You know, old Saint Nick hasn’t had much screen time in terms of the horror genre, either because the idea is so absurdly silly, or making a big fat man in a red suit who sneaks into people’s houses seems like too easy a plot to make creepy. But Universal have taken it upon themselves to give us a Christmas theme horror flick, and I finally had a chance to check it out.
So, rather than trying to make Santa Claus a monster, the film instead takes inspiration from a German myth about “The Shadow of Saint Nicolas”, a creature that does not give, but only ever takes away. A family is having the traditional horrid festive season with all the trimmings of the borderline-racist and intolerable relatives, the bickering, and the snubbing of any cheer. Just the opening captures the hysteric materialistic rush so perfectly, that it almost had me in awe except for it being so funny. Well, one person has had enough of their shit, and is checking his list to wipe them all out!
Yup, there’s no point whatsoever in attempting to take the synopsis seriously, this is a creature-feature along the lines of 80’s classics such as “Gremlins”. It is over-the-top, with just enough of a coating of story to keep the pistons firing in the engine. That opening which provides the majority of the set-up really does make you squirm in witnessing just how bas a Christmas this family is knowingly getting themselves into. I mean, that in itself is almost a horror story of sorts. The injected black comedy is really on-point and sets you up for exactly the kind of movie this will turn out to be. Even the protagonist being the kid is by no means a saint himself, they are normal people at their most unlikeable of states.
Once the horror sets in and we are introduced to Krampus, you start getting the pay-off of satisfying terror delivered in a slowish manner, but it works fine overall. There is a blend of practical effects, modern CG, and lighting tricks that illustrate all the minions at his bidding, and they are really entertaining. Some are properly creepy and would make substantial nightmare fuel for any kid watching this, while others are so fucking silly you can only laugh at their antics. The little gingerbread monsters didn’t look that great – just too heavy on the CG, but the rest worked for me. Krampus himself is shown in very small amounts, so you never truly get a full glimpse of him. And that really works in making him look and feel threatening. It is an excellent design, right from the cover of a Heavy Metal Christmas Carol album. I just loved it.
The silliness continues in how the story progresses, and how people get picked off one by one. All of the usual horror movie cliches are here including the wildly bad decisions, cheesy line delivery in serious moments, the call to arms, the low points, and the way it wraps up. The only character feeling a bit different is the kid;s grandmother who is like the old sage who has dealt with the monster before and is the best help they have. She gives a really good performance – I mean, full stop.. Every moment of dialogue she had, you slowed down to pay attention and let the atmosphere set in. The animation sequence during one of these is another of the film’s highlights. I love that they didn’t have to go through all the trouble of visualising it, but the fact they did is a moment to savour.
The gore is pretty mild overall, there’s no guts being pulled out if that is what you were after. Some big moments are played for comedic effect, others are disappearances. One sequence of gore did look really cool and horrible, but there’s not much else beyond that. But I don’t think the film would have been better if they had gone down that path with it. It doesn’t need blood spatter to get your attention, because it is EVIL FUCKING SANTA. What more do you need?
Now, like most cheesy horror movies with a particular twist on the monster, it does have problems. Mainly that it does go through so many of the particular beats you’ve grown to be aware of, and so they become filler time to get from one sequence to the next. I also got the feeling that it was a bit too heavy-handed with being so similar to the monster movies of the 1980’s, as opposed to being a love letter to them. These are gripes that some people will get past quite easily, and others will find boring. I didn’t find them so bad, but I still noticed their presence all the time.
Also, (and I won’t spoil anything here), but the ending hints at some very cool aspects that could have been delved into during the story. It is a strong, strong place to end, but leaves you kind of feeling like you should have been provided just a but more.
With all that said though, this is a horror for the Festive season that cult and genre fans will watch on a yearly basis. The practical and creature effects are really fun and creative, Krampus looks Metal as fuck, the comedy has some great moments of laugher, and the whole thing is wrapped together in a way that made me think it must have been one hell of a fun set to be on. I love that such a crazy premise was brought to the big screen, and they didn’t try to pass it off as being “serious horror”.
“Krampus” knows exactly the kind of mad and hysterical film it wants to. Maybe not to the effect that you wanted it to go to, but relatively close all the same. I’m happy that a big studio green-lit this idea, and hopefully it will allow others to follow.
Thanks for reading!