Review by Lauryn Angel
The figure of Krampus has been around for centuries in Eastern Europe, but his popularity in the United States is relatively recent. He’s the cloven-hooved, goat-horned shadow of Father Christmas, who punishes the naughty children, whilst his jolly counterpart rewards the obedient children. With the release of Krampus, directed by Michel Doherty, I expect more parents will be warning their children about Krampus in the years to come. While the film isn’t exactly family fare, it’s likely to become a holiday viewing tradition, with films like Gremlins and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as obvious inspirations.
The hero of the film is Max (Emjay Anthony), a young boy who is trying to hold on to the Christmas spirit in the face of some pretty daunting obstacles – bullies who try to ruin Santa Claus and quarrelling family members. His parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) are so busy with work that Max is worried they don’t love each other anymore. His sister Beth (Stephania LaVie Owen) is too cool for Christmas and is mostly apathetic about the holiday. Enter his extended family, his mother’s sister, Linda (Alison Tolman), her husband, Howard (David Koechner), and the hard-drinking, ever-complaining Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), and the cousins (Maverick Flack, Queenie Samuel and Lolo Owen), who are a direct contrast to Max’s family. Whereas Max’s family are well-to-do, educated, and sophisticated – Sarah serves Cornish game hens for Christmas dinner instead of turkey – the relatives are crass, boorish gun and sports enthusiasts. David Koechner’s Howard bears more than a passing resemblance to Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation. The only other person in the house interested in preserving the Christmas spirit is Max’s German grandmother, Omi (Krista Sadler). Unfortunately, that’s not enough, and Max ends up tearing up his letter to Santa Claus.
And this is when the fun really begins. A freakish blizzard moves in, ominous snowmen start showing up on the lawn, and mysterious packages appear on the porch. Soon enough, family members begin to disappear, and maniacal giggles emanate from dark corner s of the house. This is when the film really begins to take its cues from Gremlins – with maybe a touch of Beetlejuice-era Tim Burton. While I didn’t find the antagonists particularly scary (although my companion did), the film does a nice job of building up tension. The humor, though, worked much better for me than the horror – particularly when it comes to Krampus’s minions.
Krampus is not the horror movie I was hoping for (but not really expecting, due to the PG-13 rating), but it was still a lot of fun. It’s destined to become a part of the holiday rotation for those of us who like a darker tone to our holiday fun.