Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #636
Number of Views: One
Release Date: December 4, 2015
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Michael Dougherty
Producers: Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Michael Dougherty, Thomas Tull
Screenplay: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Special Effects: Brendon Durey
Visual Effects: Joe Letteri, Dan Charbit, Ivan Kondrup Jensen
Cinematography: Jules O’Loughlin
Score: Douglas Pipes
Editing: John Axelrad
Studios: Legendary Pictures, Zam Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, Maverick Flack, Mark Atkin, Sage Hunefeld, Leith Towers, Curtis Vowell, Luke Hawker, Brett Beattie
Suggested Audio Jukebox 🎁
 Douglas Pipes “Creepy Things”
 Bing Crosby “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”
 Douglas Pipes “Karol of the Bells”
 Douglas Pipes “Creatures Are Stirring”
By the time Michael Dougherty’s first full-length feature Trick ‘r Treat eventually emerged in 2009, two years after its conception, the Halloween themed anthology was all but dead in the water. Criminally it never received a theatrical release and was offered little to no hope of finding itself a willing audience. So when it turned out to be, not only one of the year’s premier horror movies, but also arguably the finest compendium since George A. Romero’s Creepshow, it’s fair to say that very few people had seen it coming. Incorporating five interwoven tales of terror, each of which celebrated the ancient festival of Samhain, his effort positively reeked of seasonal swagger and has since become one of the most popular ways to celebrate the October 31st festivities. Needless to say, I’ve been itching for the sequel that has long since been hinted at and awaiting Dougherty’s next project with breath way beyond bated.
Enter Krampus, another seasonal treat, this time focusing on the most hallowed of all traditions – yuletide. With the Thanksgiving hangover wearing off, people tend to fall into one of two distinct camps – those who believe in Saint Nick and all things tinsel-laden and the Grinches amongst us who replace Ho! Ho! Ho! with Bah, Humbug! and do their level best to mock tradition at every turn. It’s no easy feat to appeal to both groups but Dougherty tries his darnedest, encapsulating the true spirit of Christmas while looking to German origins for a far darker meaning and taking full advantage. There have been other movies to tackle this particular theme but historically they’ve been painfully shoddy. However, after reluctantly agreeing to fashion a PG-13 rated affair to appease the studio, he was finally provided the backing to do things properly. Tis the season to be jolly after all.
“It looks like Martha Stewart threw up in here”
We break bread with mildly dysfunctional well-to-do Suburban family the Engels three days before Christmas as they prepare for their annual get together with their ‘nearest and dearest’. There’s workaholic dad Tom (Adam Scott) and compulsively ordered Sarah (Toni Collette), their two children, and Tom’s German-speaking mother, Omi (Krista Stadler), none of whom are exactly thrilled by the company they’re about to keep and hardly the image of happy families themselves. However, when Sarah’s trailer trash sister Linda (Allison Tolman) and her boorish husband Howard (David Koechner) arrive with three plumpened hell raisers, newborn daughter, and caustic gin-guzzling aunt Dorothy (Conchata Farrell) in tow, they begin to realize just how good they’ve got it. This is of scant consolation to Tom and Sarah’s youngest Max (Emjay Anthony), a fragile tousle-haired preteen who still very much believes in Santa Claus and doesn’t take kindly to having his holidays wrecked by outsiders.
After resentments are aired at a family sit-down meal which can best be described as one beyond agonizing, Max storms off to his room with his dreams in tatters and suddenly feeling far less than festive. Ripping up his handwritten letter to Saint Nick and tossing it out of the window, he unwittingly rolls out the welcome mat to an ancient demon known as Krampus, who wastes no time whatsoever in responding to the young boy’s shredded correspondence. As the sparring Engels wake up on Christmas Eve, they learn that a freak blizzard has hit the neighborhood hard, cutting off heat, electricity and all outward paths. Even more disconcertingly, ominous looking snowmen have begun to pop up all over the front yard and a mysterious sack of packages has arrived with no details for returning to sender. The only one who appears to have an idea what the hell is going on is grandmother Omi and they may not wish to hear her take on the anomaly.
Krampus wastes little time in getting to the turkey and stuffing, plunging them into all kinds of dread and terror as the titular arch-fiend and his ‘little helpers’ get to work. The weather outside here really is frightful as, whilst shot almost entirely on a sound stage, director of photography Jules O’Loughlin works wonders with snow-laden exteriors that create just the right sense of isolation and foreboding, hinting at all manner of imperceptible hazards, while penning is into candle-lit interiors with the Engels as they attempt to figure out who or what is tormenting them. When we find out, by way of a glorious animated flashback that fits the folklore exquisitely, the egg nog really hits the back wall and it becomes an outright free-for-all. Pleasingly, any liberal vs. conservative class struggles are then forgotten and the two families forced to pull together and shelve their differences in favor of protecting their broods.
What makes Krampus such an unbridled joy is that we’re never quite sure where the story is going to take us next. Given that around half of the cast comprises children and the PG-13 rating, we’d be forgiven for expecting no real harm to befall them but Dougherty is disinterested in providing any free passes here. Indeed, the next attack (and they are plentiful believe me) can come from any angle and whisk away whomever he sees fit, making it far less predictable than the usual family friendly fare regurgitated around this time of year.
As for the horned beast of the title, it is kept largely under wraps in favor of letting its many minions run amok and these include trigger happy gingerbread men, wide-mouthed Jack-in-the-box clowns, bite-happy bears, and all manner of marvelously mischievous scampering elves. When the time comes for the shadow of Saint Nicholas to assume position on centre stage, he is every bit the cloven-hooved horror show we would hope for, with a long slurping licker that Gene Simmons would be proud of and horns sturdy enough to hang two big-boned elks from.
The cast is excellent across the board, with seasoned pros Scott and Collette leading the march brilliantly, Koechner resisting the urge to break out into “Whammy!” and reining it in to play defender of the realm, and Farrell simply off-the-chain with her numerous acidic quips. However, the real star of the show here is the overall tone, which somehow manages to balance the warm and fuzziness of Christmas with the bleak and mean-spirited flip side. This is never more evident than the film’s closing shot, which I’m reasonably assured couldn’t have been any more perfect and had me grinning like a reprobate for a full hour after the credits rolled. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by returning collaborator Douglas Pipes is suitably seasonal and adds infinitely to the festive flavor.
So Dougherty has done it again. Trick ‘r Treat was a wondrous movie and this is every bit the holiday horror. It’s all too easy drawing obvious comparisons with Joe Dante’s Gremlins, particularly given the playful nature of the fiends in question but it draws just as much inspiration from old-school yuletide favorites such as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. However what he does and with considerable swagger to boot is to craft a seasonal treat which will still be remembered in years to come and while not currently heralded as an out-and-out classic, I’d much rather cut to the chase and save us all the time. One thing is for sure, once 2017 draws to a close and the halls are decked once more with boughs of holly, Krampus will be number one on my Christmas wish list. Thus my advice is to be as naughty as hell and save Santa the trip as, thanks to Dougherty, his demonic doppelgänger has us well and truly covered. You see, it really is the most wonderful time of the year after all.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Don’t be fooled for a second by the PG-13 rating as, while the grue may not be gushing openly, Krampus certainly isn’t found wanting when it comes to displaying meanness of spirit. Dougherty may have been required to rein it in with regards to splatter (pun irresistible) but he manages to do so without compromising his dark vision and that deserves to be downright celebrated.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™