“Krampus” is a Christmas classic
The opening of “Krampus” is one of the best moments as a group of customers crowd a store like a Black Friday run, grabbing the next best item and showing the misery of it. It appears this is how Christmas is seen to many today. A bleak and cynical cash grab while family dinner doesn’t fair better either. Its like “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” gone wild and wrong. Bickering dysfunctional families, more focus on the price tag of the next HDTV and ignorance to the youth. Truly many have forgotten the true spirit of the Christmas season as Michael Dougherty directs (and wrote the screenplay for) a holiday fable about how powerful tradition remains to the season.
Emjay Anthony is the protagonist Max who is tired of how disgruntled and bitter his family has gotten from being bullied about still believing in Santa to fist fights with his cousins. On the day his other family members arrive for a three day stay, young Max gets so stingy to the point he gives up all hope in the Christmas spirit. This feeling leads to a massive blizzard to hit the neighborhood and summon a demonic monster known as the Krampus said to be the shadow of Santa.
Instead of lumps of coal, in traditional Alpine folklore, the Krampus would actually beat the naughty with chains and whips. Here, Dougherty’s script goes for the tradition keeping the dark spirit in play while allowing free reign with legend seeing how little know Western audiences connect to something so basic. Instead, Krampus is depicted as a devil-like entity that has a horde of beasts at his side that are the equivalency to Santa’s elves. As the days tick by, Max’s family is menaced by evil toys, mischievous gingerbread men and beastly elves that are more creepy than the goblins in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. The special effects are easy to please from practical to few CGI creations. And for the $15 million budget this was given, every penny was well spent and a great extent of effort was clearly put into motion.
For those who think this is a slap in the face to those who enjoy the Christmas spirit, you might be surprised to see the loving message is still intact. As a reminder, movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol never shy away from the dark side. Many reviewers and moviegoers compared this one to Joe Dante’s Gremlins and there is no reason to see why. Both have a B-movie tone that keep the comedy while still being twisted and mean. But after thinking about it, I feel this movie is more of a mix between Poltergeist and the classic Charles Dickens tale.
While the horror elements are certainly front and center, they are connected to the idea of reminding us to observe tradition and how important it is for the Christmas season. When the family is attacked, they don’t split up and run out the door. They at least band together and try to work things out like a family normally would. What keeps these characters from being a little realistic are the dysfunctional personalities which can be hit and miss.
Personally, I found myself connected to these disgruntled people seeing how crazy families can be with envy and not to mention certain relatives that have this grudge against you. Adam Scott does a good job as the father who wants just wants to survive the season as David Koechner really knows when to be humorous and batty as the uncle. Toni Colette and Allison Tolman know when to be bitter and charming as the mother trying not to loose it and the aunt who just wants things perfect even if life is crummy. But my favorite has to be Conchata Ferrell’s performance of Aunt Dorothy who can be borderline annoying but her cynical attitude keeps her one-liners as well as her tipsy personality really memorable.
Krista Stadler also gives a good performance as the grandmother who knows what’s going on and has a great backstory that adds a lot of depth to her character. Without giving too much away, there’s one scene when she explains this encounter with the Krampus (all done in animation) that is really chilling and tragic. The emphasis on the dialogue when she retells this legend is both creepy and tear jerking feeling like she has kept this sad memory all her life and knows this Christmas may not end so well.
I have to be honest. When I went to see Krampus in theaters, I saw this with a young crowd; Think high school or early college. I was worried someone would talk through or have a cellphone on. But to my surprise, I couldn’t believe how engaged everyone was. They laughed at the funny spots and remained quiet when the scares started to creep in. Let me tell you the minute Krampus appeared, it was so quiet in the seats that you could only hear a pin drop. While the movie itself is not bloody, the scenes when the family facing Krampus’ minions can be frightening and a tad intense. Even for a PG-13, I was surprised to see how effective the frights were delivered without someone’s arm getting torn off or showing blood and guts. According to interviews, director Michael Dougherty of cult fave Trick R Treat crafted this as a PG-13 rated movie for family audiences and I have to be honest, this one might sit better with 10 or 11 year-olds. Now, it doesn’t get too grisly or bloody but chances with younger viewers at least 5 or 8, this might too much for them.
Now as much as I gush over how much I enjoy this, there are a few negatives I do have. The pace of Krampus can be a bit slow seeing the introduction of Max’s family can drag for a bit and I know its meant to show how bonkers their holiday has gotten. But there are some spots when it could have been trimmed just a hair for pace. Also, without giving too much away, the monster Krampus really doesn’t appear until the last third of the movie. So there is a good bulk of wait until he comes stomping into the house. On the other hand, this is part of the point seeing the narrative is set to a ticking clock for his arrival on Christmas Eve much like how Santa but again the polar opposite. And there are times when the fight scenes with the monsters can be hard to watch with multiple cuts to close-ups and shot in the dark which ruins a little bit of the energy.
But on the whole, I’m actually happy I saw this one. I admit, I was extremely skeptical when I saw the trailer for the first time and wrote it off as dumb. But after reading interviews on the making of the film and seeing more clips, I started to have this odd interest. In fact, yeah. If we can live in a world with many Christmas Carols that can be frightening, why not have something different for a change that maintains the Christmas spirit in its own way. I won’t lie. As the movie progressed, a smile grew on my face. And that smile kept getting bigger and bigger as things got darker and edgier. By the time it was over, I felt like I had this permanent Grinch-like grin of satisfaction. I was waiting for at least another movie that is manic and enjoyable like Gremlins. Satisfactory to say, Krampus comes really close but I feel like this is one Christmas tale I want to revisit and pass down for generations to come. So why are you reading this? Run to your local cinema and see for yourself. For this is one stocking stuffer surprise I’m pleased to say is sure to please.
Posted on December 5, 2015, in In Theaters (Sort of) and tagged A Christmas Story, Adam Scott, Allison Tolman, Alpine folklore, Christmas, Cynical, David Koechner, Demonic, Emjay Anthony, Gremlins, In Theaters, Joe Dante, Krampus, mean spirited, Michael Dougherty, Poltergeist, Santa Claus, Tradition. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.