On my list of Halloween movie recommendations, one of the movies I had included on the list was Trick ‘r Treat. The first film of director Michael Dougherty, its anthology of four horror stories set on Halloween proved to be a fun fit for the holiday. It may not have been the scariest horror film out there, but it is a good mixture of scares and fun, along with some clever ideas for using classic elements of Halloween for monstrous effect. However, the film did run into a slight hitch with its initial release. Originally, it was supposed to receive a theatrical release in 2007. However, it found itself instead being shown sporadically at film festivals before ending up with a straight to video release in 2009. Despite the troubled release, however, the movie went on to receive acclaim and become a favorite among modern horror films. At last, Michael Dougherty has finally gotten a film released in theaters. This time, it’s his second feature, another mix of laughs and scares with the Christmas-themed horror movie Krampus.
It is Christmas time once again, a time for family to come together in celebration. This isn’t exactly a great thing for one family, however, as grudges and beliefs have grown over the years into sour opinions ready to boil over. Still, Max (a young boy within the family) is trying to keep his spirits up, believing in the magic that Christmas can bring and that his wish can come true. However, those frustrations and that hatred finally boil over during a rough dinner, causing a fight and for Max to lose his faith in Christmas. He angrily tears up the letter he would have sent to Santa Claus, casting the shreds out into the winter air. However, that is not the end of their troubles. A huge blizzard comes, knocking out the power and phone reception. The blizzard brings something else, as well. It brings with it an ancient spirit. This is a spirit that does not come to give, but to take. It comes not to reward the nice, but to punish the naughty. It is…Krampus.
Much like Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus is a fun watch. It’s not the scariest horror film out there, but it works as a delightful mixture of horror and comedy. The writing is quite nice for this, as the family feels like one has that been around for a while and lived to let their real issues grow. There are a few character moments that feel a tad too exaggerated, but for the most part the connections feel natural. Along with that, the film’s heart is firmly in the spirit of the holiday. Though this is a horror movie, it is also an appeal to the Christmas spirit. It calls for putting aside our selfish desires and hatred to instead offer a hand in friendship and give rather than take. It does so not by simply delivering an explicit speech on the subject, but rather through the growth of the characters over the course of the movie. After an opening credits sequence that shows the madness of greed and ill will, the family comes together for a Christmas holiday with bad attitudes regarding each other. It is clear that they are only coming together because of Christmas. As they are barraged by Krampus and his helpers and forced to work together, they recall the bonds of their past and begin to look towards the goodness of each other once more. As for the horror and scares, this film demonstrates the inventiveness that Michael Dougherty can bring to an idea.
With Trick ‘r Treat, Michael Dougherty was able to take the familiar elements of Halloween and put a monstrous spin to them. From the importance of costumes to the tradition of “trick or treat”, he could spin these traditions into creepy surprises. The same delight and craftsmanship is steeped into Krampus. Assisting Krampus in his work are his helpers, monstrous little creatures eager to punish. It’s not simply a collection of evil elves who are helping him out. It’s a whole menagerie of familiar Christmas icons and classic toys reimagined as nasty monsters. From an angel tree topper with talon hands to a trio of living gingerbread men to a Jack-In-The-Box that acts like a giant rattlesnake, they are all insidiously inspired monsters that bring the grotesque to cherished Christmas imagery. Along with that, Krampus himself is wonderfully designed. He has many of the hallmark touches from the legends of the foul creature, from cloven hooves to sharp claws to heavy bell-adorned chains hanging from his cloak. That’s not all, however. He also wears a dirty red cloak trimmed in ratty white fur, a long white beard hanging upon his face. By mixing together the classic elements of Krampus with touches of the beloved Santa Claus, the result really feels like a dark shadow of St. Nick. It looks like the sort of thing that would be the darkness lurking beneath the holiday’s shiny veneer, the side that lashes out and serves as a reminder of the price of selfishness. Thus, it’s a well-done version of the classic monster of Christmas legend.
I’m happy that Michael Dougherty has been able to get Krampus onto the big screen. With a heart firmly rooted in the spirit of Christmas and a cavalcade of monsters who twist the holiday’s imagery to creepy effect, it’s a film that serves as a delightfully morbid treat for the season. Hopefully Doughtery is able to make more movies that serve as fun mixtures of scares and laughs.