If you like your Christmas movies with a little less sugar in their bite, then the delightfully sinister and cheekily bleak Krampus should definitely be on your Christmas viewing list. With more of a taste for the macabre then it has for sentimentality, Michael Dougherty’s Krampus should please those looking for a Christmas movie that goes bump in the silent night. 

The film follows the Engels family coming together to celebrate the holidays. Youngest son Max (Emjay Anthony), who still holds on to a belief in Santa Claus, wants this Christmas to be just like it used to be when he was younger. But with his parents, aunties and uncles, sister and cousins all at each other’s throats, the likelihood of a normal family Christmas looks like an impossibility. Tearing up his letter to Santa, Max unwittingly summons an ancient Yuletide demon who has come to show Max and his entire family just what happens when you lose your Christmas spirit.

Hearkening back to the spirit of Joe Dante’s Gremlins, Dougherty revels in the madness of the Christmas season. From the very opening, in which a group of mad holiday shoppers brawl in the aisles juxtaposed to Bing Crosby’s ‘It’s Beginning to Look  A Lot Like Christmas’, it is clear that the film is offering a cynical yet tongue in cheek look at the holidays. Dougherty also clearly has a ball setting up this family for a night of terror, all of whom exhibit their own self-centered and occasionally mean-spirited tendencies across the opening act, setting them up for punishment when all hell breaks loose.

The dysfunctional energy amongst this family tees up the rest of the film nicely for some horror tinged seasonal set-pieces. When they first arrive, they come thick and fast with a great sense of good gory fun that’s clearly indebted to B-movies of the 1980’s. Along with the huge hoofed figure of Krampus himself, there’s also a gang of mischievous elves, as well as a sack of monstrous toys packed with a ravenous ‘Jack in the Box’ out for human flesh, a fanged teddy bear, a wild-eyed fairy and a batch of psychotic gingerbread men to play with. 

You can almost hear Dougherty cackling away behind the camera as he unpacks his toys and sets them loose on the family at the centre of the plot, who slowly but surely come to realise the hopelessness of their situation. Most of these murderous creatures are brought to incredibly tactile life with animatronics, suits and puppets from the Weta Workshop, allowing for the film to sink its claws even further into its old school approach, with only the cartoonishly CGI gingerbread men feeling a little out of tune with the rest of the proceedings. 

It’s a lot of fun seeing this mayhem unfold during the second act, as the family (led by some fun performances from Adam Scott, Toni Colette, David Koecher and Allison Tolman), with the festive frights operating at an enjoyable level of macabre, with a mix of gore and laughs that hits just right. There’s also a nice Christmas message to be found in here if you do want to look for it, with a twisted take on the notion of the holidays being a time to bring dysfunctional families together and allowing them to have the time together to find the best way to get along. It just so happens that this family needs the intervention of a demonic Germanic folklore figure to get there. 

Where Krampus drops the ball is in its final third. Limited in its sense of scope as soon as the film tries searching for an ending, it ends up getting a bit lost in the snow. The Krampus sack runs out of ideas as it strives to wrap things up in a bow that satisfies, and this doesn’t quite pull it off. The existence of an alternate ending certainly gives the impression that there was some tussling as to where it should land, but there’s something that doesn’t quite chime about the last twist that doesn’t prove to be all that scary, funny or satisfying. 

While it may drop the proverbial snow globe in its final act, Krampus is for the most part a wickedly fun piece of Christmas counter-programming for those who like a little more bourbon in their eggnog. With its old school approach, gnarly gore, satirical wit that’s just about sharp enough, and devotion to (mostly) practical effects, this is a nicely twisted Christmas fable that offers something a little more deliciously bitter than your usual sweet Christmas treats.

Dir: Michael Dougherty 

Scr: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields

Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler

Prd: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Alex Garcia, Michael Dougherty

DoP: Jules O’Loughlin

Music: Douglas Pipes

Country: United States

Year: 2015

Runtime: 98 minutes

Krampus is available to buy and keep now on digital, DVD and Blu-Ray.