Krampus is that rare thing—a Christmas horror-comedy, a la Gremlins. It’s not particularly scary, nor especially funny, but it makes up for it in leaps and bounds with a surprising amount of creativity. That is, when it comes to the various creatures created by director Michael Dougherty and his crew.
Three days before Christmas, tween Max (Emjay Anthony) and his father (Adam Scott), mother (Toni Collette) and sister start celebrating Christmas with mom’s sister’s family and mom’s aunt (Conchata Ferrell). After tensions boil over and Max proclaims he hates Christmas, an unusually fierce blizzard cuts power to the neighborhood, heralding the arrival of the titular Germanic creature.
Dougherty starts things out on a perfect, darkly humorous note, showing greedy Christmas shoppers rampaging into a store, trampling people and fighting tooth and nail over children’s toys as pleasant Christmas music plays on the soundtrack. It both sets the tone for the rest of the film, and effectively sums up what the Christmas season has truly become.
That bitter humor extends into the family scenes. While Collette’s sister’s family seems broadly appalling in how it insults Collette and her family, the sentiment is the same: family can get under your skin like nobody else (especially if any one of them behaves like the blunt-talking Ferrell). And Collette does a wonderfully amusing job in these scenes of trying to disguise her frustration.
And while the initial appearance of the power-crippling snowstorm feels nicely ominous, the subsequent scenes of family members wondering what’s-that-noise or being menaced by Krampus’s “helpers” are relatively scare-less, generically-staged things. It doesn’t help that Dougherty drops any further attempts at fleshing out the characters to focus on trying to scare us.
Luckily, Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) and his team have conjured up a macabre menagerie of memorable creatures—a teddy bear with teeth, a snake-like jack-in-the-box thing, Krampus himself. The gingerbread men prove perhaps the most entertaining, as they scurry about and, in a nicely done sequence that channels some Gremlins humor, menace David Koechner in the kitchen.
This is not to say the characters completely lack dimension. Indeed, Anthony (Jon Favreau’s son in Chef) is quite good as a good kid struggling with his belief in Santa Claus, and his relationship with his Austrian-speaking grandmother (Krista Stadler) is nicely realized. In the film’s best scene, Stadler tells of the Krampus, and turns it into one of the scariest bedtime stories you’ll ever hear. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 4/26/16