At the most wonderful time of the year (Yes, we know it’s not ‘that’ time but stick with it), what better way to celebrate Yuletide than summoning a cloven-hooved goaty maverick to torment your family and loved ones?
Michael Dougherty’s Krampus is a bit of a strange beast: part family comedy, part campy horror. The first thirty minutes or so follow well-trodden tracks: dysfunctional family squabbles and the relatives from hell, all stuck together in the pressure cooker of the festive period and enforced jollity.
It all sort of ambles along smoothly enough and the casting is generally solid. There’s some funny moments when Sarah (Toni Collette) and Tom’s (Adam Scott) home is invaded by Sarah’s sister, Linda (Alison Tolman) who arrives for Christmas, with her gun loving husband, Howard (David Koechner), freaky and unpleasant kids, and acidic aunt. The couple’s youngest child Max (Emjay Anthony) quickly becomes the target of his cousins’ bullying, which culminates in them stealing his letter to Santa and reading it out over dinner. Max is an intuitive kid and he’s written a lot of home truths about everyone in that letter. Mortified, he rips it up and chucks it out the window, unwittingly summoning an ancient half-goat, half-demon which unleashes torment on those who refuse to get into the Christmas spirit.
Since Krampus is borrowed from Austro-Bavarian folklore, it’s lucky that Max’s Austrian oma (or granny) is there to make sense of everything. Turns out, she’s got a history with Krampus back in the homeland as a young girl, and this section is told in a cutesy and whimsical animation sequence.
Although it occupies a niche spot of a darker type of Christmas movie, unfortunately for Krampus, it never quite reaches the heights of Gremlins. There’s a sense that Dougherty wants to create or imitate those ‘80s films which had such a big cultural impact, both light-hearted seasonal ones and cult horrors. In tone, it’s probably closest to Tremors (but with mistletoe).
However, it’s refreshing that Dougherty isn’t afraid to dodge the darker material—any worries that it’ll be too sentimental are completely unfounded. As Krampus terrorises the household, he unleashes a variety of horrors, including some vile elves and a load of toys which are the stuff of nightmares (think Puppet Master or Demonic Toys). Without giving too much away, it doesn’t flinch from inflicting cruelty on any of its characters, plus the ending is pleasingly twisted and wraps the story up neatly with a big black ribbon.
It’s perhaps not the cult classic it hopes to be, but Krampus appeals to both adults and (not too young) children. This genre blender offers a welcome addition to the plethora of Christmas films, for those who’d prefer slightly darker and less sentimental fare.
Krampus is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.