How’s this for a Christmas miracle? Writer/director Michael Dougherty has his second holiday-themed movie, Krampus, being released by a major studio, in a timely fashion. Dougherty became a fan favorite when his 2007 directorial debut, the horror anthology Trick r’ Treat, was shelved until 2009. While the film was a mixed bag (even Creepshow 2 makes more of a lasting impact as a multi-story film), it deserved to be seen and was greeted rapturously by genre fans.
His long awaited follow-up stars Adam Scott and Toni Collette as a couple whose Christmas plans go awry with the arrival of unwanted relatives, a snow storm, a power outage… and a monster who is described as existing in “Santa’s shadow.”
An inspired opening gets things off to a great start, as a slow-motion montage of crazed holiday shoppers. It’s the funniest scene in the film. With the title playing over the image of irate shoppers piling over each other, it’s clear that Dougherty is suggesting, not unreasonably, that this season turns everyone into monsters.
Dougherty is a playful filmmaker but it seems like, for all his innovative touches, he doesn’t always know how to get what he wants. Use of flash edits and strobe lighting don’t work and his screenplay (which he penned with two others) isn’t especially fresh. Krampus owes more than a little to Harlan Ellison’s legendary written but never filmed “Knackles” episode of The Twilight Zone, as well as a Tales From the Darkside episode I love called “Seasons of Belief.” The recent Rare Exports is actually a far better, more artful and focused dark Santa tale.
The third act twists are a nice touch, though quite predictable, particularly to anyone familiar with the works of Rod Serling. While much of Krampus intentionally plays like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation meets Gremlins (with David Koechner as an all too obvious Cousin Eddie clone), it’s not funny or scary enough to hold its own with either.
Krampus is clunky and overly busy even before the monsters show up. It never decides on a consistent tone- it wants to be a spoof of Christmas sentiment, a cheeky riff on yuletide heart tuggers, but also a no-kidding horror movie.
The performances here aren’t great, though the cast is really trying. It’s strange to write this but Adam Scott actually made more of an impression in Hot Tub Time Machine 2, while Koechner is apparently going for a Guinness World Record for playing the most obnoxious characters in cinema history (he’s well on his way). What in the world is Toni Collette doing in this movie? Only Connie and Carla is a stranger choice for this gifted Aussie actress, who gives what is required here but the film doesn’t deserve her. No one in the cast steps up and takes hold of this thing. Everyone here is playing a caricature and not asked to do much beyond reacting to scary things.
Dougherty has some great visuals up his sleeve, particularly the amazing sight of Krampus leaping from one rooftop to another. While this is a better movie, Trick ‘r Treat had a stronger look and a central performance by Dylan Baker that anchored the film.
Some of this is fun and I want to give Krampus a break, as it’s so refreshingly out of place with the seasonal family films and Oscar contenders currently playing. It feels like an obvious cult film in the making that somehow managed to get a major studio release by mistake.
Like Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus is a contender and deserves a following but don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s a classic. As far as being a cinematic gift, cinematically speaking, this isn’t a lump of coal or a fruitcake but a gorgeously wrapped present that winds up being a pair of socks.