Believe it or not, American cinema in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s provided audiences with a sub-genre so mismatched, so specific, that it seems borderline absurd: Holiday-themed horror. I was worried that the days of such films were long gone. Alas, along comes Krampus in all of its mean-spirited glory, new and ridiculous to younger viewers who didn’t grow up on these flicks and a refreshing revival for the viewers who did. I could rattle off a list of the “classic” holiday horror movies, but the pinnacle of them is 1984’s Gremlins. Krampus would make the ideal double feature to Gremlins. Director Michael Doughtery has successfully made a piece of work that both acts as an homage to those movies, while proudly standing on its own.
For those unfamiliar with the legend, it’s easiest to describe Krampus as the anti-Santa. Krampus, celebrated in certain areas of Europe for more than 100 years, comes once a year to punish the bad children. This Krampus definitely makes good on tradition, racking up 98 minutes worth of naughty children paying their dues—along with the adults who spawned them. What brings Krampus to town this time, however, is a young boy who is fairly well-behaved, named Max (Emjay Anthony). Upon discovering his newest letter to Santa, Max’s terrible cousins relentlessly mock him about his belief in the big guy in red, leading Max to tear up the letter and throw it out his bedroom window. And with that one action, Krampus is called to work. Within minutes, Max and his entire family become stranded in their home by a blizzard, unaware of the terror(s) headed their way.
An ensemble cast that includes Toni Collette, David Koechner, and Adam Scott does a wonderful job of walking a fine line between, “This can’t really be happening,” and, “Oh my God, this is really happening!”
The movie doesn’t take long to swing into action. Max conjures the beast not long into the first act, providing plenty of time for chaos galore. As if Krampus himself wasn’t scary enough, he brings along a bag of deformed versions of familiar toys to help spread the holiday fright. There’s very little gore in Krampus but that doesn’t mean it’s short on scares—there are plenty of those from start to finish.
Krampus is tailored to families with a slightly morbid sense of humor who might be looking for some off-the-beaten-path fun this Christmas. It’s too scary for young children, but just scary enough for the pre-teen set on. If you’re tired of traditional holiday movies and you want something just dark enough that it puts a smile on your face, then Krampus is the perfect gift for you.