On October 4th of 2007, the world was treated to Michael Dougherty’s delightfully twisted and funny Trick ‘r Treat, providing many with a new Halloween favorite to revisit throughout the ensuing years. Promptly, as these genre films tend to do, it found a massive cult fandom, years later spurring the production of a sequel announced back in October of 2013. Now, very fittingly, on the 4th of December, Michael Dougherty has returned his vicious hands to the fold and given us Krampus, evidence that his ability to turn the holidays into a hellscape of laughter and chills continues to burn bright.
Krampus plays up the horror far more and uses its comedy to establish a light, friendly tone that it then violently crushes into dust.
Krampus bases itself upon tales of, well, Krampus, a monstrous icon of old Alpine folklore. He generally possesses the horns and hooves of a goat, very reminiscent of pagan or satanic imagery, punishing “naughty” children and their families during the yuletide season by dragging them to hell, among other kinds of torment. He is the shadow of Saint Nick and the focus of the film, which follows Max, the youngest in a dysfunctional family, who accidentally summons Krampus to his home in the thick of a Christmas gathering rife with familial tension. During what follows, things go drastically awry, as members of the family are taken by Krampus and his exceedingly creepy minions. In the face of this terror, Max’s father (Adam Scott), mother (Toni Collette), aunt (Allison Tolman), and uncle (David Koechner) must stick together, stay vigilant, and protect their flock.
The cast does a fantastic job too, joining forces with Dougherty’s incredible direction and Jules O’Loughlin’s beautiful shots to produce shocking moments of dramatic and cinematic heft.
While Trick ‘r Treat was a horror-comedy through and through, Krampus plays up the horror far more and uses its comedy to establish a light, friendly tone that it then violently crushes into dust, and turns into a dementedly humorous one predicated on the insane events taking place. In fact, it’s Krampus’ minions, those (mostly) tiny, unempathetic, and demented little murderers, who most frequently unsettle the audience. But don’t think this means Krampus himself or his bigger minions are any less scary, because the smaller ones just as equally provide tense buildup that pays off whenever a big guy makes his presence known. One of them is not only one of the most terrifying creatures I’ve seen in recent years, it’s sure to permanently ruin Christmas for all kids who witness it. And when we eventually do see what’s under Krampus’ cloak, the scene feels instantly iconic. All of this is what the film does best. It provides us with small, unique moments that feel special, and then sweeps us off our feet with grandiose displays. Even the opening studio logos, frozen and set to ominous music, are pretty damn creepy. And did I fail to mention that 90% of the creatures are wholly practical, and devoid of horrible CGI? Because they are, and they’re awe-inspiring.
The cast does a fantastic job too, joining forces with Dougherty’s incredible direction and Jules O’Loughlin’s beautiful shots to produce shocking moments of dramatic and cinematic heft. Scott, Collette, Koechner, and Tolman are all strong, vulnerable, flawed, and lovable characters who kick ass about as frequently as they’re dumbfounded. Emjay Anthony, however, plays Max, and he gives a layered performance in which he must cycle through several emotions in single moments, doing so beyond the skill of his adult counterparts. They all, along with their supporting cast, give us a story of the importance and invaluable nature of familial love. It’s a primal love that transcends any hard feelings, always existing under the looming threat of ruin, but never willingly submitting. Krampus doesn’t ever deny this reality, providing us with an ending that’s satisfying, but doesn’t lie, and acknowledges looming realism personified in the mythic “Shadow of Saint Nick,” Krampus himself.
Honestly, it wouldn’t be far off to call Krampus a feat of modern genre filmmaking. Here we have a major studio film with the assured confidence of a B-movie, the production value of a tentpole blockbuster, the thematic power of something more, and the charmingly nostalgic qualities of old Spielberg-era favorites. It’s a love letter to creature features we hold near and dear to our hearts, it’s a thrilling blast of a time, and most of all, it’s Krampus.
Michael Dougherty has returned his vicious hands to the fold and given us Krampus, evidence that his ability to turn the holidays into a hellscape of laughter and chills continues to burn bright.