Mixing a horror film with comedy is not an easy task. Throw in a little holiday joy and your chances at success are slim. However, this season we’ve been dealt just that with Krampus (2015), a bold attempt at bringing the legend to life in a whimsical way with just a dash of Bing Crosby. Surprisingly, the results are quite good.
Before I discuss the new movie, I think a brief history lesson of just who Krampus is may be in order. Now, its true origins are debated but it is believed to date as far back as pre-Christian paganism, most likely with its roots in Germany. Krampus is a horned and hooved beast with a long tongue that punishes misbehaving children. He carries chains, sometimes with bells, that some believe to represent the binding of the Devil. Essentially, the total opposite of good ol’ Saint Nick. At one point, Krampus was a forbidden subject in many parts of Europe. However, at the turn of the century, Krampus resurfaced and is, perhaps, more popular now than ever before.
Krampus (2015) is the most publicized of films based on the legend released in the last several years. No less than five other films have been released with at least another two planned for next year. However, this flick from Universal is the biggest yet with a notable cast and a budget to back it up. Rather than go with a full-fledged horror movie, director and writer Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, X-Men: Apocalypse) opted to throw in a little humor. This proved to be the smart move as straight horror films tend not to do very well during the holidays.
The cast has some recognizable actors, such as Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) and Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) who star as Tom and Sarah Engel, a couple who have drifted apart. Their children are Max, who still believes in Santa Claus, and Beth, who is more interested in spending time with her boyfriend. Of course, the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a bunch of unwanted visiting relatives. You have the lecherous and overbearing Howard (David Koechner, Anchorman) and his brood, along with the politically incorrect Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men). A typical dysfunctional lot that push young Max over the edge, resulting in him tearing up a letter to Santa. Unfortunately, that act unleashes Krampus and opens the gates for hell on Earth.
In quiet observance of the holiday mess is Grandma Omi (Krista Sadler). She has witnessed the terrors of Krampus before and knows what is coming. The backstory between Krampus and Omi is told through an interesting animated sequence that is a highlight of the film. She tries to protect the family but they have sealed their own fates. When an epic winter storm traps the family at home, what follows is a series of murders from killer gingerbread men, an evil clown headed jack-in-the-box and a crazed teddy bear. And, of course, elves. Just don’t expect Hermey to show up and sing songs about becoming a dentist.
I found Krampus to be very entertaining. It was scary without the gore, which some will argue is needed but I felt it was fine without it here. There is plenty of humor to lighten the mood as the family is picked off one-by-one in a warped cat and mouse playful way. And Krampus is particularly evil looking. He is described as Saint Nicholas’ shadow, only coming into full display during the final confrontation with young Max. His face is never revealed, hidden by a particularly disturbing Santa Claus mask.
The ending is up for interpretation. Was it all a dream? Were they all saved after learning their lesson? Or are they all trapped for eternity in a snow globe under the watchful eye of Krampus? It’s up for you to decide. If you want something a little different this holiday season, watch the trailer for Krampus then head out to the theater. I enjoyed it and I think you will too.