Director Michael Dougherty’s heavily delayed but highly-anticipated Halloween anthology Trick ‘r’ Treat was welcomed by crowds and critics alike with open arms and has proven throughout the years since its initial release as an easy re-watch. An incredibly promising debut that maintained a perfect balance between comedy and horror, whilst reinvigorating the horror anthology premise — an admirable feat for a fresh face. So when Dougherty’s follow-up was announced, it was welcomed with baited breath – will this live up to the hype his previous, or will his second attempt be the making or the dampening of this promising, young director?
Though his directorial debut was based on a short written by Dougherty himself, this time around he’s attempted a spin on another well-known story, one that’s a twisted take on a seasonal archetype. Krampus, derived from Alpine folklore, is the shadow of Saint Nicholas, visiting those who’ve forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, often kidnapping children and throwing them into his wooden sack ready to be dragged to hell where they are beaten with sticks. A horned, hind-legged creature, draped in chains with erected, prominent horns as a base feature, this is a tale that features neither kindness nor usual seasonal glee. Dougherty’s terror reigns full-heartedly on the big screen, and this is one hell of a fun ride.
Young Max still believes in good ol’ Santa Clause, so when distant parents Toni Collette and Adam Scott welcome in brash relatives for the holidays, the entire family are at odds with how to survive the holidays. When Max is ridiculed for his beliefs, he’s disheartened and hurt. Unbeknownst to him, his sudden lack of belief summons the legend that is Krampus, shrouding the neighbourhood in a bleak blanket of snow that in turn has the family banding together to survive the holidays.
Dougherty’s charm ignites the screen as Krampus opens with a bleak rendering of Christmas today. Shoppers fight and tread on one another to grab a Black Friday bargain as Collette and Scott’s characters dash in to grab their son amidst a fight over the big man himself. David Koechner’s brash Uncle Howard enters with wife Allison Tolman and their three materialistic children and Christmas is off with a bang. With a rag-tag group of actors known for their tongue-in-cheek and typically comedic roles, Dougherty ensures their talent doesn’t go to waste, ably splicing these two genres together without teetering into spoof. Collette heartily proves she’s more than a traditional housewife and husband Scott disproves disrespectful remarks as he steps up to the plate to take charge and truly take care of his family. With guns blazing, Krampus and his variation of mischievous minions wreak havoc and the screen comes alive.
Dougherty’s trademark black humour eases the pace as the first half hour is nothing much than a gathering of family quabbles, but the wintry roofs of our darkened neighbourhood is welcomed with a heightened sense of dread in an incredibly tense introduction to our anti-Santa, ensuing a Gremlins-esque throwback to the 90’s not-so-gory but incredibly entertaining comedy-horrors that have lacked as of late. But what proves most memorable about Krampus is Dougherty’s ability to create this tangible world, with sets almost too enticing and villains that are dressed so wickedly grim that you sit with a grin stretching from ear-to-ear. It’s expertly wrapped, from the draped houses to Krampus’ general, goat-inspired design. It brims with fright and terror, but just that right amount that those less-inclined to horror will find something to grasp their attention.
An anti-seasonal movie that proves that Santa Clause doesn’t need to have all the fun within the month of December. Dougherty’s Krampus might not be quite as successful as Trick ‘r’ Treat, but it’s nearly there. With sets and costumes that scream delight and a cast that prove to have as much fun on screen as we are watching it, this is a seasonal horror that’s certainly worth a watch if you like a quick throwback — one that’ll tide you over until the next Gremlins at least.
3 / 5
Dir: Michael Dougherty
Scr: Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey, Zach Shields
Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony
Prd: Michael Dougherty, Alex Garcia, Thomas Tull
Music: Douglas Pipes
Runtime: 98 minutes
Krampus is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.