From writer/ director of “Trick ‘R Treat” Michael Dougherty, “Krampus” is a fiercely fun, festive comedy horror with its bony, clawed finger pointed firmly at the cold, cold heart of the greed and hypocrisy of the commercialisation of the holidays. It opens with a chillingly faithful recreation of the worst excesses of the scenes played out annually on Black Friday (to the tune of cheerful Holiday standards) which is almost more frightening than any of the supernatural high jinks which follow.
Max (Emjay Anthony, “Chef”) is struggling to keep hold of his belief in Santa Claus but, at the behest of his German grandmother, decides to write a letter to St Nicholas anyway. However, when his horrible cousins arrive and merciless taunt him and read his letter out loud at the dinner table to humiliate him, no amount of reassurance from his parents can prevent him from tearing the letter to pieces and throwing them out of the window. Almost immediately, a ferocious blizzard settles over the neighbourhood and the power cuts off, trapping Max and his family with their relatives as Christmas fast approaches. But Christmas isn’t the only thing that’s coming – Krampus has received Max’s letter and is on his way.
Max’s immediate family are actually pretty nice Dad Tom (Adam Scott), Mum Sarah (Toni Collette), sister Beth (Stephania LaVie Owen) and Grandma Omi (Krista Stadler) and you’re rooting for them from the start, much more so than Sarah’s sister’s hideous family who make the extended McAllister clan from “Home Alone” look like The Waltons. They’re just so instantaneously mean and inconsiderate and unpleasant that it threatens to pull you out of the movie but thankfully their awfulness is dialled back in the face of the escalating danger from whatever’s lurking out in the snow.
Gradually and darkly cute at first, Krampus’ forces begin to surround and invade the home. While never losing its comedic touch, “Krampus” manages to be a pretty effective horror film in its own right and while there’s little in the way of gore, don’t underestimate the amount of subtle, insidious nightmare fuel this film manages to pack in. There’s more than a touch of “Gremlins” in its yuletide blend of dark humour and darker imagery but it’s got a much sharper, more ragged edge than Joe Dante’s 1984 classic and many of Krampus’ lackeys are decidedly more frightening than Stripe and his mischievous cohorts.
The design of Krampus himself is magnificent. Crowned by the fiercest, most spectacular set of horns since Tim Curry in “Legend”, he’s a bestial, demonic Christmas nightmare. Draped in furs and dirty red ermine-trimmed rags and wrapped in ominously jingling chains, he leaps with supernatural agility and expresses himself in wordless, guttural growls. More effective in fleeting glimpses and flashes of movement than when fully revealed, even then he’s an instantly iconic movie monster.
The film barrels along at a fair clip towards an ending which for some may be unsatisfyingly ambiguous. It also wobbles in making its moral clear, seeming in part to suggest that you should appreciate the people in your life regardless of how horrible they are and how badly they treat you which kind of overshadows the intended message that Christmas is about giving and sharing, not getting.
If you prefer screaming to dreaming when it comes to white Christmases, then “Krampus” is the film for you. Put an extra slug or two of brown liquor in your egg nog and settle back for a frightfully festive treat!