Holiday horror movies are a rare breed –– for good reason. Jolly and scary don't mix well, and the outcome is typically unenjoyable, awkward, or cynical. Holiday movies carry a certain amount of baggage with them, and the best horror movies are supposed to be fun on some level.
Director Michael Dougherty understands this well and his movie KRAMPUS is the holiday gift that horror fans have been waiting for. It hits all the rights notes, and is equally funny and absurd, and it's wildly entertaining. From the opening montage, you immediately sense that the holiday is being skewered and there is some biting commentary on commercialism, family celebrations with obligatory joy, and the importance of believing in something good whether its Santa or just plain old hope in humanity. (It's the pervasive aroma of pessimism that calls Krampus into action.)
The plot is fairly straight forward allowing the humor and characters to develop before the main assault. When the action sets in, it's well executed – and astonishingly features extensive practical effects in an age where even make-up is added to actors digitally*. In essence, Dougherty has created a throwback to the horror films of the 80s (strongly evoking the wicked charm of Gremlins). There's also a beautiful, unexpected scene right in the middle that's an ode to one of my favorite holiday classics (that I won't name for fear of spoiling the surprise).
It should also be noted that the cast is incredibly strong for a horror film. Adam Scott, Toni Collette, and the rest of the likable cast ground the many surreal elements and adds gravitas to the proceedings. The audience feels for the characters only if the actors are committed, and the script is strong enough to have the dialogue needed to support the outlandish shenanigans. Characters often say the things that audience is thinking. And no mater who gets eaten (or by what), the tone remains jovial, never grim or bleak.
KRAMPUS merges a jolly Christmas theme with mischievous horror and sends an important holiday message. Its wicked sense of humor and universal themes have enough appeal for even mainstream audiences but it's still not a film for everyone. There is some truly bizarre, outlandish, and absurd segments that really make this am eclectic gem. Like Dougherty did with Trick 'r Treat, this is destined to be a perennial holiday classic that horror fans will cherish for years.
*I just read in The Art of Krampus (available now from Insight Editions) that Halloween artist/mastermind/visionary Pumpkinrot was behind the design of the snowmen! These menacing snowmen start randomly appearing outside the family home, increasing in numbers, proximity and abomination yet we never see them move. Inanimate objects that move when you aren't looking strike absolute abject fear in me!