“It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” bellowed Bing Crosby over a vicious stampede of Christmas shoppers; Krampus’s opening sequence, both funny and sadly not-so exaggerated, lets us know that this isn’t wanting to be your typical mistletoe and wine it-makes-us-slightly-vomit-because-its-so-cheesy Crimbo extravaganza. Prolific screenwriter and first-time director Michael Dougherty’s festive horror-comedy based around the European folklore of the anti-Santa, Krampus, lines up an array of comedic talent for this bonkers, yet surprisingly sentimental, alternative Xmas spectacle.
Poor young Max Engel (Emjay Anthony), he’s losing the Christmas spirit. His stressed out mum, Sarah (Toni Collette), and workaholic father, Tom (Adam Scott), are drifting apart whilst he must contend with a bunch of unwanted red-neck family members for the holidays, including his loud-mouthed Uncle Howard (David Koechner).
Teased by his wrestling-loving cousins over an uncomfortable Christmas eve-eve meal for his Saint Nick believing stance – and just generally peeved that everyone just can’t get along – his patience towards the holidays comes to a grinding halt; tearing his letter to the big guy in the red suit up and throwing it out, dramatically, into the cold, winter wind.
However, when an unexpected blizzard hits, strange things begin to happen: the family’s home becomes powerless, creepy snowmen start to appear in the front garden, and the Engels’ youngest daughter, Beth (Stefanie LaVie Owen), goes missing – the festive season quickly takes a deadly turn for the worst.
“Twisted fairly-tale horse shit” exclaims a rather pissed off David Koechner as douchebag Uncle Howard, describing the messed up holiday-ruining scenes he’s having to witness. A fair reflection of the first-time director’s creation: a batshit crazy festive fantasy horror show intertwined with a large sprinkling of the usual generic squabbling-families-at-Christmas shenanigans.
Krampus’s transition from a we-all-hate-each-other disgruntled family feature to full on fantasy horror never quite convinces. There’s a sweetness to Max that’s passably charming but far from original, and with the comedic talent on offer (Scott, Koechner and Two and a Half Men’s Conchata Ferrell as the bitchy Great Aunt), you’d expect it, given its crazy premise, to be consistently funnier – though the Anchorman star’s quick wit shines through in moments of tongue-spitting hilarity (“It looks like Martha Stewart threw up in here”).
As the goat-ish Krampus and his minions (think a seasonal mash-up of The Village, Chuckie and Gremlins wrapped up in a deranged Xmas bow) descend upon the ever-decreasing family unit, there are some legitimately creep-tastic moments. But beyond the killer gingerbread men who’d leave even Shrek running for the hills, and a terrifying man-eating jack-in-the-box, this seasonal nightmare flatters to deceive in the horror stakes. Cliché riddled (crazy Grandmas and noises of impending doom) scare fodder spoil a perfectly enticing frightful ideal; thankfully a final act – which looked set to follow the horribly sentimental road to head-banging mediocrity – is saved by a well-executed twist.
Despite a sense of underwhelming sombreness, there’s still enough to enjoy in Dougherty’s Christmas alternative, making for a pleasant-ish, if somewhat flimsy change of pace from the usual seasonal spiel we’re objected to at this time of year.