Review: ‘Krampus’ Delivers Plenty of Seasons Beatings

Adam Scott in holiday horror film "Krampus"

Forget Santa, Better Watch Out for Krampus

It’s no secret in the past few years, Krampus has experienced a much-needed cultural resurgence. From Christoph Waltz explaining Krampus to Jimmy Fallon a year ago to shows like American Dad, inserting him into a comedic vignette, Krampus is popping up much more frequently.

For those not up on their European mythology, Krampus is an anthropomorphic figure from Alpine folklore, who used to pal around with St. Nicholas during the Christmas season. While St. Nicholas would reward good children with love and presents, Krampus takes on the flip side. Tasked with punishing the bad ones, the horned goat creature is awfully handy at beating children with sticks, even transporting the worst to Hell.

It’s only fitting now that Krampus makes his on-screen debut. Krampus starts out, playing the typical holiday film beat by beat. The opening credits sequence hammers home how chaotic holiday shopping can be. Customers grumble beneath their breath having to wait in the long lines. Others fight tooth and nail for hot items, nearly tearing one another apart.

For young Max (Emjay Anthony, Chef), that’s just the start of putting his faith in Santa and the holidays to the test. At home, his family (Adam Scott, Toni Collette and Stefania LaVie Owen) are preparing for the idiot relatives coming to vist. Think the cousins from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with the jerk level cranked up tenfold. Dinner’s not exactly a picnic either. Scott and his in-law Howard (David Koechner) bicker over how dry the bird is. And Collette tangles with his wife in the kitchen. Max’s spirit breaks when his cousins humiliate him at the table, mocking his handwritten letter to Santa. Heartbroken, Max rips up the letter.

Matters take a turn for the worse when the neighborhood is snowed in and the power is cut. So much for holiday cheer. Krampus quickly evolves into something much sinister at hand. Despite all the petty complaining earlier, the two families are forced to put all grievances aside to survive the affair and not be picked off one by one.

For a solid portion of Krampus, we’re kept in the dark about the true nature of what’s happening. Krampus jumps from rooftop to rooftop, rattling chains and growling. The tease is ongoing, leaving the audience wondering what does this thing actually look like and what does it want. Krampus plays more of a behind-the-scenes puppetmaster with less time on screen than one would expect. The mythology is glossed over as well outside of brief history lesson late in the film. The movie’s called Krampus after all.

Writer and director Michael Dougherty is no stranger to twisting holiday films into horror treats. With his Halloween anthology, Trick ‘r Treat, Dougherty brought a fresh sense of horror wit without delving into a gratuitous bloodbath. While not as fresh, Krampus tackles the same approach, focusing more on the buildup of noises and a handful of jump scares topped off with serviceable family drama. With its PG-13 rating, Krampus doesn’t feel the need to go the extra mile with violence, reeling it in at every corner.

Dougherty is just thematically integrating one of his previous films into Krampus, but also paying homage to such horror staples like Carpenter’s The Thing, Kubrick’s The Shining and heavily with Gremlins. When the film starts to give off its home invasion vibes, there’s some ridiculousness with Krampus’ minions, who end up doing most of the grunt work for the goat demon. Let’s just say you’ll never look at gingerbread men the same way ever again. But it’s all tongue-in-cheek to say the least. And props to the production department for mixing practical and CGI effects during the mayhem.

While meta terrifying at times and utterly hysterical at others, Krampus owns up to having some heart present, anchoring around Max’s seasonal struggles. A rarity to say the least, but with an occasional cynical approach towards the holidays as a whole, positivity and Christmas spirit are exactly what will keep the darkness away for a little bit that is.

For those tired of the same old upbeat holiday films year after year, Krampus is a thrilling alternative that follows suit with other holiday horrors like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Black Christmas. Put him on your nice list. Otherwise, beatings.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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