Director: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey and Zach Shields
Running Time: 98 mins
Release date: 4th December 2015
In a season when the schmaltz comes out in bucket loads, how refreshing it is to have a very black comedy horror that really captures the true meaning of Christmas. Not many films have managed that cross over of taking the traditional, turning it on its head and giving it a violent shake. Gremlins did it magnificently, while Bad Santa went straight for the bad taste jugular, and worked. Now comes Krampus, a tale of a family from hell and gives them the kick they deserve in the form of a legendary character from Alpine folklore.
Tom and Sarah are struggling with their marriage, have a young boy, Max, who still believes in Santa Claus, yet is always fighting, while Sarah’s sister, Linda, and her dysfunctional family are coming round to spend the holiday. When Max is humiliated by his cousins, he tears the letter up he has written to Santa and throws it out the window, not wanted his wishes of harmony to come true. What he doesn’t know, in my giving up on the spirit of Christmas, he has unleashed the shadow of St Nicholas, a giant hoofed being who will make their yuletide celebration into a nightmare.
Based on an idea suggested by Christoph Waltz, who shared the strange celebration that Krampus has in his native Austria, this is the closest film yet to the same tone of Gremlins, that of a darkly comic tale of rampaging creatures during the holiday period. Director and co-writer Michael Dougherty, who directed the horror Trick ‘r Treat, has taken the elements of a good, old-fashioned shocker and thrown in some very black humour and moments where you find yourself laughing and feeling guilty afterwards.
We get a film full of bickering families, having to bond together in order to survive the snow storm that has suddenly engulfed them, along with something nasty that is lurking on the rooftops and in the attics. Dougherty has fun by borrowing from familiar horror films like Poltergeist and The Thing, mixes in some nicely tense sequences where you expect something grisly to happen, yet thankfully has the good sense to leave plenty of moments to the imagination.
It’s not perfect in any sense and you often find yourself hoping they push the boundaries just a little more but the cast give the material enough energy and attack to make it fun. Adam Scott, whose career was heading for a nose-dive after the terrible Hot Tub Time Machine 2, has redeemed himself as the father, while Toni Collette always gives solid performances, even when the material is this silly. David Koechner and Allison Tolman, from TV’s Fargo, make for a delightfully grubby double act.
It might not be up there in the same league as Gremlins but it at least wants to bring something fun to this time of year, which isn’t about families getting along or redemption. The ending is also incredibly satisfying and refuses to conform with traditions. Krampus is perfect fare for those who hate Christmas and who want something darker. It could be that, in a few years time, it will be recognised as a decent Christmas movie and will come out every year along with Gremlins, Die Hard and It’s A Wonderful Life.