‘Krampus’ Review | Do You Fear What I Fear…?

The problem with Christmas-themed horror movies is – depending on your personal preferences – either the Christmas part or the horror part. Christmas movies are bastions of wholesome family values, in which cynicism either plays no part or is triumphantly overcome by the closing credits. But horror movies are typically mean-spirited motion pictures that tap into the darkest portions of our collective soul. Two great tastes, but even the rat from Ratatouille would have trouble making them taste great together.

So we typically end up with either one extreme or the other. It’s either Silent Night, Deadly Night viciously impaling old-fashioned Christmas archetypes (literally) or The Nightmare Before Christmas, which may be a teensy bit ghoulish but is nevertheless a film that most parents are comfortable showing to their kids. In other words, these films generally focus on appealing to either the hardest of hardcore horror fans or to hardcore holiday fans, and the venn diagram overlap between those two groups probably isn’t necessarily the biggest one ever.

Which is why Michael Dougherty’s creepy and Christmasy Krampus is a holiday treasure: it’s an uplifting film in which a family rediscovers the true meaning of the season, but only by fighting off a horde of violent monsters. Have yourself a merry little Christmas… or else.

Related: The Nine Most Magical Movie Santa Clauses

Emjay Anthony stars as Max, a kid who still believes in Santa Claus and hopes St. Nick will bring his family together for Christmas. (Max wrote him a letter about it and everything.) But when his extended family comes for a visit, and his household implodes like many a household does in late December, he becomes jaded and wishes instead for their immediate destruction. And of course, be careful what you wish for, because the demonic spirit of Christmas is real and he will fuck your family’s shit up if you ask him to.

The first act of Krampus could be any Christmas movie. Heck, it damn near rips off the beginning of Home Alone, except instead of wishing his family away, the young hero wishes for pain. But once the horror begins it begins in earnest, with family members fleeing a giant horned Kringle throughout the neighborhood, shotgunning a yuletide Graboid in the snow, and eventually doing battle with horrific bastardizations of classic Christmas toys. Michael Dougherty keeps all the pieces of his nasty nativity scene a secret until just the right time to reveal them, and when he does Krampus goes completely chestnuts, roasting all of our holiday traditions with the fires of Hell.

And yet as spooky and horrifying as Krampus gets – and it gets super-duper spooky – Dougherty wisely conforms to Christmas movie conventions as well. Adam Scott and Toni Collette play Max’s parents, whose marriage is strained by the patriarch’s lost priorities, and who find each other again by struggling against adversity. Their extended family, including David Koechner and Allison Tolman, are annoying houseguests whom everyone learns to love by the closing credits. Whether or not they all survive long enough to enjoy these valuable lessons is another matter entirely. 

Krampus is the real deal: a great Christmas movie and a great horror movie, gruesome but loving, naughty but nice. It’s a tricky recipe but Dougherty gets it just right with a masterful sense of tone, and a careful balance of malevolence and good cheer. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fright.

Photos: Universal Pictures

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.


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