Sunday, December 13, 2015


Premiered December 4, 2015

"Saint Nicholas is not coming this year.  Instead, a much darker, ancient spirit.  His name is Krampus.  He and his helpers did not come to give, but to take.  He is the shadow of Saint Nicholas." - Omi

It's December 22nd and the Engel family is preparing for Christmas.   Max (Emjay Anthony),  the family's youngest member, is having a hard time since many of his friends are convinced there is no Santa Claus and he still thinks there is.   His parents Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) are distracted and not connecting well with each other or their kids and his big sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) just wants to spend time with her boyfriend.   Only his German grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) seems to have time for him. 

Max finishing up his letter to Santa.
To make matters worse,  their extended family is coming to visit.  Sarah's sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her gun loving husband Howard (David Koechner) and their brood of children, plus Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) and their dog have come to share the holidays.   No one is very happy to see each other and family tensions keep anyone from having a good time.   Max's cousins Stevie (Lolo Owen) and Jordan (Queenie Samuel) pick on him about still believing in Santa.  They humiliate him by reading his letter with his wishes for his family aloud at the dinner table.   Max can't take it anymore, he fights with his cousins and snatches the letter away from them.   He runs upstairs to his room and rips the letter to shreds, throwing the pieces out of his window.    Christmas looks like it will be thoroughly unpleasant, just from the family dynamics. 

Overnight, a freak blizzard strikes their suburban neighborhood and knocks out the power and heat. No one else in the neighborhood seems to be around.   Creepy snowmen appear out of nowhere in the Engels' yard and a mysterious large bag of presents is delivered to their door.  

NOT Santa!!
Beth goes out to find her boyfriend and disappears.   Hours later,  Tom and Howard venture out of the house to try and find her, but instead encounter some kind of burrowing monster with sharp teeth! Howard nearly disappears as well, but gets rescued by Tom. They return to the house, deciding it is safer to hunker down with the rest of the family and ride out the storm.   

Omi tells them they should keep the fire in the fireplace hot.  It seems she knows more than she initially is willing to share about the ancient evil that seems to be stalking the family.   An Alpine demon called Krampus -- the anti-Santa -- has come to town! 

Will the Engel family live to see New Year?   They'd better watch out ... 

RigbyMel says: 

This is an interesting alternative to some of the more sentimental Christmas fare out there.   Be warned parents, it's NOT a movie for little kids!!   

Krampus is a real character from Alpine folklore and he seems to be having a bit of a popularity surge here in the U.S. of late.  Krampusnacht celebrations are cropping up all over the place, even right here in Richmond, Virginia.  Perhaps this is a reaction to the crass commercialization of the holidays? 

In traditional folklore Krampus punishes naughty children while St. Nicholas brings presents to the good ones.
Said commercialization is certainly a theme in Michael Dougherty's film.   The movie opens with the crassest of the crass modern holiday "traditions" a slow motion view of a Black Friday doorbuster stampede.  

Krampus exists to punish the bad while Santa (or St. Nicholas or Sinterklaass) looks out for the good ones.   There is certainly great potential for creepy, spooky, mischievous holiday horror hijinks a la 1984's Gremlins, and this certainly seems to be what Dougherty is going for with his take on Krampus.    Krampus and his minions (which include terrifying toys and demented gingerbread men) seem to delight in tormenting the Engel family for their lack of holiday spirit.    We even get a cool stop motion animated section, reminiscent of Rankin-Bass, in which we learn that Omi has encountered Krampus and his minions before.  

If you stick around through the closing credits there is also a rather cool Krampus-themed rendering of "Carol of the Bells".   You can have a listen via this clip: 

Unfortunately,  although Krampus was fun to watch,  I don't feel that it quite lives up to its potential. It feels like the punishments Krampus metes out in the film are out of all proportion to the actual crimes.   Teenaged big sister is the first to get taken and she seems to mostly be guilty of being ... a teenaged girl.   Poor Max's rash act of tearing up his letter to Santa (implying his lack of faith? belief?  what?) seems to be what summons Krampus in the first place.  However, based on what we know of the character, he seems to be a rather sweet, thoughtful kid who just got pushed a bit too far by his cousins' teasing and family tension.   What did the BABY cousin or the dog do to deserve being punished?   Personally, I'd much rather have seen Krampus wreck havoc on the Black Friday stampeders!  

I also found the deliberately ambiguous ending to be a bit of a let-down.

While there is definitely humor and spooky in this movie, it doesn't have quite enough of either to make it truly great.   This is a shame because the actors are appealing (especially Emjay Anthony as Max) and Krampus is an amazing piece of folklore.     Krampus is worth watching and may become a cult favorite in time, but it isn't quite a classic. 

RigbyMel's rating: 


2 and a half candy canes

J.A. Morris says: 

I'm in general agreement with RigbyMel about Krampus.  It's okay, but feels like it could have been better.

One problem I had was that with the exceptions of Max and Omi, none of the characters in this film are very sympathetic.  When Sarah sees that Omi has cooked dozens of  beautiful  Christmas cookies, she rolls her eyes and tells Omi that they just bought a bunch of cookies at the store.  Howard is generally boorish and rude to the Engels from the moment he arrives and does nothing to prevent his kids from bullying Max (Tom also seems oblivious to his son being bullied).  So when Howard is placed in jeopardy, I can't say I was very worried about him.

I was also bothered by the way Krampus and his minions are mostly kept in the dark.  Whenever I see this in movies, it makes me think that the filmmakers didn't think the special effects were good enough to show in good lighting.

But there are some positive aspects of Krampus.

There's a good scene where Max asks Tom why they have to spend time with relatives during the holidays, even if they hate them.  This is a question viewers of any age can relate to, since we've all had less-than-ideal Christmas visits with family members.

Aunt Dorothy is played by Conchata Ferrell.  Like myself, Ferrell is a graduate of Marshall University and she's enjoyed a prolific career as a character actress for four decades.  When I attended Marshall, Ferrell was appearing on L.A. Law and was a bit of a local celebrity.  I've followed her career ever since.  Ferrell has some of the funniest lines in Krampus and is a welcome presence, even if Dorothy isn't particularly likable.    

We get a scene where Howard gets attacked by a gang of killer gingerbread men.  I found this scene amusing and it gives David Koechner a chance to deliver one of the film's funnier lines.  The actors generally do a good job with the material they're given.

I'm not a big fan of recent horror movies.  But Krampus is worth seeing at least once, especially if you've overdosed on some of the more treacly holiday entertainment.

J.A. Morris' rating:


2 and a half candy canes.

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