Directed By: Michael Dougherty
Written By: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, & Zach Shields
Production Company: Legendary Pictures
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Well, it’s been a long year but the Krampus film has at long last hit the silver screen and boy was it everything that I had hoped for and more. Now, a traditional word of warning for this review, there will be spoilers throughout it so if you are merely seeking my opinion as to whether or not you should see this film, I’ll say it straight up: Yes.
Krampus, if I were to make a somewhat accurate comparison to any similar film is rather akin to the likes of Gremlins or, more towards Yuletide and what have you, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I say this insomuch that while this is indeed a scary if not outright frightening and utterly disturbing movie, compared to the likes of those two?
It’s frightful yes but does there is some dark amusement to be had, especially considering that contrary to Gremlins, not a single person dies in this film. Thus holding true to the legend of the Shadow of Saint Nicholas, a title coined in the film but one that I find very befitting towards ol’ Krampus, in that he takes and punishes but does not truly kill.
Would I suggest this film to younger audiences? No. A thousand and one times no. I am by no means a novice to the likes of horror and this film, while certainly not the scariest film I’ve ever seen, has enough frightening imagery to make me want to take up my favorite toy from yonder shelf and keep him on guard throughout the night as I sleep. Of course, to go into further detail as means we now begin to enter the spoiler territory. You have been warned.
The basic summary of the film goes that a young boy whose relatives are staying for Christmas, finds himself completely disheartened with the holiday as a whole. He tears up his letter to Saint Nicholas and tosses the pieces out the window, thus summoning the Monster of Christmas, Krampus, to his neighborhood.
Of course, I’m being very generous towards the boy, Max, his family, and the overall message of the film as a whole. The film initially starts off with a classical Christmas song playing whilst scenes of a pre-Christmas sale occurs at a place that, for all and intents and purposes, is Walmart. What occurs in said store is frankly frightfully depressing and scarily real all at the same time. It is arguably at the most extreme of the holiday shopping madness that can, has, and will occur but one cannot argue that similar scenes have not transpired.
One example is a pair of mothers fighting over a stuffed animal and the first mother, realizing she’s going to lose the toy to her rival, purposefully rips the thing’s head off. A true “if I can’t have it, no one can” mentality that was merely the tip of the iceberg of events shown in the store. Of course, the real trouble for Max is his family, more specifically his visiting relatives. Though not taken to the extreme as one would expect in this film, Max’s relatives are nevertheless, ones whom even the most tolerant of people could stand only for the holidays.
Heck, if anything, the entirety of events that transpire could actually be laid upon their shoulders as they, more specifically his uncle and cousins, were the straws that broke the last of Max’s Christmas spirit, try as his grandmother might to keep it, and the rest of the family’s, elevated knowing full well who will come to call. On the note of Max’s grandmother, I have to say that never before have I ever felt a grandmother so closely portrayed to my own as I have in this film.
My grandmother, and grandfather, both came to America from Germany and the way that Max’s grandmother, Omi, acts, is very much a strange but not unwelcome blend of them. She is sweet, caring, and doing more than her fair share to keep the holiday spirit alive in her family but when the going gets tough, she does not get going. She stands her ground and faces Krampus head-on when she had once cowered beneath the blankets as he took her whole family away.
On the note of Omi’s history, there is a major nod to the classical Christmas cartoons as we Omi’s story, and that of Krampus, being done via a similar style to the ever-popular Rankin Bass cartoons such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Honestly, I expected the camera to stay entirely upon Omi and her family, showing how they react as she tells her story, so it was actually a delightful surprise when it went the way of the Christmas cartoon classics.
As to how the Krampus deals the Max’s family… It’s actually rather interesting. Contrary to the popular mythos wherein Krampus comes strictly for the naughtiest of children, the one in the film does not directly involve himself straight away but instead allows his creations and minions to have their fun first before taking a direct hand in things.
Much like Saint Nicholas himself delights in the giving of gifts to children, so too does Krampus with his game of cat-and-mouse. Yet, there is something a bit more to Krampus’ game then I initially realized when first watching it. Going somewhat in order of how Max’s family is taken…
Max’s older sister, whom he had confessed in his wish list to Santa to feeling that they were drifting apart, is taken out first and rather quickly too. More to the point though, she was taken far away from Max and the rest of their family, having gone to try and brave the sudden blizzard that hails Krampus’ appearance into the world to try and find out if her boyfriend and his family are alright. From what we see of her, we see that she does care for Max, stepping in at moments when she feels that she absolutely needs to, but does not stay or linger, vanishing away to chat on her phone to her friends or her boyfriend.
In their attempt to look for her, Max’s father and uncle nearly get taken by something that hides itself in the snow. We never see what it is precisely but it does make a return appearance later on. Max’s cousin, third oldest and not the sharpest tool in the shed, is taken by way of a lure. Though Omi emphasizes keeping the fireplace lit, Max’s uncle botches his job at first watch and his son pays the price. What’s really said is that the boy gets lured by way of a gingerbread cookie, which happens to come to life the moment he takes a bite out of it, and is promptly yoinked up the chimney.
The boy’s gluttony was made obvious from the first time we see the family at the dinner table, with his chugging down an entire large bottle of soda by himself rather than using a cup or even a glass. Max’s slightly older cousins, twin girls whom his uncle all but made literally into boys with how he’s acted towards them, are the next to be taken by way of the same toy that took Max’s sister. A jack-in-the-box or as the French call it, a boxed devil, that lures the girls up to the attic by mimicking the voice of Max’s sister.
Thankfully, the girls’ screaming gets their mother and Max’s parents up to the attic and the thing has only enough time to swallow down one of the girls. Despite being one of the more disturbing and frankly rather horrifying creations of Krampus, the jack-in-the-box is one of the more… innocent… ones, and I use that term as loosely as possible. After swallowing one of the girls, it roars before promptly producing a napkin and wiping its face, meaning that it wasn’t so much a roar as it was a burp. Heck, later on just before Krampus’ dark-elves show up, it claps with childish delight.
Of course, the jack-in-the-box is not the only toy that attacks Max’s family. No, there’s a robot toy with drills for his father, a hellion of an angel doll for his mother, and a killer teddy bear for his aunt. These toys are actually rather befitting of their respected victims too.
Max’s father is one whom is always at the office and even when not there is almost always on the phone.His mother is a Christmas perfectionist to a point where her dining room, to paraphrase her own aunt, is enough to make Martha Stewart envious. His aunt meanwhile is a literal mother bear, protective of her cubs and family own to a point where she fails to see the faults in them and how she’s raised them.
What’s particularly interesting though is that contrary to most of Max’s family whom are taken by Krampus’ toys and/or his dark-elves, the Shadow himself comes personally for his grandmother. This is also the first that we see Krampus fully and, at first, I was rather disappointed for it looked like most of the budget went to his body and not at all towards his face, which looks a lot like a Santa Claus mask. It wasn’t until a bit later in the movie where we see a close-up of Krampus’ eye that I realized that’s exactly what it was and I actually kind of like it for that reason.
Krampus is quite literally the Shadow of Saint Nicholas and in many ways he tries and emulates him. His cloak is similar to Santa’s, his chains have bells on them, he comes to town upon a sleigh pulled by Yule goats, has dark-elves to do this bidding, and even makes toys and bakes gingerbread cookies. What’s really disturbing is that his cookies, while violent as his toys, are apparently quite delicious but that’s neither here nor there.
Eventually, all of Max’s family is taken and Krampus himself confronts Max but instead of taking him, Krampus hands him a small bundle wrapped in the remains of Max’s letter to Santa Claus. Max opens it to find a similar belled ornament and Max realizes that Krampus intends for Max to be the last, to tell and to warn others of what should happen should they lose sight of the true Christmas spirit.
In a complete twist to what his grandmother had done, Max goes after Krampus before he can do anything with Max’s last relative, his tomboyish cousin, and tosses the ornament at Krampus feet. He tells Krampus to take it, and his wish back, in exchange for his family. The ornament suddenly burns a massive hole straight down to the pits of the Underworld and Krampus leaps over it to stand towering over Max. The young boy sheds tears and pleads with Krampus to take him instead, that it was his fault, and that it should be him who should pay the price and not his family.
Krampus draws a single tear upon a long bony finger before bursting into laughter as Max’s cousin is tossed into the burning pit. Krampus picks up to do the same to Max who only says that he only wanted Christmas to be as it used to for his family before Krampus drops him and he promptly wakes up in his bed.
Yep. You guessed it, yet another Christmas story that ends with it all having been a very real and very frightening dream. Or so it would seem at any rate. For though his family celebrates Christmas day with cheer, the mood immediately changes as Max opens his first gift. Krampus’ little ornament, and upon seeing it, each and every one of Max’s family suddenly goes on edge, as though they too had a similar if not far worse dream than Max himself did. The camera pulls back and we are left with a rather ambiguous ending as the house appears to be either trapped within a snow-globe or that it, and countless others, are merely being viewed by Krampus.
After all, is that not how the song goes?
You better watch out.
You better not cry.
You better not pout, I’m telling you why…