11th December: Krampus

Image: Universal Pictures

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy! 

Year: 2015

Director: Michael Dougherty

Writers: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, Todd Casey

Starring: Toni Collette, Adam Scott, Emjay Anthony, Allison Tolman, David Koechner

The first thing I did when I finished watching this film was to Google, ‘What happens at the end of Krampus?’ That is perhaps a sign of a poorly executed climax, or perhaps evidence of a film with enough intrigue and invention to throw in a curveball at the last minute. What is certain, however, is that I cared enough about the film to want to know what happened. I had become sufficiently invested in the characters and their plight that I wanted to know if they came out the other side.

Michael Dougherty’s film is based on an old-as-time Central European folklore about the sinister Krampus, a kind of malevolent Santa who punishes bad children and enacts revenge on those deemed to deserve it. In this recent film version, the big crime is to stop believing: believing in Santa, but more importantly believing in the ‘Christmas ideals’ of love, giving and selflessness. 11 films in, this rather familiar message is starting to wear a little thin, but that is no more Krampus‘ fault than any other film’s really, so I’ll give it a pass.

Dougherty’s imagining of the classic tale is one filled with incredibly obvious yet enjoyable satire, good clash-of-clans comedy and some thoroughly enjoyable horror. The scares here come mostly in the second half, with the first 45 minutes or so doing a good job of laying the groundwork in terms of character and thematic background. After young Max (Emjay Anthony) tears up his letter to Santa upon realising that everyone else has stopped caring and believing, a blizzard strikes the local neighbourhood, trapping Max, his parents and their extended family inside. Family members then, expectedly, start to go missing as Krampus works his evil magic.

This all sounds pretty depressing, and yes there is a bleak quality to this film, but it is also, make no mistake a hoot. I am pretty much a novice when it comes to horror films, and am only just starting to appreciate the genre recently. But even I can say with some confidence that Krampus is not the scariest film you will see. Instead, it owes an awful lot to Gremlins, providing an endless supply of well-designed creatures that play on Christmas traditions in a delightfully fun way. Krampus has a tension, certainly, and is scary when it needs to be, but most of the fun here is found in the OTT festive assault the family must survive.

A wonderful ensemble cast includes Toni Collette, Adam Scott and Allison Tolman, all bringing their known comedic skills to bear on a film that is more interesting in fun than anything else. It is the kind of film that shows you awful, tragic things and instead of wailing and wincing elicits a devilish grin, safe in the knowledge that you can’t be the only one who’s enjoying watching all this absolutely ridiculous carnage on screen. It’s a similar vibe to the masterful Scream, but without the genuinely chilling undercurrent.

The whole arc of the story is pretty predictable, and as I mentioned the messaging and social commentary is delivered with barely a hint of subtlety. But Krampus does the job: a very solid entry into the Christmas-horror sub-genre.

Where it Ranks

This is quite a tricky one. I flopped between thinking, ‘this is really pretty good’ and ‘this isn’t actually that brilliant a film, but I like it anyway’. The reality overall lies somewhere in the middle. As does the film on my ranking. I actually think I enjoyed this more than Gremlins, but that film’s influence on this is so obvious that it seems daft to rank Krampus as a better film, when it really does nothing new and exciting of its own, bar some delightful monster design. It’s so close between this and Home Alone as well; two vastly different films each with merits and flaws. I think Home Alone has probably endured for a reason, so it just pips it.

  1. Die Hard
  2. Klaus
  3. Arthur Christmas
  4. Elf
  5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  6. Gremlins
  7. Home Alone
  8. Krampus
  9. Nativity!
  10. The Holiday
  11. The Santa Clause

Andrew Young

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