krampus-poster-galleryUniversal Pictures

“I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies!”

When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.

For an old curmudgeon like myself, who has no use for this manufactured “Christmas spirit” that’s forced down everyone’s throats starting in September and going through the end of the year, it’s a rare movie that actually gets me to smile and get that warm glowing feeling about the part of the Holiday Clusterbomb Season that, more often than not, brings out the worst in everyone. And as you could probably surmise, the recently released Krampus is one of those rare movies that does just that.

Normally, I would wait until the DVD release to watch a movie like Krampus, even though I was greatly intrigued by the fact that it was done by the guys who brought us another favorite holiday classic: Trick R’ Treat. But, I was treated to it as a birthday present, and thus caught it on the day it was released into theaters. And boy howdy, did this dark horror comedy bring me a much-needed distraction to the ongoing existential quandary that comes with turning another year older.

We begin our story with a suburban upper-middle class family preparing to celebrate Christmas with the arrival of the mother’s sister’s family. When gathered together in one house, this goes about as well as would be expected in a Hollywood Christmas movie. That is to say, manufactured tension and drama up the chimney. In a fit of anger, little Max tears up his heartfelt letter to Santa and tosses it out the window the first night, then wakes up the next morning to a surprise blizzard that has frozen the entire neighborhood and knocked out the power. Also, a mysterious snowman has appeared in their lawn. Then a massive scary-looking shadow begins appearing on the rooftops, followed by people disappearing one by one. Then the grandmother tells the tale of when she accidentally summoned Krampus as a child to take everyone in the village she grew up in, except for her as a form of torment. Of course, this is believed to be the senile ramblings of an old lady…until Krampus’ minions arrive to wreak Gremlins-style terror on the clan, until the Anti-Claus himself shows up to drag everyone to the netherworld.

Since seeing this film, I’ve been proclaiming Krampus as an instant Holiday classic. And for good reason: It’s equal parts National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Gremlins, and Ridley Scott’s Alien mixed together and baked into a grizzly looking but tasty cookie. The family dynamic of the characters is palpable enough to warrant a bit of caring about them, and I’m glad they took the time at first to build that. But, of course, this being a holiday horror movie, the horror part is just as effective, managing to build the tension and wisely keeping the scary things in the shadows and implied. And when the scary things do show their ugly mugs, it a very effective usage of mostly practical effects that push this thing over the edge. I say “mostly”, because there’s some unavoidable usage of CGI for what I’ll just refer to as the “cookie attack” that I can understand having to resort to, but still seemed a bit more hokey than I could take. Also, kudos on the movie for faking me out with making me think this was going to take the old “It was all a dream!” cop-out at the end. Very satisfying ending to a very satisfying movie.

So, now I have another movie to add to my list of Christmas themed movies that don’t make me want to vomit up tinsel into the wassail. Indeed, Krampus is destined to be a Holiday classic for those of us who consider “Bah, Humbug” to be a catchphrase this time of year.