While Krampus isn't exactly an “independent” horror film, I still found it necessary to review for a few reasons. One, it is the horror genres big offering for the holiday season. Two, it was written by Micheal Dougherty who is responsible for the cult, horror hit Trick r Treat. And three, it just looked awesome!
Krampus tells the story of Max, a pre-teen boy who wants Christmas to be like it used to when he was a younger child. While holding onto a belief in Santa Claus and the magic of the season, his family seems to have lost touch with the Christmas spirit. When relatives come to visit, the family dysfunction comes to a boil and Max loses hope and gives up on Christmas cheer thus unleashing the evil spirit of the holiday, the shadow of St. Nicholas, Krampus!
From the opening moments of Krampus, I knew I would love this movie. The opening credits play over slow motion filming of mad and frenzied holiday shoppers tripping over each other, trampling store employees, and fighting over items they want to buy. The silent scenes are accompanied by comforting Christmas music that plays over the juxtaposing crazed images. This opening sets the tone for the entire rest of the film: it's funny and terrifying, and brilliantly mixes a holiday horror story while relaying a classic Christmas message of family at the same time.
Krampus works so well because it is a a film that pays attention to detail. With a character based depiction of the average family, the stress and nostalgia of the holidays, and a blatant admiration for classic holiday movies, Krampus creates an atmosphere that almost every movie goer can relate to. A brilliant homage is paid to classic Christmas specials with a flashback sequence that is told using CGI that simulates the look of Rankin-Bass stop animation. The film also has the shadow of Gremlins hanging over it with the murderous little toys brought by Krampus squealing in high pitched mischievous giggles like the Gremlins themselves and the young Max (Emjay Anthony) resembling a young Zach Galligan.
The entire cast is spot on here and the comedy plays well within the horror. Adam Scott and David Koechner play off each other nicely as the two fathers with opposite view points on almost everything while Allison Tolman is very effective and funny in a subtle and strong performance. But it is the always great Toni Collette who stole the show for me. She plays the mother of Max as caring and sensitive and doing her best to have a nice holiday. But when the evil Krampus and his sack of killer toys come down the chimney, her performance takes on a tough edge that I found captivating.
Krampus moves at a quick pace and it doesn't take long for the horror to settle in. The film is filled with random, loud noises when Krampus comes to town that are truly terrifying! The sounds swirled around the theater like the snowstorm on the screen and filled it with roar like screams and bangs and thuds and stomps that sounded like an intensified and possessed version of Jurassic Park. Giant killer Jack-in-the-boxes, little murderous gingerbread men, demonic dolls, and ghoulish elves invade their house and fill the screen in a holiday horror masquerade massacre of a climax that is an absolute balls to the wall blast to watch. Computer graphics are blended well with the many practical effects to give Krampus and his tidings of evil the look of a 1980's creature feature while the music of the film reflected the mayhem and horror of the situation with a touch of evil playfulness.
With Trick r Treat and now Krampus, Micheal Dougherty is 2 for 2 with creating classic movies to represent a holiday. Krampus is a big movie in every way, big on fun, big on detail, and big on storytelling. I'll find my way back to the theater to see it again before Christmas and it will find it's way into my regular yearly rotation of holiday must watches!