Krampus – Review
A boy who has a bad Christmas accidentally summons a festive demon to his family home.
It’s day 23 of our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror Feature. That can mean only one thing, there are just a couple of days left until Christmas. For today’s review we are looking at the horror comedy Krampus. Now, I don’t want you to get it twisted here. There are a few Krampus movies doing the rounds. Most of them are shockingly bad. This is the “Hollywood” Krampus and is actually a pretty fun watch.
Focusing on the Bavarian folk legend who is said to punish naughty kids at Christmas. After a family cause one of the young members to lose his festive spirit. The horned beast comes to terrorise the ungrateful bastards. Featuring an all star cast, Krampus feels fairly big budget. The film doesn’t lean too heavily into its horror themes. It is sort of a Gremlins for the modern age. Without further ado, let’s take a look. I’ll give a quick spoiler free breakdown which you can skip if you like.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. Check back every day of December for something new.
Krampus – Synopsis
Directed by Michael Dougherty. Krampus focuses on an awful family being stalked by a judgmental folk legend. It is Christmas and the Engel family are due to spend the holidays together. Apparently extremely rich, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Colette) Engel are hosting. Making preparations for the arrival of their relatives. The pair seem to ignore their son Max (Emjay Anthony). Max wants the family to do all of their usual Christmas traditions. One of which is watching Charlie Brown. Tom and Sarah are far too busy, however, leaving Max disappointed.
The family begin to arrive. One by one, the house fills up with kids, miserable adults and dogs. Tension grows and Max is feeling more and more dejected. Being a huge fan of Christmas, he has wrote his letter to Santa. Unfortunately, his nasty cousins have found it and decide to read it at the table. Feeling embarrassed, Max heads off to his room. Claiming he hates Christmas, he rips the letter up.
The next day, the family awake to find the power is out. A massive storm has hit the town. The streets are covered in snow and the town is freezing. Tom and Sarah’s daughter Beth is concerned about her boyfriend. She goes out to find him but, while walking the streets, she notices something. Crossing the rooftops appears to be a figure. It seems to be stalking her. Could the family be about to pay for their lack of festive spirit?
Big Budget Christmas Horror
Honestly, Christmas Horror movies are fairly rare. It seems like a strange thing to say when featuring a bunch of them on a review site. It seems even stranger when two new ones were released this year. I can’t help but get a little excited, however, when I see a big budget Christmas horror hit the market. It’s always nice to see and Krampus is exactly that. It is big budget and has a team of renowned horror film makers behind it. Michael Dougherty directs and he is supported by a fantastic cast of Hollywood stars.
Aiming to collar the younger market. Krampus is the type of PG-13 horror that is perfect to throw on at Christmas. It’s not aiming to be too gory but does want to scare the viewers. It is much like the excellent Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark in that respect. Still, the backbone of the film is the awful Engel family and their constant disputes. The group are meeting up for Christmas and it seems few of them get along. Leading to a bunch of laughs. The family’s interpersonal issues are the entire reason for Krampus to even show up.
Max is the youngest member of the family and adores Christmas. Still believing in Santa Clause, he writes him a letter. Wanting to partake in all of the usual festive fun that have become traditions in his house. The obnoxious family won’t stop arguing. His somewhat horrible cousins find his letter. They mercilessly tease him for believing in Santa. Distraught, Max rips the letter up. This prompts Krampus to come and sort the ungrateful family out.
A Strong Comedy Focus
Naturally, given the scenario, the comedy plays a huge part here. The Engel house is absolutely packed. Patriarch of the family Tom wants to try and put on a decent Christmas celebration. Him and wife Sarah are incredibly stressed but he feels it is his duty. In scenes reminiscent of the excellent Christmas Vacation. The family crowd into the house together and, almost immediately, the issues begin. The personalities of the family members clash. There are kids running around, pet dogs, and even unexpected guests.
Squabbles between the different family members lead to many laughs. Aunt Dorothy is a particularly abrasive character with a sharp tongue. She will definitely have you chuckling in a few scenes. Her relationship with Tom and Sarah has been distant and she isn’t afraid to remind them. It feels like a familiar setup for a Christmas movie. For a horror, though, it is quite different. The mix of characters lends a somewhat festive feeling to everything. We all know the stress of a full house at this time of year. The comedy plays heavily on this. It provides a fun distraction while waiting for the horror to start. After all, it does take the horror awhile to get going.
A Snow Storm Roles In
It isn’t until a massive blizzard roles in and the power goes out that the horror starts. The tension of Christmas with the family is replaced by a new threat. The one of being snowed in with no heating or electricity. Strange things begin to happen. One of the family members doesn’t return home when she is supposed to. This leads Tom and Sarah to risk the blinding snow to look for her. It’s actually fairly tense stuff. For much of the runtime we only see Krampus as a distant figure. Moving swiftly around the rooftops. The scares come more from the suggestion of him being there. On top of that, you don’t know what he is planning to do.
The thick snow and poor visibility offer characters a sense of vulnerability. The family begin to realise they are under attack and board up the house. That doesn’t stop the threat, however, and things become worse and worse. The family realise they need to escape, no matter the cost. Much like Gremlins, this is a movie that uses the wintery setting to its advantage. The cold landscape feels unwelcoming. The characters have to huddle inside for warmth. Constantly under threat. The house becomes more claustrophobic as they begin to sleep in the same rooms.
Actually Quite Scary
For a PG-13 horror movie. Krampus really does a good job of creating an atmosphere of tension. A few of the scenes are legitimately effective in their portrayal of horror. While it never goes too far with violence or gore. The mere suggestion of what might happen builds some amazing suspense.
This honestly surprised me given the type of film it is. It is a great reminder that you don’t need to go all out horror to scare people. There is no need for tons of blood and violence. A character being followed in the street by something she can’t see is super tense. The snow storm makes her feel incredibly exposed. Despite how much she looks around, she can’t tell what is stalking her. Krampus, in parts, does a genuinely great job with the horror element. It doesn’t always work, however.
Maybe A Few Missteps?
Scenes featuring festive character favourites gone rogue don’t work so well. I don’t want to spoil it so I won’t go into detail. Think things that you would see around the holiday season. Except they are murderous and out for blood. These parts feel like they would be more at home in Shrek. They really don’t work and rob those bits of the film of any tension. I understand what the makers were going for putting them in. I just think it is poorly targeted. Kids would love it, others? Maybe not so much. I get that this is a comedy but I didn’t find myself laughing too much at these parts, either.
It wouldn’t be so bad if these things didn’t occur throughout. I think the movie should have focused entirely on Krampus as the antagonist. The scenes with him are full of suspense and he is a genuinely imposing figure. We don’t need him having an entire army of far less menacing things to do his bidding. Still, as I mentioned above, this is a movie with Gremlins very much in mind. That feeling of chaos and silliness goes hand in hand with Xmas horror. I do think a lot of people will really enjoy these parts. They just didn’t work for me, however.
A Nice Looking Picture
Cinematography is what you would expect for a high budget Christmas horror. Shots are really nicely done. Inside scenes feel suitably moody to reflect the chaos in the house. Outdoor shots are decent with scenes during the snowstorm being particularly effective. The camera perfectly gets across the character’s complete inability to see. I enjoyed the glimpses of Krampus, as well. Sometimes less is more, especially early on in a horror movie. I wasn’t a big fan of the camera’s tendency to follow characters. It felt a bit jarring at times. I prefer a somewhat static shot or a smooth glide along with the subject. This felt hand held and pretty cheap to be honest. It’s a very mobile picture and can feel rather chaotic.
Lighting and set design is really good. There is heavy use of darkness to build tension. While being a bit sparse on the festive feeling. There are a few scenes that stand out. The Christmas lights aren’t present in abundance. But character’s faces lit by an open fire, in one scene, look fantastic. It offers a warmness to the picture that is somewhat lacking in earlier parts of the movie. Later parts of the movie are noteworthy for their interesting sets. There is an other worldly feeling to it. It is impressive for how starkly different it is from what preceded it.
Fantastic Practical Effects and Acting
Practical effects are excellent. It is great to see a Hollywood movie eschewing the tendency to go with CG. Practical always looks better and is very effective here. Krampus, in particular, looks incredibly imposing. The later scenes are an absolute treat. There are some fantastic creature designs and some genuinely great horror characters. The last 15 minutes are not what you would expect from a PG-13 horror movie. They are an absolute visual feast, though.
Acting is great throughout. This is a well known cast. Adam Scott, Toni Colette, David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell are all tons of fun. Most of them play mean characters and seem to have a great time scowling. Seth Green drops in with a voiceover role and Luke Hawker does a fantastic job as Krampus himself. The kids here are all fine. Emjay Anthony puts on a sympathetic performance as youngest family member Max. His contribution to the last part of the movie is fantastic and feels very genuine.
A Few Negatives
As far as negatives go, Krampus doesn’t have any particularly glaring ones. It is pretty lacking in Christmas spirit given the theme. I am sure that is partly the point, though. There is a distinct lack of typical Christmas tropes. For much of it’s length it really just feels like a winter movie rather than a Christmas one. The comedy is going to be a bit hit or miss. It is based on family disputes. Having said that, it is nowhere near the level of something like Christmas Vacation. It will give you a chuckle here and there but not much else. Characters are, for the most part, very unlikeable. Again, this is deliberate. It can be tough to invest in a movie with such an unlikable cast, though. It definitely bears mention.
The biggest negative here is the ending. After everything that happens during the movie. It can feel a little bit unsatisfying. It is one of those endings that is a proper culmination of the story but doesn’t feel like one. Aside from those minor quibbles, though, Krampus is a great movie. It is fun, quite scary, and absolutely worth your time over Christmas. It is suitable for younger family members and features excellent practical effects. What’s not to love?
Is it a Knockout?
Krampus is a good old fashioned Christmas Horror Comedy in the vein of Gremlins. Lots of fun, it follows the story of the horned beast of Bavarian legend as he punishes a family lacking in festive spirit. Featuring a fantastic cast and amazing practical effects. This is a horror movie that is suitable for many ages. It does have a few scarier scenes and some genuine moments of tension. It never sinks too far into violence or gore, though. The comedy can be a bit hit or miss and the characters are mostly unlikeable. That's sort of the point though. Krampus needs to punish them. A lacklustre ending can leave you feeling a bit disappointed. Still, this is a great option for fun, festive, family frights.