"If victory favors me, I will protect your child with my life."

"I ask you not to worry about that possibility. Because my son and I live on the Demon Way in Hell, we're prepared to descend into Hell through the Six Realms and Four Lives."

Krampus

tn_krampusKrampus – the child-punishing anti-Santa Claus of Alpine folklore – is one of those things that a certain type of American nerd is a little too proud to know about. The same ones that make Cthulu jokes. But despite them it’s a good idea for a Christmas monster movie, and I think this one is good enough to reclaim the old half goat, half demon’s honor.

KRAMPUS came last year from director Michael Dougherty, the X2, SUPERMAN RETURNS and URBAN LEGENDS: BLOODY MARY writer who turned director with TRICK ‘R TREAT, the DTV anthology that seems to be growing into a minor Halloween tradition. I remember that being pretty good, but I think I liked this better.

It’s the story of a nice suburban family – Tom (Adam Scott, HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE), his wife Sarah (Toni Collette, xXx: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE), their teenage daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen, THE LOVELY BONES), younger son Max (Emjay Anthony, CHEF) and Austrian grandma Omi (Krista Stadler) – welcoming Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman, THE GIFT) and her family – husband Howard (David Koechner, HIT AND RUN) and kids Howie Jr. (Maverick Flack), Jordan (Queenie Samuel) and Stevie (Lolo Owen), not to mention the baby and the dog and mean Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell, CHAINS OF GOLD) – to stay over for Christmas. But there’s tension and then a snow storm and then the weird shit starts happening. Eventually they’re boarding up the windows like it’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but this is more like fairy tale shit. All they can really do to keep trouble away is keep the fireplace hot.

mp_krampusIt’s a good cast for a comedy, and it is kind of a comedy, but it has an interesting tone. Once things turn supernatural it’s treated very seriously, other than involving killer gingerbread men and what not. For me it works. And it’s artfully made, from the gorgeously spooky winter scenery to the dramatic shot of a phone going from 1% charge to black at the same moment the fire burns out.

There’s a nice-looking animated sequence as Omi explains learning about Krampus as a child, but it’s a good symbol for the movie’s weaknesses. To have stop motion in the movie seems like a great idea, making the world of the movie even more stylized and tying it to classic TV Christmas specials. But not much actually happens in the sequence and you realize that if they hadn’t wanted to show off the animation they commissioned then Omi could’ve told a more concise and effective story. (Also, I don’t really buy this use of the grandma-is-from-the-old-country-so-she-understands-how-the-magical-shit-works cliche. I don’t think there’s really an old country that knows about this particular shit that happens here.)

But I’ll put up with pacing issues when the gifts are this bountiful (you see how that works, I chose that particular wording because it is a Christmas movie). When it comes to holiday horror, I prefer for them to include as much of the traditions and symbols of that time of year as possible. Obviously the original BLACK CHRISTMAS is the better movie, but I appreciate that the underrated remake BLACK XMAS has way more decorations and eggnog and the killer baking people’s skin like Christmas cookies. KRAMPUS does very well in this category.

It opens with Bing Crosby and quickly has grandma baking cookies with the Alistair Sim version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on TV. There’s an advent calendar opened throughout the movie. They have their childhood Christmas decorations, including Mom’s angel that goes on the top of the tree. Linda wears an ugly reindeer sweater, but a realistically ugly one, not an exaggerated -for-irony-purposes one. Aunt Dorothy puts peppermint Schnappes in her cocoa. There’s a gingerbread house, and Beth’s stoner boyfriend (Leith Towers) has a bong that looks like a candy cane attached to a snowman head.

Max is the one who’s really attached to Christmas traditions. He cares about rituals that his parents don’t, specifically watching A Charlie Brown Christmas while wrapping presents. He wears a Rudolph hoodie and gets in a fight with another kid for saying Santa Claus is a marketing gimmick. Typing this out it sounds phony, but he seems very sincere, his little bow tie/sweater combo signal that he’s a certain type of kid that wants to do his own thing, and it turns out to be mostly about nostalgia for him, wanting his family to be close like they were when he was little. But he does seem a little old for the part about writing a letter to Santa each year (him getting mad and tearing it up is what summons Krampus).

They also show the negative side of holidays. The opening credits play out over a slow motion sequence of a Black Friday style riot at a department store. That’s supposed to be December 23rd, which makes no sense – what store waits until that close to Christmas for their big sale? But the movie’s biggest strength is in the way it captures tensions between visiting family. At this age, the kids don’t know how to make conversation with each other. Howard belittles Tom about not playing sports and having been an Eagle Scout. Linda complains about “fancy food,” so Sarah gets mad and starts making comments about trailer parks. Instead of being impressed that she made them all creme brulee, they act like it’s weird, and rather than eat the leftovers after the power goes out they consider themselves to be out of food. Linda is the more forgiving member of her family, and Lohman makes good use of those sympathetic eyes we know from season 1 of Fargo. But in private even she makes bitter comments about how much money her sister’s family has, and mentions them being Democrats. Sarah has fancy wrapping paper, Linda uses newspaper.

Howard brags about his shotgun and his truck in a boorish way, though they later seem like they’ll come in handy when the horror happens. That is definitely one argument for a more Republican lifestyle, if you believe there could be a magical killer Santa situation, you will be more prepared. (SPOILER: But not enough. Second SPOILER: Howard calls his SUV Lucinda and has occasion to cry her name in anguish to the heavens.)

Anyway, I could relate to some of these things.

This reminded me a little of SANTA’S SLAY, and it could work as a mean, violent Christmas horror like that. Instead it’s PG-13 – the rating inspired by GREMLINS, remember – and it’s more in the genuine Christmas spirit, with the family coming together through the ordeal. Before they know there’s a demonic goatman after them they just think Beth is out in the snow and they need to get her. When Tom and Howard go looking for her together they actually start to get along, and it’s kind of sweet. Linda and Sarah bond over memories of their mother. Initially when Howard is talking about his guns at dinner and says “A shepherd has to protect his flock,” he seems like a dipshit. When Tommy later repeats it unironically to him it’s a nice sign of respect between the two.

It takes a little time getting to the horror, but then it delivers. Weta Workshop provides the A+ effects, which seem to be mostly animatronic in nature. Krampus starts as a silhouetted beast howling and leaping from roof to roof as he stalks Beth, and only becomes cooler the more we get a look at him. But he doesn’t do all the work. There are scary snowmen, and something moving around under the snow like holiday TREMORS. The second they let the fire go out an evil gingerbread man comes down the chimney on a chain (I can’t believe that dumb kid Howie tried to eat it). Krampus brings to life some NIGHTMARE-BEFORE-CHRISTMAS-but-scarier type creatures, like the jack in the box monster that’s so fucked up it causes Tom to say “Oh, come on!

I talked to some people who saw it with actual kids, and claimed it didn’t scare them. But I thought the climax, with Krampus and fire and a horde of the scariest “elves” of all time, was straight up nightmarish. At the very least it’s a great looking, very atmospheric movie that finds the common ground between storybook holiday charm and creepy winter horror. And it has a great ending. I think I’ll add this to the once-every-several-years Christmas rotation.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 5th, 2016 at 10:48 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Krampus”

  1. I still think it’s watered-down, wishy-washy crap, but I’ll concede that the monsters look cool. They would even work in a real horror movie where horrible stuff actually happens.

  2. The design of Krampus is cool until they go to a close up of the face and it’s just the dumbest looking thing. His mouth his open but it doesn’t move so he looks, I’m sorry to sound offensive, retarded.

    I saw it recently with my in-laws. My mother in-law thought it was the funniest thing she’s ever seen. Her cackle is intense and loud. She was on the edge of her seat the entire time. My two nephew’s that were there were initially scared but powered through. Though their parents are the type of parents that let them watch The Walking Dead because it teaches them about conflict. Don’t get me started.

  3. For the record, I loved this one. 2015 was a pretty great year for new horror films, with WE ARE STILL HERE, IT FOLLOWS, CRIMSON PEAK, SPRING, HE NEVER DIED, and BONE TOMAHAWK, but I still think this one holds its own, even in that very high company. One of the most straight-up fun cinematic experiences for me the whole year. I think the tone is perfect, expertly straddling the line between anarchic fun and coal-black sadism, even with its PG-13 rating (it may not have much in terms of gore, but I think it plays pretty rough with these characters, especially after getting us to grudgingly like them all). Best monster designs in ages, confident pace, surprisingly good performances from a cast which seem like they’re being set up as a broad comedy ensemble but who turn out to all be a little more nuanced than you would expect. I think Doughtery is 2-for-2 in creating festive horror classics, and I am already excited for nine years from now when The Man finally lets him make another one.

  4. Couldn’t agree more, Vern. Gingerbread men was a bit too cutesy for my taste, but otherwise, this is just about flawless. A festivus miracle!

  5. Also, I love the Krampus creature design. The masks are awesome. Beautifully demented. Krampus and his crew are trying to masquerade as quasi-humanoid beings, either because they envy the dignity and trappings of human personhood (they’re homo-sapien-ophiles), or perhaps on the contrary they’re just mocking us silly humans and our pretensions of identity and significance. Either way, I found it creepy as hell.

  6. Grimgrinningchris

    December 5th, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    This made for a stellar house at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal this year.

  7. Yeah, I believe Krampas is wearing a mask – albeit a creepy mask. The fact that the face doesn’t move gives this away, though there may have been a line that mentioned it. I like that it makes him an evil version of St. Nick (btw, Happy St. Nick Everyone!) though I personally wish they’d have shown more of his true appearance. Just a little hint, maybe. It’s a very small nitpick, though.

    I also thought the gingerbread men were a bit silly, but Vern is right about the tension between the characters being the best part. Aside from the sound design, which was just fucking incredible.

  8. Sternshein and Christof – Krampus is wearing a mask, that’s not his face perpetually frozen in a single expression. In fact, it looks to me like he kinda went all Leatherface on good ol’ St. Nick which makes it all sorts of awesome.

  9. wow, I hadn’t noticed the detail about the mask, but you can really see it in this image here, where his “true”
    face is just barely visible through the mouth of the mask. Awesome!

  10. Thanks Vern. I also was into the presentation of this movie. It would be interesting to see a R-rated Pan’s Labyrinth-style sequel.

    Fact check or Vern joke I don’t get: Wasn’t the PG-13 rating created for Temple of Doom?

  11. Crushinator Jones

    December 6th, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    You’re both right – the 1-2 punch of Gremlins and Temple of Doom got Steven Speilberg himself to ask for a new rating.

  12. What would be the purpose of the mask?

  13. To be weird and enigmatic and make you ask why it would be wearing a mask.

  14. Skani, well that’s not a good answer lol

  15. Just watched it and yeah, I liked it enough to call it “good”. It takes an awful lot of time to get going, but once it does, it’s fun, with some seriously cool creatures. I even dig the happy-ish ending, because it would be hypocritical to preach Christmas spirit, but then viciously murder everybody and damn them to eternal burning in supernatural volcano hole.

    What brings it down are really the pacing issues (For almost 2/3 of the movie almost nothing happens) and the cartoonish over the top awfulness of the family. There were moments where the whole family fight felt absolutely real, but then it seemed like we were watching deleted scenes from CHRISTMAS VACATION.

  16. BTW, shout out for casting an Austrian veteran actress as Austrian grandma.

  17. CJ, I think the comedy element is very self-consciously homaging CHRISTMAS VACATION, and there is clearly a very strong Clark-Eddie dynamic between the male leads. That’s either a fun, sentimental throwback or a derivative, pale reflection, but I dug it. Like CHRISTMAS VACATION itself, there is a mix of the relatable, grounded stuff with the broad, slapsticky stuff. I can understand if it’s not a straight-ahead-enough horror joint for your tastes, but I think it is pretty much as advertised.

    You may have a point on the pacing issues, as I recall that it takes a bit of time for Krampus to really show up and mix it up with eh family. But then I think that is somewhat of a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 1 type of thing, where they have the restraint to hide the main villain in the shadows and use him sparingly to maximize his mystique and impact. The “slow burn” is becoming a bit cliche, but I found that it worked.

  18. The problem is that when I watch CHRISTMAS VACATION, I know that this is gonna be a slapstick comedy starring broad caricatures and I’m okay with that. It’s just that the mix here was a bit too uneven. The main family was actually pretty nice and relatable and then they were overrun by those white trash stereotypes, that didn’t really fit into the movie. Of course a movie, where people get attacked by gingerbreadmen and swallowed by demonic Jack In The Boxes doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the more real moments, like the (more or less) passive aggression between Adam Scott and David Koechner and their bonding in an extreme situation or when Toni Collette tells her aunt to shut up, simply don’t fit in with stuff like, well, the whole Koechner family.

    I know, I kinda make it sound like a huge dealbreaker, although it really isn’t. It just feels like the script was one more rewrite away from finding the right mix between satire and “It’s funny because it’s true”.

    And I also don’t really mind slow burns or when horror movies hide their monster(s) long enough, but again, this was a 90 minutes movie and in the first 60 minutes we only got 2 scenes of horror and the rest were people staring out of the window and/or yelling at each other. The last 30 minutes are good enough to recommend this movie to others (with a “It’s a bit slow” disclaimer), not feel like I wasted my time watching it and maybe even buy the cheap DVD one day, but this is another thing that could have been fixed with one more rewrite.

    It’s a good movie and I don’t think I would be too mad at it becoming a holiday classic over the years, it just has some (to me) very frustrating flaws.

  19. CJ — I took the broad caricatures as part of the film’s subtle unwinding of traditional Christmas movies. They seem like stereotypes (like you’d get in CHRISTMAS VACATION or JINGLE ALL THE WAY or something), but actually as things progress they turn out to be a little more nuanced and relatable than you would have guessed. Even obnoxious, abrasive Howard turns out to be an OK guy in the end. They’re still essentially comedic characters, but it gives the film a little more substance and increases the tension, since you genuinely don’t want these guys to get hurt. For me, anyway, that mostly justifies the film’s patient (not exactly slow) pace.

  20. Crushinator Jones

    December 14th, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Ok, I saw this, and I don’t understand the ending. Please forgive me.

    SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

    So they’re trapped in a snow globe but 3 minutes earlier the kid had woken up and looked across the street and saw the other houses and saw things looking good.

    So it’s like, what is actually happening here? They aren’t really trapped in a snowglobe, literally. So does Krampus look in on them through his magic snowglobe? Is it a reminder that you better hold the spirit of Christmas close to your heart? I kind of like that. He’s always watching…

    But it just seems kind of a ham-handed way to communicate that message.

    And if they’re literally trapped in a snowglobe that is kinda stupid.

    Like Vern, I enjoyed this movie. Not as much as Trick R Treat but it was extremely good. I like this director’s penchant for nasty little fuckers that mess with you while giggling.

  21. SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERPOPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER

    Yes, they are now on Krampus’ watchlist and they better behave and spread the message of christmas or they will end in hell. Personally I love the ending. It’s both a horror movie ending, but also a nice christmas movie ending. They all learned a lesson, but did so the hard way and they definitely aren’t off the hook. Definitely a more appropriate ending for a christmas preaching horror movie than having everybody be massacred or leaving them in a state, where they could simply relapse into their old habits one day.

  22. But Grandma’s family was just fucked forever, right? For some reason he murdered all those poor, malnourished Austrians suffering from the aftermath of WWII but decided to spare this family of coddled American shitheads whose biggest excuse to not be merry is that some of them are more upper middle class than others.

    I have come to appreciate a lot of the elbow grease that went into KRAMPUS, but that ending is garbage. None of these people would ever get a second chance in a real horror movie.

  23. Hey, the Krampus may have a code of honor, but he is obviously meant to be a villain. If you dare to confront him and also are really sorry about your hate for christmas and the people who ruined it for you, he’ll give everybody a 2nd chance. If not? Well, not his problem. I accept that.

  24. (Damn, would you believe that the above post was supposed to be for someone else on a different websight, because I’m having a similar discussion about the ending over there right now? Because that’s what happened. I just lost track of where to post what.)

  25. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER I think there’s a case to be made that they’re not forgiven at all, they’re actually in some kind of Krampus helljail, perhaps doomed to re-live their experience over and over for eternity. And they’re not the only ones.

  26. RE: Majestyk

    Like I said, I appreciate the ending for not being the kind of cynical sell out that it tries to fight. People can’t learn a lesson if they are murdered and after all the whole point of the Krampus, is that he is summoned whenever a kid stops believing in the meaning of christmas. If he would be just a random christmas monster, I wouldn’t mind him going on a killing spree, but since he had a certain reason to appear, I’m okay with a “shitheads learn their lesson under a threat of permanent damnation” ending over a “everybody dead” one.

  27. Fuck lessons. Kill ’em all.

  28. Mr. S: That was actually the interpretation I walked away with, but everybody else seems to have taken it a different way so I’m starting to doubt myself. The movie is so squeamish that “It was all a dream but maybe not!” would fit perfectly.

  29. I interpreted the ending more like Mr. Subtlety did. It’s actually kind of like the ending of FREDDY VS. JASON – it seems like Jason/the family have made it through, but then it turns out Freddy/Krampus has the upper hand. I really like the way it rolls out because the climactic battle is cool but feels like a disappointing ending, then it seems like everything is better but then it goes Twilight Zone on us. And I like the ambiguity of what it means exactly – I’m thinking maybe they’ve been in a snowglobe since the snowstorm started, but I’m not sure. And most of all I like that the cover managed too spoil the ending without me ever realizing it.

  30. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    I just watched this movie tonight, and I interpreted the Cemetery Man ending (spoiler for the Cemetery Man) to mean that the family was in some sort of Krampus hell world. There’s something about the way that final scene is shot that makes me think we’re no longer in the real world. The light seems brighter and over lit. If I knew more about cameras, then I might be able to pinpoint what exactly they did, but it seems to me the look is different from the beginning of the film. Also, it would be kind of lame if they lived. I like the hell world interpretation better.

  31. I can’t believe people here actually liked this movie. It was awful. I think the first comment hit the nail on the head – this was some watered down boring bullshit. I didn’t expect it to be scary (and it wasn’t) but I was expecting some humour (it didn’t have any). I hadn’t seen this last year but remembered seeing some positive reviews so this was a total disappointment.

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