1 hours, 38 minutes
Let’s get one thing out of the way. By the time you read this article, you will have completely forgotten the movie it references even exists. It’s not just that “Krampus” has been out for a few weeks now and is ready to move on to secondary markets, or even that “Krampus” just isn’t all that good. The day this review runs is Thursday, December 17, the day the general public finally gets to see the new “Star Wars” movie. “The Force Awakens” is destined to break all kinds of records and people are already betting on whether it will be the greatest “Star Wars” film of all time, or merely the second best.
I can’t criticize. I’m right there with them. Hope springs eternal, despite the crushing disappointments of the last set of these movies. Heck, I’ve had my ticket for over a month and I’m already trying to figure out when I can go for a second time. But, with a clear understanding that the movie I’m discussing is made completely irrelevant by the coming onslaught, I suppose we should discuss it, on the off chance that, in a few months, you see it in the video store and remember, “oh yeah, there’s that evil Santa monster movie that came out right before ‘Star Wars.’ I wonder if that was any good?”
The answer: unfortunately, not really.
It’s a real shame that “Krampus” isn’t better because it’s got a killer pedigree and a great concept. The director, Michael Dougherty, isn’t a household name by any means, but the guy should really be making more movies than he does. Though he’s done some writing, primarily on a couple of the “X-Men” movies, his only real claim to fame is the brilliant horror anthology film, “Trick ‘r Treat” which features a batch of interconnected Halloween stories that all take place over one haunted evening in an idyllic little New England town. If you like scary movies that are well-written and funny, despite being really pretty terrifying, you’ve got to check that film out.
“Krampus,” based on the northern European tradition of a dark spirit who punishes bad boys and girls at Christmas, an anti-Santa, if you will, has just the right potential for a mix of holiday humor and high concept horror that it would seem perfect for Dougherty. A sad little boy has to put up with his odious relatives at Christmas and in a fit of bitterness, accidentally invokes a much less jolly old elf. That set up is exactly what the movie delivers, but with several unfortunate missteps.
For one, the family humor elements are too mean. This is a PG-13 film, so there is a moderate amount of language, but still the emotional cruelty perpetrated by the house-guests is less funny than it should be. The archetypes are very familiar. Imagine Cousin Eddie and his clan from “Christmas Vacation,” with the humor turned way down. Uncle Howard, played by David Koechner, of “Anchorman” and “The Office,” and his bullying children have a few good lines, but seemed less zany than simply unpleasant. I wanted to laugh, but the movie made it hard. Similarly, the elderly aunt, here a boorish drunk, should have be a crowd-pleaser, but is too off-putting. It’s a tricky balance, to make people that no one wants to be around funny, and it really doesn’t work here.
Once we finally get to the actual scary part of “Krampus,” the movie picks up – at least for a little while. All the early scenes with either Krampus himself or his terrible minions are really good – and the production design, blanketing an idyllic suburban neighborhood with a truly claustrophobic amount of snow works very well. There’s a particularly chilling bit with snowmen that look less and less cheerful with every scene. As far as the acting goes, the cast doesn’t necessarily distinguish themselves, but everyone keeps it together. Koechner can certainly be funnier, and Adam Scott, as the father, is a great comedic straight man and would seem a perfect foil. With a better script, I can see the two of them making quite a team. I was surprised to see Toni Collette slumming as the mom in the film, but I’m sure she too thought it would turn out better than it did.
Where the movie really falls apart is in the depiction of the beasts themselves. As happens in a lot of high concept horror, when you finally show the monster, it all goes to hell. It’s not necessarily that the designs are bad, although in at least one case, they are, it’s that they’re silly and kind of pointless. I applaud the filmmakers for going old-school and keeping the effects mostly practical instead of CGI, but silly is silly no matter how you create it. And practical effects are great up to a point, but when we finally get a close-up on Krampus’ terrifying visage, it’s immediately apparent that it’s a mask made of molded plastic. It’s nicely designed, but an obvious mask nonetheless. Now, if the movie had been funnier, as it seemed to think it was, most of the problems with the effects would have been tempered.
When it’s all said and done, “Krampus” is an unfortunate failure. Good horror comedies are somewhat rare, but the blueprint is certainly out there. “Gremlins” is the tone they should have been shooting for, but the film misses the mark. “Krampus” works in bits and pieces, and has a nicely conceived ending, but overall isn’t worth the ticket price. Now, quit reading this and get back in line for your “Star Wars” tickets. They’re probably sold out already! Grade: C-
“Krampus” is rated PG-13 for monster movie scares and some language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.