Krampus review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Krampus is the Christmas horror movie I’ve been waiting for - the one that will finally bridge elements of satirical jabs and bloody stabs. Finally, there is a sufficient picture to sit alongside Gremlins for the Christmas season, easily mixing both campy humor and genuine creeps. It feels too good have a movie with killer gingerbread men and murderous teddy bears that is actually competent enough to have fun with the genre.
Those familiar with the lore of Krampus know the game of this Germanic figure, rising on Christmas to take the bad children away. The Krampus has the perfect target this year as he descends on an American home of a very dysfunctional family trapped inside from the blizzard outside. Yes, we’ve seen this archetype before of everyone from the bitter parents, to the precocious children, to the teenage girl sneaking off with her secret boyfriend. The beauty of this scenario is that there is no heartwarming Christmas spirit to bring them all together. In its place are demonic forces that will rip them apart. These include murderous gingerbread men, bloodthirsty teddy bears and a jack in the box that will eat you whole.
With the presence of such monsters, it begs the question if this is more comedy than horror. The manner in which these critters slowly pick off the family is treated with severity, but also a dark charm. Such means of capturing the family include fishing down the chimney with a Christmas cookie for the fat kid to take the bait. When out in the snow, monsters start sucking down family members as if they were sharks of the mounting white. And, yes, the depiction of some of these evil doers are a little more comical than they are terrifying. But when the mysterious Krampus is finally revealed, it’s an undeniably terrifying creature of beard, teeth and claws. His character and his portal into hell evokes a certain terror even if it is additionally played for tongue-in-cheek comedy.
The cast at play is likable enough in that we actually care about these characters, either through genuine sympathy or dark laughs. The young boy Max who desperately wishes for a merry Christmas is likable enough that I actually wanted his wish to come true. His father Tom (Adam Scott) also comes off as a fatherly figure with a few flaws, but a protective nature when evil spirits start attacking the house. And then there are the filthy mouths of David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell providing both a family conflict and the comic relief. The scene where Koechner takes on the evil gingerbread men with a shotgun is the perfect use of Koechner, taking a beating and throwing out hilarious lines. Even Conchata gets in some beautifully sarcastic remarks, especially when the whole house goes to hell with invading monsters.
Krampus just has a giddy sense of horror that perhaps is more enjoyable on a comedic angle, but still a capable and crafty picture. My only real qualm is how focused director Michael Dougherty seems to be with maintaining this balanced atmosphere that the picture rarely seems to bite down hard on either the horror or comedy. But Dougherty’s toying and winking with convention still makes Krampus an entertaining Christmas horror movie. Considering we don’t have many movies of this particular niche genre, Krampus succeeds where so many fail.