Adam Scott in KRAMPUS | ©2015 Universal Pictures

Adam Scott in KRAMPUS | ©2015 Universal Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Stars:
Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler
Writers:
Todd Casey & Michael Dougherty & Zack Shields
Director:
Michael Dougherty
Distributor:
Universal
Release Date (theatrical):
December 4, 2015

While KRAMPUS is far from the first movie to use the mythic anti-Santa of legend as its villain, it’s arguably the best of the bunch, and indeed, up there with GREMLINS as a Christmas horror movie that deserves to become a tradition.

Krampus, for those who’ve never heard of him, is a figure who possibly predates Christianity, but certainly showed up in Germanic folklore alongside St. Nicholas. Unlike Santa Claus, Krampus punishes naughty children by hauling them away in his sack, to be eaten or thrown into Hell.

In a small, very snowy Midwestern town, the malls are erupting in terrible behavior (as we see in an opening montage). Young Max (Emjay Anthony) gets into a brawl at a Nativity scene with another boy who doesn’t believe in Santa. Max does, even though teen sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) thinks he should grow out of it. Dad Tom (Adam Scott) is distracted by work and mom Sarah (Toni Collette) is stressed out by the impending arrival of her sister Linda (Allison Tolman), Linda’s blowhard husband Howard (David Koechner), their four kids – and surprise guest Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), who criticizes everything. Tom’s mother, Grandma Omi (Krista Stadler), seems philosophical, but when Tom gets so demoralized that he rips up his annual letter to Santa, Omi gets solemn.

Then there’s a blizzard, a power outage, some very weird snowmen on the lawn – and then … well, no reason to spoil the details. Let’s just say that what starts as one more home for the holidays comedy turns into a horror film that has plenty of imagination and creative imagery. Gingerbread cookies factor in the action, there are eerie masks, possessed toys, and Krampus himself is a worthy figure of terror.

In one sense, KRAMPUS does follow the trajectory of a more traditional Christmas tale, with the characters learning the true meaning of family, bonding and putting others ahead of self – in the middle of fighting for their lives.

The movie also benefits from strong performances from Scott, Collette, the glorious Tolman (great to see her in a substantial role again after last season’s FARGO), Koechner and the acerbic Ferrell.

Director Michael Dougherty, who wrote the screenplay with Todd Casey & Zach Shields, knows how to convey all hell breaking loose, though sometimes he and the editors do so which such fervor that it’s impossible to tell what’s actually being shown in the shot. This aside, KRAMPUS is very well-paced, moving from comedy to fear to frenzy to human emotion to catastrophe in a fluid manner.

There is a bit of fudging as to why this is happening in this specific town, and a line about “It’s not what you do, it’s what you believe” seems really counterintuitive. However, the filmmakers are ingenious when it comes to their ending. Given the action and the tonal shifts, it looks at first as though they’re painting themselves into one sort of corner, then another, but they wind up with a finale that is just right, and darkly, delightfully original.

KRAMPUS won’t be the perfect Christmas present for everyone, but with its creepy visuals and twisty tale, it’s just the thing for those who like some monsters decorating the tree.

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