Director: Michael Dougherty

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Holiday

Release: 2015

The scariest thing about KRAMPUS is how much it misses the mark. Unfortunately, that’s also the funniest thing about it. Canadian wunderkid Michael Dougherty set out with noble intentions. Create a cult horror hit for a holiday (strangely) lacking in them. He had seen success in the past with TRICK R’ TREAT, a film that achieved more or less the same goal with Halloween by telling an anthology of stories featuring a ghostly trick-or-treater who punishes those who don’t follow Halloween traditions. Unfortunately KRAMPUS does not go down quite as easy, for a series of disappointing reasons.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the KRAMPUS premise. A stuck up German-American (this becomes important) family is forced to spend Christmas with their annoying cousins and drunk aunt. Family disharmony ensues, culminating in the crushing of one boy’s Christmas spirit and the summoning of St. Nicholas’s Shadow, Krampus. Now the family must put aside their differences to survive the invasion of their home by Krampus and a variety of his nasty friends. This is not a bad set-up for a film. In fact by combining the typical holiday themes with those of the home-invasion horror genre, it’s actually kind of inspired, inverting a lot of the positive imagery we associate with Santa Claus and by extension, Christmas. Where the wheels fall off is with execution. KRAMPUS doesn’t commit either to its comedic premises or its horror ones.

krampus us postal service

As every podcast will tell you, the real monster is the U.S. Postal Service

First off, comedy. KRAMPUS is filled to the brim with talented comedic actors. Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and Allison Tolman have all given funny performances in the past, so it’s strange, not unwelcome but strange, that KRAMPUS has them turning pretty fantastic dramatic turns. I truly believed in them as parents. Parents who would go to the ends of the earth to try and save their children. I was less on board when it came to them being witty banter partners. There are slapstick elements to how the family defends themselves during the invasion, but they just don’t land. KRAMPUS is not funny but tries very hard to win the audience over in the first place, never advancing its humor beyond the surface-level fat people jokes, drunk people jokes, and poor people jokes. It’s a shame, because KRAMPUS is a bizarre enough premise to support a lot of really out there humor. Dougherty and his writers just don’t take advantage of it.

Things don’t fair much better on the horror side. KRAMPUS isn’t scary; in fact, I think I might have jumped once during my entire viewing experience of the movie and it was from a jump scare, the cheapest form of horror thrill. A lot of this has to do with the film’s treatment of death. In 2015, a film that’s going to actually be scary can’t just kill characters willy-nilly without any weight. Death, in order for it to be scary, has to be treated with the same weight as death in real life: sparingly. KRAMPUS doesn’t do that. And without death having any weight, the other elements that KRAMPUS tries to lay on to bolster its fear factor don’t play. The grotesque monster designs are cool, but they don’t do anything but gross-out people. Endangering children is always a sure-fire way to up the tension, but KRAMPUS’s multiple twist endings do everything in their power undercut the stakes that having a single boy survive his whole family creates. It’s a bummer.

krampus individual hairs

Someone spent 12 hours putting each of those hairs in. Spooky.

To be fair, there are a few key elements that make KRAMPUS special, I just wish there had been more of them. It’s so refreshing to have a multicultural family treat bilingualism so casually. Having characters implicitly understand German and to have the grandmother (the best character in the film) speak German for almost the entire runtime was really great. It was also a nice way to lend credibility to the exposition and make the story more personal. The small animated backstory in which the grandmother explains her past with KRAMPUS was beautiful and showed such tremendous attention to detail, detail which I only wish had been extended to the writing of the film. The animation was just one example of tons of great production design choices littered throughout. From the practical effects to the monster design, KRAMPUS looked great. It just didn’t come together in any other way. The attention seems divided in the worst way: trying too hard to be both a comedy and a horror film.

The Krampus myth deserves better. Any story that features a goat-man beating naughty children with a switch and then strapping them to his back in a bathtub should get an equally weird movie. KRAMPUS simply doesn’t deliver. And that’s a shame, but maybe a lesson in simplicity. Sometimes the best course of action is to pick one course of action. You might get a better film because of it.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Ian Campbell is a guest contributor here at Crossfader. He wants you to like him just as much as he wants you to like the things he likes. He recommends you give Damon Lindelof a break.

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