Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony
To make a Christmas Horror film is a tricky thing, especially if you’re criticizing Christmas as a holiday, which is what most Christmas Horror films do. They either expose the lies behind the whole Santa Claus thing, or just talk about how the holidays can drive you nuts. History has shown that these types of films do not make it big at the box office because they attack the cash cow of consumerism: Santa Claus. Films like for example Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) died quick deaths at the box office because angry parents were furious at the idea of a killer Santa Claus, because you know, Jolly Saint Nick is supposed to represent goodness and happiness and we can’t have anything tinge that image that Santa Claus. But these movies keep getting made in spite of their sketchy track record at the box office. Take for example the super fun, ultra gory Santa’s Slay (2005). It also died a quick death at the box office and went immediately to dvd, but man, what a fun movie it is. It’s just that in it, Santa is a demon who kills a bunch of people with Christmas ornaments. These movies aren’t “bad movies” perse, well some of the are, but most of them are actually good horror films; the reason they fail to make money is because they are shunned, put aside like an unwanted child. But whatever, usually I like these movies because they analyze the true nature of Christmas and its consumerist roots. I mean, come on, you all know Santa Claus as we know it was in large part created by the folks at Coca Cola right?
Krampus is all about the Engel family; they are having a Christmas get together type of deal. You know, the kind where you have family members come over and visit you and everybody is jolly and merry together, drinking egg nog and reading Christmas stories. The only problem with the Engel family is that everybody hates each other. This family exudes so much hatred, that Max, the little kid in the family ends telling everyone that he hates Christmas and that he hates all of them. At this moment a demon known as Krampus shows up and starts killing family members because they didn’t celebrate Christmas properly, because the family hated each other instead of loving each other. The family must try and survive the night while creepy demonic creatures stalk them. Can the Krampus curse be broken? Is there a chance to survive this nightmarish night?
The director of this film, Michael Dougherty, is similar in many ways to Tim Burton in the sense that they are both obsessed with the holidays. Dougherty’s first student film was an animated short film entitled Season’s Greetings (1996), which was the basis for his first full length feature film Trick R’ Treat (2007), an anthology film where four different stories take place during Halloween night. Both Seasons Greetings (1996) and Trick R’ Treat (2007) are very atmospheric, creepy Halloween films that truly embrace the holiday, which is the same thing Dougherty does with Krampus (2015). On this film, Dougherty captures what Christmas is like for all of us. Dougherty paints a very contemporary take on the holiday by brilliantly starting out the film during Black Friday, with people punching each other over a television set. To the best of my understanding, no film has depicted Black Friday yet, so I thought it was genius that Dougherty captured the craziness of that day in which greed flourishes and I feel ashamed of humanity. On that day, people become monsters, consumerist zombies responding to the programming they’ve received through television. So yeah, I was glad that the film starts out this way, showing the ugliest side of Christmas, holding a mirror up to society.
Krampus also focuses on the spooky side of Christmas, which explains why during the first few frames of the film we see a television set showing Alastair Sim in Scrooge (1951), a Christmas ghost story. In this way, the filmmaker’s foreshadow the events ahead, they let us know from early on that Christmas mythology has its spooky side. What Dougherty did with Krampus is sort of the same thing he did in Trick R’ Treat (2007). If you remember correctly, in Trick R’ Treat there’s this story about an old Scrooge like character that hates Halloween and everything about it, so in comes this little monster that’s going to make him pay for not celebrating Halloween properly. Dougherty simply applied that formula to Christmas, which why Krampus is a demon that comes to kill you if you don’t celebrate Christmas properly. So in a way, Krampus is a film that while criticizing Christmas, it also promotes the celebration of Christmas. It’s a film that says celebrate, be merry and love each other, or else!
I liked the premise of a family locked inside their house because of a raging blizzard because it amps up the creepy vibe. Suddenly the snowmen look evil, the trees are dead, the wind is howling…Dougherty expertly turns Christmas images into horrifying images. I loved the concept of Krampus, this giant demon with hooves, who looks like a zombified Santa Clause that has these evil ginger bread men, demonic teddy bears and clowns to help him carry out the curse. He also has an evil jack in the box to help him. At one point it was beginning to feel like Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys (2004), but with a budget? Actually, it reminded me most of Gremlins (1984) in the sense that it was mixing horror, comedy and Christmas all in the same film. Yet even Gremlins (1984) was more graphic in nature than this one. I only had two problems with Krampus, number one is that at some point it felt a little repetitive, with the demonic toys jumping on people and looking all scary but not really doing anything save for looking and sounding scary, and the other problem is that it felt very light for a horror film. I mean you got demonic Christmas toys attacking a family, why don’t you go all the way instead of shying away from the blood? The film tries to be scary, but not too scary so the kids won’t run out of the theater in terror. I can’t blame the filmmakers for catering to their target audience; these guys knew exactly the type of horror film they were making. For gorier Christmas horror go and watch Black Christmas (2006) or Christmas Evil (1980). Or if you want to watch a similar film to Krampus that is far scarier, I recommend you watch Rare Exports (2010), because at its core, Krampus is more about spooky atmospherics than blood splatter, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Rating: 3 out of 5