D: Michael Dougherty / 98m
Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, Maverick Flack
If Krampus is someone (or something) you’ve never heard of before now, then you’re probably not alone. He (or it) is a figure from Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore, an anti-Santa who punishes those who’ve been wicked. Michael Dougherty’s movie isn’t the first to feature the creature – if you’re a completist you can check out Krampus (2012), Krampus: The Christmas Devil (2013), Krampus: The Reckoning (2015), and A Christmas Horror Story (2015) as well – but this latest incarnation is very different from all the rest in one particular respect: it’s less concerned with being a horror movie.
Of all the horror movies you’re likely to see in 2015, Krampus will always retain the distinction of being scare-free, relatively bloodless, and more interested in creating a mood it can’t fully sustain. It’s also keen to impress with its focus on the extended dysfunctional family that finds itself trapped in one home in the run-up to Xmas and besieged by the title character, his trusty elves, and a bag full of demonic toys. (These last elements sound great but hold that thought for a moment…)
The set up is simple enough: pre-teen Max (Anthony) still believes in Santa Claus, but the dismal, selfish attitudes of his mother’s sister’s family leads him to tear up his usual letter to Saint Nick and cast it to the wind. For this, a terrible snowstorm sets in, the other residents in the street disappear, and Krampus turns up to carry everyone off to whatever underground realm he’s come from. In the process, the two families who have little liking for each other learn to come together and defend themselves against the supernatural force that’s determined to make them suffer for being “naughty, not nice”.
What follows is designed to wring more laughs than scares or shocks from the material, and while the movie throws in a couple of sequences that are designed to leave the viewer perched on the edge of their seat, the threat is undermined by the makers’ determination not to upset their audience with too much blood and gore, or strangely, by making Krampus himself about as threatening as having your nails buffed. What is effective is a sequence set in the loft space where several of Krampus’s demonic toys attack Scott, Collette and Tolman, and it’s this that remains the movie’s stand out scene. But even then, the toys are too reminiscent of the puppets created by Full Moon Features, so much so that it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see Jester or Pinhead pop up at some point.
Elsewhere, Dougherty uses his cast to fairly good effect but makes several characters one-note or underwritten – Ferrell’s bitchy mother, Tolman’s perplexed-looking sister – while the budget keeps Krampus sidelined until the final fifteen minutes. His elves launch an attack on the house that seems more arbitrary than properly planned, and the inclusion of growing numbers of ugly snowmen in the house’s front yard is meant to be menacing but is more of a distraction. It all ends with the kind of narrative trickery that is more confusing than conclusive, and leaves the viewer scratching their head in bewilderment.
Rating: 5/10 – a valiant attempt to make a Xmas horror movie with a difference, Krampus lacks bite and a truly scary monster; needing a greater sense of peril to work properly, and less bickering between the characters, it’s a movie that runs out of steam far too quickly and never recovers from doing so.