Friday, December 18, 2015

Krampus Review

There is a Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore character called Krampus, a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children who have misbehaved during the Christmas season, in contrast with Saint Nicholas who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. Frankly, I'm surprised this demonic folklore figure hasn't been used as a horror movie villain before now. Krampus (2015) features an ironic take on Christmas in general, features B-movie camp, and disappointingly little Krampus.
While the holiday season represents the most magical time of year, ancient European folklore warns of Krampus, a horned beast who punishes naughty children at Christmas time. When dysfunctional family squabbling causes young Max (Emjay Anthony) to lose his festive spirit, it unleashes the wrath of the fearsome demon. As Krampus lays siege to the Engel home, mom (Toni Collette), dad (Adam Scott), sister (Stefania LaVie Owen) and brother must band together with their dreadful visiting relatives to save one another from a monstrous fate.
So, it seems that the Krampus character has popped up increasingly in pop culture, including the Christmas episode of the American Dad TV series in season 9, where I first heard about it. When we hear about Krampus in the movie, he is referred to as "The shadow of Saint Nicholas." It seems to represent the bad qualities of Christmas that many people are becoming cynical about these days. This cynisism was beautifully Krampus starts with Bing Crosby singing "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Chrismas" while we see Black Friday shoppers trample store employees. beat each other up over merchandise, kids getting into fistfights in the middle of Christmas pageants, stressed housewives trying to make elaborate dinners, huge messes of holiday wrapping paper. This ironic opening scene was just beautiful; it captured the essence of the unpleasantness that Christmas can bring when we become materialistic, mindless consumers, and spiteful towards other people and family members during a season that claims to be about love, sharing, and kindness. It's this sort of attitude in part that draws the attention of Krampus.
I had really hoped the movie would go on to explore this lack of Christmas Spirit during the Christmas season, but it dosen't delve into it nearly as much as it had potential to. So many Christmas movies and TV specials try to sell "The True Meaning of Christmas" by having some grouchy Scrooge character or busy professional have a sweet change of heart and learn to love or some scientifically inclined intellectual experience the "magic" of the Christmas season and suddenly believe in Santa Clause or some such tripe. Here I was hoping to see Krampus terrorize people into a state of humility and gratitude that forced them to understand the love, personal sacrifice, and kindness that they claim they have but obviously didn't. There was tons of potential to do an ironic and scary "True Meaning of Christmas" thing. It started out that way, but quickly devolved into a Christmas themed home-invasion horror story with very little Krampus.
Krampus has hoards of ironic Christmas themed minions that he keeps sending into the house to abduct and terrorize the Engel family and their houseguests. There are killer Gingerbread men, a many-toothed teddy bear, a creepy angel, and a monstrous worm-like creature inside of a jack-in-the-box clown, to name a few. It's a more mature juxtaposition of Christmas and Halloween than was used in The Nightmare Before Christmas. The family ends up fighting off these creatures repeatedly; Krampus doesn't really appear until near the end. He's the titular character and we see a disappointing lack of this him. He's not really even a presence until the end. By that point he had hardly been established as a central villain and we didn't have a whole lot of reason to be afraid of Krampus specifically other than he looked kind of creepy.
With all the Christmas irony crammed into Krampus, it can be considered a horror/comedy. There's quite a bit of irony playing on Christmas special tropes, but that dies off rather early on. There's still humorous gems of dialogue strewn throughout the script. The relatives that come to visit Engel home are akin to the Cousin Eddie's family in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation with none of the charm. Angry with his hosts, Uncle Howard complains to his wife, "We should have gone to stay with my brother!" "Your brother lives in a barn!" she says. "Jesus was born in a barn!" Later "I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies!" proclaims Howard after one of the more comical attack scenes. Some eerie remixes of ordinarily cheery Christmas songs make their way into the background during action scenes which add to the surrealism and irony of the scenes.
The horror bits were kind of fun and creepy, but it feels like the movie held back a lot on the violence. When there is an opportunity for gore, it mostly happens off screen. The monsters are kind of scary and creepy, but not terribly grotesque. There are a number of scenes when it sounds like the characters are about to drop an F-bomb, but are either interupted or the dialogue sounds similar but is obscured with loud sound effects in hopes that audiences wouldn't notice there was a lack of profanity. This is all fine and dandy, but seems to be a watered down version of what the movie had in mind. The movie stays safely within its PG-13 rating, it just seems like the movie is holding itself back, which ultimately weakens what the movie was aiming for. It's as if it's trying to be really scary without letting itself be properly frightening.
Krampus is an ironic and down-to-earth spin on the normally whimsical and saccharine sweet Christmas movies and TV specials that we are bombarded with around this time of year. It's got funny bits, but the horror aspect takes center stage more often than not. There's funny dialogue, B-movie horror schlock, and doesn't get preachy about what it thinks you should think about Christmas. There is little interaction with the movie's titular monster, which is a big letdown, and it doesn't explore the potential for commenting on how awful some people are around the holiday. It feels restrained and didn't allow itself to do all it wanted to do, which keeps it from its full potential. It starts out strong, but has a weak, vague, and disappointing conclusion. It's almost like Gremlins meets National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, but isn't nearly as good as either one. I can't recommend seeing this in theaters; it's just not worth the price of a movie ticket. If it does sound interesting enough for you to want to see, I'd wait to rent it from RedBox or something.

Are there other obscure mythological figures associated with holidays that you'd like to see star in a creature feature? Comment below to tell me all about it!


  1. I'm actually kind of disappointed they didn't make it a straight horror movie. Since Krampus kidnaps children and people don't like seeing children gratuitously slashed up in movies, it might have been an interesting creative endeavor.

    1. That's a good point, but I don't think I'd enjoy seeing that, let alone anyone else. Abducting children and terrorizing them might have been alright.
      I think the humor in Krampus was well served since the very idea of a Christmas monster/demon is kind of a silly one to begin with. Without a healthy dose of comic relief the the Krampus movie might have been too difficult to take seriously.
      Thanks for your comments!