who goes against the spirit of Christmas; torturing them, killing them or even dragging them to Hell.  More horrible minions of Krampus begin to besiege the house over the day.  After the family attempts to plan their escape, the Krampus himself arrives in the house.  The family makes it to the snowplow, but it’s too late.  Max realizes that this is all his fault, dealing with the exact story his grandmother warned him about.  In attempt to deal with the Krampus, he wakes up to realize that everything is almost normal… except, he has the same little ornament from Krampus.  However, the plot twist proves to be something you probably already knew… but remains clever and fascinating all the time.  Plus, it’s vague enough to be left to interpretation too!

The nasty nasties of this movies truly steal the show at times.  When we first meet Krampus, he appears as some twisted Santa Claus.  In fact, we only really see his claw hands, horns and toothy maw attached to a mysterious and shadowy face.  The build up to his full appearance is gradual, but remains quite the show, in true horror fashion.  Krampus’ minions of the movie provide much of the bedlam, acting both hilarious and terrifying at the same time.  And with voice talents like Seth Green contributing, these nightmarish little bastards are true show stealers for much of the movie!  Sure, they bring to mind the neverending Five Nights at Freddy’s series, but they’re still quite the delight.  To the film’s credit, the ever talented John Carl Buechler is behind the creepy and crawling servants of the Krampus.  And if you’ve seen cult cinema like Puppet Master, the creepy designs should be all too familiar.

However, the pace and story feel a bit butchered by the end.  What I mean by this is there feels like there’s a lot of the story that’s quite frankly missing.  My theory is much of it was cut for time as well as removing a lot of violent scenes to achieve the PG13 rating.  As a result, executive meddling or what have you resulted in a mangled and somewhat disjointed finish.  We don’t know enough of what’s happening, whose attacked, the rules that Krampus lives by, or what happens to a quite a bit of the family and friends.  We see a lot of potential in the family, who are all quite well cast.  Most of the time though, we only see them in too much a panic for them to feel more developed or interesting.  And this is a shame too, as the legend of Krampus deserves proper cinematic treatment; especially with a cast of great characters all around.  Plus, the environment and atmosphere is all there too.  However, I have a feeling a Director’s Cut is what the film needs in the end.  A fresh coat of paint, a R rating and all the scenes that the film probably lost will flesh out a lot of what’s absent here.  Because at the moment, it feels like a half-finished homage to Gremlins.

That’s not to say the film is bad, but there’s a lot of potential for greatness all around.  The actors did a good job at creating a horrible family, as the world around Max just oozed a sinister Christmas cheer.  Even the minions of the Krampus carried a weird sense of holiday horror akin to Nightmare before Christmas (on some serious drugs).  However, the fun plotlines and joy of previous works is replaced with a larger budget and bigger set design.  That’s not to say that Krampus is inherently inferior to Trick ‘R’ Treat, as there’s plenty this film does better.  The action was better, as was the casting, and the film simply looks better than its predecessor with more vibrant cinematography and perhaps a better capturing of that Christmastime aesthetic (rather than the predecessor’s Halloween aesthetic, save for a handful of brilliant scenes.)  For example, Max’s grandma explains the backstory of Krampus with an animated interlude that looks like something out Rankin-Bass specials.  It was both chilling and charming and carried a strange sense of spirit throughout.  And hell, it was probably my favorite part of the film!

That said, it seems to inherent many of the its predecessor’s flaws without an excuse for it.  The character don’t feel fleshed out enough (as we always see them in panic mode), especially after much conflict and strife.  Both the actors’ talents and the characters feel underutilized at a certain point, feeling more like horror stock characters after the first parts of the film.  The writing becomes a little jumbled and poorly explained at various parts too.  At least Trick ‘R’ Treat tries its best to show and tell us what we need to know, especially with some nice twists along the way.  And in a similar way, the film isn’t overly funny much like the film before it.  There are a few amusing moments and gags, but it retains an otherwise very grim tone.  While not a bad thing, it can be a tad misleading for some expecting absurdity levels of Cabin in the Woods, Army of Darkness or other greats.  Granted, a lot of the problems with this film are likely from the restraints of trying to get a PG-13 rating too.  Way to trade intense horror for a cheap attempt at revenue boost, huh?

Just to put it out there, one can find tons of other Christmas/Holiday themed horror movies that are genuinely better.  Films such as Rare Exports remains on the top for me, while A Christmas Horror Story proved to be a fun romp through tinsel-covered terror.  Hell, I have a list of movies I love in general that I wrote last year.  Will this achieve a space on the list?  Certainly!  That is, until another movie based on Krampus proves to be much better.  Who knows?  Maybe Kevin Smith’s “Anti-Claus” will prove to be the better film, but details on that project are quite sparse for the time being.

All in all, Krampus takes a swing with his birch switch and barely hits the mark of a naughty kid’s rump.  It’s a film that is rich in atmosphere and has some good scenes of domestic frustration during the season to be jolly, monsters that both look and act fantastic and a few chills to shock the audience as well.  However, its flaws prove to be quite harmful to the film.  We’re not shown/told enough and when we are, it’s too late.  The movie feels a bit chopped up, if to help achieve that PG-13 rating.  And worst of all, the best parts of the movie aren’t utilized enough; the horrible family just becomes just becomes more background characters in peril as the film goes on, the monsters don’t do enough to be scary or funny and a lot of scenes feel like they’re not present at all.  While still a good movie, it feels like something to watch during a cult film marathon, rather than in a large theater.  While not feeling as big or incredible as it made itself out to be, there’s still tons of fun to be had.  Krampus kidnaps 6.5 victims (wait, what?) in his endless sack of doom out of 10.  Here comes Krampus, here comes Krampus, ya ya ya ya ya!

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