Krampus Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Universal Pictures
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Written by Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey and Zach Shields
2015, 98 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on December 14th 2015
Adam Scott as Tom Engel
Toni Collette as Sarah Engel
David Koechner as Howard
Allison Tolman as Linda
You'd be hard-pressed to find many who could even name him this time in 2014, but Christmas 2015 was, without a doubt, year of the Krampus. As long as you don't count Star Wars. With not one, but two very good horror films in circulation – plus his own cheap rip-offs in The Reckoning and Christmas Devil – we find Krampus the anti-Santa Claus in the early stages of a career resurgence that you won't often find outside of a Tarantino picture.
The best of those two very good horror films, Krampus (the other being A Christmas Horror Story) pits awful parenting against supernatural Christmas villainy at an awkward family gathering, like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation meets a traditional cabin in the woods movie. Adam Scott and Toni Collette are the head of the Engel family, mom and pop to stoner Beth and bratty but good-hearted Max. As is Christmas tradition, they'll be hosting the in-laws Linda and Howard, plus their horrible children. The likeness to Christmas Vacation isn't just 'Thing meets Other Thing' review spiel either – David Koechner is a spot on version of Randy Quaid for our modern times, now that Randy is no longer with us (went insane).
The Christmas Vacation similarities don't end there, with a number of nods and winks to the National Lampoon festive classic that surely can't be coincidental. When the awful in-laws descend upon the Engel home, little Max snaps, tearing up his letter to Santa and losing what remains of his darling Christmas spirit. Enter Krampus, burying the neighbourhood beneath feet of snow and besieging the family with his gingerbread minions, creepy dolls and vicious elves. Soon, child and parent alike are being picked off one by one, dragged kicking and screaming into the darkness, under the snow and, um, up the chimney.
It's a streak of horror chaos entirely reminiscent of Gremlins; cheeky, violent and occasionally mean spirited, but always very funny. While it plays some elements with a straight face, when the comedy action beats hit, they hit hard. Koechner and Scott aren't asked to stretch themselves, the fun being in watching these two very recognisable faces and personalities tasked with defending themselves against Krampus's toy box. Koechner is in particularly fine fettle, with just enough warmth to his character to make one feel for him as his family is demolished and he's attacked by demonic gingerbread men (really) and creatures under the snow. There's not a dud performance here though, with even the kids doing some good work. Emjay Anthony shoulders the film well as Max, a role which could have destroyed everything with the wrong actor in it. Conchata Ferrell, meanwhile, steals her every scene as mean Aunt Dorothy.
Tapping into universal fears of horrible family gatherings, repulsive in-laws and shopping at Christmas (its opening sequence, set in a hellish supermarket, is a work of absolute genius), Krampus is an instant festive classic. A strong setup makes way for an action packed finale during which I grinned like a stupid goon for half an hour straight. Its Willy Wonka style punishments for stupid/naughty children plays on the Christmas theme better than any Krampus movie this year (its version of Augustus Gloop is particularly fantastic). Again, like Gremlins, it's remarkably free of gore and is almost family friendly, but is no less effective for it.
And of course, there's Krampus himself. Thankfully director Michael Dougherty forgoes the usual dull 'demon from Buffy' look, instead giving us an inverse Santa that's a joy to see in action. This is one of the best looking horror films of 2015, more than making the most of its Christmas setting.
Like all great Christmas films, the worst thing about Krampus is that you can only really watch it once a year. Unwrap this one as soon as you can and say hello to your newest Christmas viewing tradition.