This review is part of my Yuletide Terror season where I am reviewing various alternative Christmas movies.
There’s a particular sub genre of horror that creates a very specific tone where you feel like you’re watching a family-friendly fantasy movie and a brutal horror at the same time. Different entries in this genre shift the balance between the fantasy fun and the more grim elements, such as the almost-family-friendly-but-a-bit-nasty Gremlins, all the way to the definitely-not-family-friendly-but-still-a-fantasy Pans Labyrinth. Either way, both of these movies remain favourites of mine in the way they touch on both my still strong childhood love of fantasy movies as well as my adult passion for horror movies. It seems to be the perfect fit, in the right hands, to make a Christmas themed movie that fits in this category, with the sentimentality of the season making a stark contrast against the darkness of horror. Michael Dougherty’s Krampus took on this challenge very recently, in 2015.
This fantasy/horror/comedy features Max, a little boy whose love of Christmas is tainted by the annual gathering of his dysfunctional family. When he allows his ‘Christmas spirit’ to die, as the rest of his family’s has long since done, it leaves room for Krampus, the dark alternate to Santa Claus to pay a visit. With a storyline that could have easily been drawn from a dark children’s book rather than a horror screenplay the film chooses the path of a true horror movie, with Krampus’ gifts to the family, and his eventual eventual visit being the centre of many gruesome setpieces, featuring awesome practical effects by Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop. Krampus’ ‘little helpers’ have some of the most original, creepy creature designs I’ve seen in a long time, and they work alongside the great visual style of the film that starts off like a perfect family Christmas movie before blending seamlessly with and morphing into pure horror movie. The cast are great, working with a script that is consistently very funny (only when it tries to be!), and actually genuinely affecting when called for. That brings me to the greatest strength of this film: despite the hilariously cynical opening sequence depicting the chaos and stress of Christmas shopping in a department store and the gory horror throughout the second and third acts, the core of this film is, without irony, a typical Christmas fable where a young boy & his family rediscover the meaning of Christmas.
The plot suffers from the typical half-way lag when it reaches the the “we have to form a plan” stage, but it picks up again quickly enough to an action-packed third act that doesn’t lose track of the plot and point of the movie. It’s become almost standard in horror nowadays, after the threat has been banished and the story has come to an end, to have a tacked-on final scene where it suddenly returns with a smash cut to black and the credits roll. This scene is at best corny fun in the right hands but more often than not I find it incredibly tiring. This film however returns to the old-fashioned technique of actually having a good final surprise up its sleeve. I shall say no more of course, but the ending of this film is certainly one of the most effective in modern horror and rounds up an incredibly entertaining Christmas horror movie that doesn’t betray the cosy tone that we have come to expect from films made for this time of year while simultaneously proving to be a very effective, scary and bloody horror movie with fantastic creature design. This will remain a staple for future Christmases for me I am quite sure.