If you’re comfortable with the usual holiday favourites like Elf and It’s a Wonderful Life, then I suggest you avoid the film I’m about to review. However, if you want to see something original and have a dark sense of humour, then please continue reading this review of 2015’s Krampus.
This horror comedy revolves around the dysfunctional Engel family, trying celebrate the holiday season but when their squabbling breaks young Max’s Christmas spirit, Krampus (the Satan to St Nicholas’s God) appears. What follows is a brutal and ridiculous fight for survival as the family try to defend themselves from Krampus and his army of helpers.
I think the humour in Krampus, while dark and cynical, is very well done. The Engel Family are a divided and conflicted clan who’re trying to celebrate a holiday that embraces love and unity. Max’s half (which consist of him, his parents and sister) come across as the traditional American family. They take Santa photos, bake cookies and possess very liberal values. The other half however (which consist of Max’s aunt Linda, her husband, three children and great aunt) are rough, pro-gun southerners.
The film displays Christmas as a time of tension and tolerance rather than of love and giving as the two groups try get along but their flaws and quirks make it impossible. This results in some very amusing scenes. A good example is when Linda’s clan arrive at Max’s house as they barge in with homemade food and a bulldog called Rosie.
In addition to the cynical character-driven comedy, Krampus features some zany humour in the form of Krampus’ helpers. They consist of killer gingerbread men and teddy bears with razor sharp teeth. The helpers add a fantastical wacky charm to the film, similar to that of Gremlins and Leprechaun. The zany comedy contrasts nicely with the cynical humour and horror.
Speaking of horror, while the quirky creatures and cynical humour make Krampus a mostly amusing experience, the film is a horror comedy and certainly has its scary moments. Not all of Krampus’ helpers are cute as his army also includes a flying angel doll and a giant worm-like jack-in-the-box, both are very creepy.
When we first see the jack-in-the-box creature, it is swallowing a child whole like an anaconda. When it swallows, it releases a disgustingly monstrous roar. Not long after, we are introduced to the angel as the parents find it resting on a plank in the attic like an owl. It immediately swoops down and attacks Max’s mother, revealing a slimy tongue and a pair of ghostly doll eyes.
Subtler horror comes in the form of Krampus himself. Unlike the angel and jack-in-the-box, Krampus is kept in the shadows for most of the film. Only his horns, hooves and overall silhouette are shown at first, however the power and damage he’s capable of is conveyed clearly. Using the same method films like Alien and Candyman utilized, Krampus immediately establishes the consequences of the monster but reveals the monster itself gradually, engaging and disturbing the viewer.
With the cynical, wacky humour and intense horror, you’d think Krampus was an anti-Christmas film, showing gore and cynicism for the sake of showing gore and cynicism. However, when considering Max’s story and the film’s ending (which I will not spoil), Krampus is very Christmassy in terms of values. Without giving too much away, I theorize that the film argues Christmas can be a difficult time as you must perform acts of kindness and love in a world where acts of hatred and greed are the norm, but is still a holiday worth believing in and fighting for.
Overall, with its blend of dark, cartoony humour and shocking, suspenseful horror, I think Krampus is one of the best Christmas films I’ve ever seen and I highly recommend it.
I give Krampus an outstanding 10 out of 10.