So, earlier this week, I went to see the long-awaited Christmas horror film, Krampus, based on the Austro-Bavarian Legend of a horned demon who would punish naughty and spoiled children at Christmas time. In essence, Krampus is the dark counterpart of St. Nicholas.
On paper, the premise sounds great: A family, seeming to have lost the Christmas spirit, finds themselves being terrorized by Krampus and his evil minions. As is, the premise alone is enough to sell tickets and make for a half way decent seasonal horror film. However, the people behind this film have opted to go the extra mile to produce what I believe to be one of the most unique, entertaining, and most importantly, genuinely terrifying horror films in years.
Note: This review contains some spoilers.
The plot is pretty much what anyone who has seen the trailers would expect. An average suburban family is butting heads with their obnoxious in-laws, making fun of the younger kids for still believing in Santa Claus and all in all wishing they were all somewhere else.
The youngest son, Max, finally snaps and becomes disillusioned with the Christmas spirit and tears up his letter to Santa Claus, despite the warnings of his grandmother. By doing this, Max has inadvertently summoned Krampus and his evil minions to punish Max and his entire family. During this proverbial nightmare before Christmas, the family is brought closer together as they fight off their tormentors.
That plot, while containing unique elements is still a fairly cookie cutter and slasher, but I’d like to take this time to highlight some of the things that this film did right in order to make it stand out amongst its peers.
I Wanted the Characters to Survive
The first thing I’d like to comment on is the characters. Often times in films like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, there are a few characters who come off as obnoxious and are pretty much cannon fodder for Freddy and Jason. However, in this movie, while the characters have their flaws and are often incredibly nasty towards each other, each has their humanizing elements to the point where you genuinely want to see them all survive.
This is also helped by the casting of name actors like Adam Scott and David Koechner, both bringing the same charisma they bring to their more comedy oriented roles. An example I’d like to compare this to is the recent cinematic horror game until dawn, a game based on horror clichés where the object is to make sure all the characters survive until the end.
However, one character in particular is written to be so unlikable that most players I’ve seen intentionally aim to get her killed off. This, in my opinion is poor writing. True, not all of your characters need to perfect, but it’s still important to give us a reason not to want to see them offed by the monster, thus making the emotional impact stronger when they are.
Horror Elements in Krampus: Check!
Second, I would like to comment on the execution of the horror elements, which I think is the film’s greatest strength. While films like Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre invoke adult fears, like that of deranged maniacs and murderers, Krampus does a better job of invoking childhood fears.
Try to picture something from your childhood that disturbed you, something that didn’t bother anyone else and probably wouldn’t bother you as an adult but as far as your three or four year-old self was concerned, that thing was your worst nightmare. Here’s an example: Back when my family still decorated for Halloween, we had one decoration, a paper cut out of a black cat. I couldn’t tell you today what it was about that cat that I found so frightening, but at the time, for the whole month of October, I knew that every time I got up in the morning and made my way down the stairs, it’d be waiting for me, and the mere sight of it would be enough to stay in my nightmares.
Krampus perfectly recaptures that feeling of dread and terror. Krampus’s first appearance in the film demonstrates this perfectly.
The snowstorm is blinding, the daughter is all alone and looking for her boyfriend’s house. Suddenly she looks up and sees a the vague shape of a creature with horns. She stops short, not sure if it’s real or not. The creature stands up and bellows and suddenly the girl is overcome with terror. She runs for her life, but no matter how fast she runs, the creature does not fall behind but instead gets closer, until finally, the inevitable happens.
Those of you who have seen the film know exactly what I’m talking about, but for those of you who haven’t, read the above paragraph again, and focus very hard on the imagery that comes to mind. It sounds like I’m literally describing a nightmare, doesn’t it?
And that’s not even getting into the rest of the terrors in the film. From the killer Jack-In-The-Box that looks with the unholy offspring of the clown from Poltergeist and the giant worm monster from Men in Black II, to the evil elves with their unsettling masks. Finally, there’s Krampus himself.
While he remains a looming presence throughout the film, he is not full revealed until near the end and his appearance does not disappoint. Body wise, he is, of course, the massive horned demon that we saw on the rooftops earlier in the film. Face wise, on the other hand, is what really ties it together. It’s just monstrous enough to be frightening, but just human enough to be unsettling. Once again invoking childhood fears, this time bringing back disturbing memories of anyone who once was afraid of Santa Claus.
Why This Plot Works
So, what was the point of my gushing over this silly little movie in which a goat-monster Santa Claus and his Five Nights at Freddy’s Christmas Brigade terrorizes a white suburbanite family that hasn’t given each other enough hugs around the holidays?
Well, because when I describe the movie like I just did, it sounds completely ridiculous. However, when accompanied by good writing, solid acting, likeable characters and most importantly, a brilliant understanding of how to terrify people on a deep psychological level, even the silliest premise can become something brilliant. While it’s not perfect, not all of the jokes are hit their marks and I could have done without the Gremlins-esque killer gingerbread men, I think that this should be the new standard to which the horror and slasher genre should be held to. If you haven’t gotten a chance yet, I urge you all to see Krampus in theatres, just be prepared to have nightmares for the next month.
Did you see this movie? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments!