Just hear those registers jingling, ring ting tingling too. Come on, it’s lovely weather for a movie together with you. Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling to watch Star Wars Episode VII! For those of us who are looking for something not The Force Awakens, might I suggest ducking into what will be a nearly vacant theater to watch a little nightmare during Christmas.
Max Engel (Emjay Anthony) is reaching the age when children “grow out” of believing in Santa Claus. After an altercation with one such child, Max’s Omi (Krista Sadler) reminds him how important he continue to write his Christmas wish to Santa lest it not come true. Max finishes his letter as his mom and dad, Sarah (Toni Collette) and Tom (Adam Scott), dread the arrival of Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband Howard (David Koechner) and their gaggle of kids. At the dinner table, one of Max’s cousins reads his heartfelt letter to Santa aloud, airing the family’s dirty laundry in the process. Upset, Max storms upstairs, shreds the letter and tosses it to the wind. The next morning the family awakens to a neighborhood blackout from a spontaneous blizzard. Unbeknownst to the family, his actions have summoned Krampus, a Christmas demon anxious to grant Max’s embittered wish.
Right from the start you can tell the creators are drawing deeply from 80’s cinema. The look, feel and PG-13 rating of Krampus transported me to all those Christmas films, and a few non-Christmas 80’s classics, that shaped my childhood. If I had to point a finger at its influences, I’d say it’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation meets Gremlins meets Labyrinth. When I told someone this, they looked concerned, but trust me the mashup works beautifully.
Summoning a demon to your home for the holidays isn’t the sort of thing one expects so naturally when things begin to go awry for the Engels and their guests, they haven’t the slightest. No one, except good ol’ Omi, who naturally has had dealings with Krampus in her youth. Even her nightmarish account of her Christmas under Santa’s Shadow doesn’t fully capture the cheerfully sadistic insanity he brings to all the girls and boys. It isn’t until his demonic reindeeer, vicious elves and the twisted toys within his sack descend upon the desperate family that their delightfully dire situation is realized. It’s a quirky blend of humor, fear and Christmas spirit that is sure to strike a chord with more than a few viewers.
The use of practical effects and puppetry add to that tangible 80’s feel of Krampus. In fact the only detriment of its 80’s trappings is its deliberate pacing. In the new millennium’s cinema of rapid-fire edits and explode first, question later filmmaking, Krampus seems to crawl towards Christmas morning at times.
Krampus is a cautionary tale that reminds viewers to appreciate the true meaning of the holidays. What’s even better is that it is a story that can be enjoyed time and again. That is until too many sequels will make audiences wish Krampus could come and take his franchise away.