I have no German ancestry (that I know of), but for some reason the Krampus myth fascinates me. Maybe because threatening naughty children with being stuffed in a basket and getting hauled off to be eaten seems more effective than putting coal in their stockings (or whatever parents do nowadays. Fewer presents? GASP).
Billed as Saint Nick’s darker sidekick, Krampus has been all but forgotten here in the New World, which is a pity. Over in Eastern Europe they have annual Krampus Runs, something I’d dearly love to see (apparently a group was invited to LA last year, so I may get my chance). I’d also love a Living Dead doll, but they’re ungodly expensive.
So I was fairly excited when I became aware of a new Krampus movie. The trailer left me with mixed feelings, however. My expectations were optimistically middling.
Unfortunately I missed the news that this is a “horror comedy.” Traditionally I don’t get along well with those, and in fact I’m always irritated when I get tricked into watching one (the only one I’ve ever enjoyed was Shaun of the Dead, which is the only one I feel succeeded equally at both genres). Krampus is, sadly, no exception to this track record.
Mild spoilers, to be sure.
It starts (and truthfully ends) very promisingly; it’s all the silliness in the middle I could do without.
It actually begins borrowing very heavily from a far better Christmas movie, The Ref, with your typical unpleasant family get-together with very un-holiday sniping. The Ref was mean-spirited but bitingly funny. This family is just mean.
Max, the kid, wishes they didn’t even have Christmas because they’re so awful, and this apparently is enough to invoke Krampus (wait, what? What about just plain naughty kids?)
I guess this is my first quibble–in this universe, “losing the Christmas spirit” is the trigger (it also happens in the grandmother’s expository flashback to the winter her family can’t even afford to eat, so Krampus comes for her parents, which seems a bit harsh when they’re clearly already having a shitty year). That’s not how Krampus works. That’s not how any of this works.
So anyway. The mother of all blizzards hits and they lose power. This was very Thing-like, very 30 Days of Night, a horror movie scenario I’m quite fond of: the isolation, the cruel elements, the transformation of the environment into an eerie, alien hellscape.
The teenage sister decides to try for her boyfriend’s house, and that’s when things start looking up: through the swirling snow and wind whipping her face, she spots a huge, vaguely horned figure staring at her from a rooftop. When she runs, it chases, leaping roof to roof pretty terrifyingly. It corners her under a van, where all we can see are enormous cloven feet and ominously dragging chains. I let my hopes get up ever so slightly.
If you can’t tell, my optimism was premature. Apart from creepy snowmen that keep appearing in the yard, closer and closer to the window (but no one knows who’s building them, spooooooky…), Krampus’ arrival is preceded by his minions which are, I kid you not, killer gingerbread men. And a killer teddy bear that might have escaped from Nightmare Before Christmas. And a killer jack-in-the-box clown with a disarticulating jaw for swallowing people whole (which came the closest–but not quite–to scaring me. This is a horror movie, isn’t it?).
The family fights off these laughable menaces for what feels like an interminable second act of the movie that I just couldn’t wait to be over because I was very impatient for the star.
FINALLY only the wizened grandmother is left to face the monster from her childhood. And his entrance is pretty grand, splitting the fireplace down the middle as he emerges slowly, larger than life. In fact, it reminded me a LOT of the first time we see Darkness step out of the mirror in that 80’s classic, Legend (and I’m starting to see a pattern of having a thing for men with huge horns).
Meh. A departure from the traditional look, but variations are allowed.
My hopes were back up again. Short-lived, as it turns out. Because, despite looking impressive, he wasn’t very scary in action. Maybe because his face literally didn’t move so it looked exactly like a mask. And if he carried people off, he didn’t have a basket on his back and it was done in a blurry dark confusing way that kept you from seeing anything. Because this is a family movie and we don’t want to scare the kiddies TOO much (pussies. We saw Jaws in the theater and were properly scarred for life, the way a horror movie should do).
But thankfully we don’t have long to fret about how fake the titular character looks because, now that he’s on screen at last, the script suddenly runs out of ideas. As if they said, “Okay, you got what you came for. Nothing more to see here, move along.” Ten minutes later the credits roll. Well, BALLS.
(I won’t give away the twist ending (because EVERY movie needs a twist these days), in case anyone still has the slightest urge to see for themselves. It wasn’t terrible, but certainly didn’t redeem the rest of the movie by any stretch.)
I’m annoyed I got lured in to some extent by Toni Collette, who surely has her pick of scripts (as well as Allison Tolman, who was outstanding in season one of “Fargo” and whom I felt sure was headed for great things). I’m more annoyed that the special effects were done by Weta, the masterminds behind the Lord of the Rings films; clearly their magic is restrained by budget, so I guess can’t be blamed entirely. But it’s like being tricked into seeing a movie by the “from the producers of (a really great movie)” line (producers pay for things, they aren’t the creative ones).
My suggestion is you watch the episode of “Grimm” featuring Krampus; much scarier and better done (not sure if you need the whole series to enjoy one ep, but at least you only sacrifice 42 minutes rather than 100).
There are worse movies, of course. I was inspired to track down another title, Krampus: The Reckoning. (True story: my second wi-fi band is called “The Reckoning” because I think it’s that funny when sequels use that phrase.)
I had even lower expectations here, so I wasn’t at all disappointed. This one makes the one above look like a high quality biopic and is loaded with Mystery Science Theater potential. Basically Krampus (which looks even less traditional) is summoned with a voodoo doll to take out “bad people”; again, not how Krampus works. This movie also has a twist that I saw coming about thirty minutes in, yet I was compelled to watch the whole thing anyway. Don’t make the same mistake.
Hopefully Krampus is the new zombie and we’ll get a deluge for the next few years (I’m kidding. However, I wouldn’t say no to just one well done and actually scary interpretation).