Jacob's Favorite Christmas Films: #10. "Krampus" (2015)
Yeah. I'm kind of as surprised as you are that this made the list.
Krampus is an admittedly odd entry on this list. It's arguably one of the most mean-spirited movies about Christmas without devolving entirely into a mockery of the holiday. It's a few steps away from becoming a desecration, a film like the proto-slasher Black Christmas or super schlock like Silent Night, Deadly Night (one day I'll touch on the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise, but that's going to be a ways out because you wouldn't believe how weird the history of that franchise could be).
So it's almost a Christmas miracle that Krampus dodges that, somehow walking a tightrope between the sincerity of the holidays while still featuring a giant jack-in-the-box clown worm that consumes children among other horrors. It feels like an EC Comic from the 50s brought to vivid life for most of its duration. The only thing its missing is a Crypt Keeper like figure walking out at the end to make a pun about Christmas and telling kids not to lose the Christmas spirit.
If you keep that frame of reference in mind while watching Krampus, pretending that it's a lost Tales From the Crypt episode blown up to mass proportions, you're going to have a great time.
Krampus' first scene is a perfect tone setter, a slow motion montage of Christmas shoppers fighting each other over gifts. It's a long scene, but it's undeniably entertaining to watch. From there, the film decides to essentially remake part of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation for a bit. A family is hosting a Christmas get together that goes wrong every year. Father figures posture for dominance, alcohol flows freely as a coping mechanism, the mother of the house tries to keep herself from snapping every waking moment, and an elderly grandmother acts distant during the holiday.
The worst confrontation though ends up happening when the kids at the table break into a full out fist fight over a letter to Santa. It's not even that the boy who wrote the letter, Max, believes in Santa. He believes in the spirit of the holiday and being better to one another, but his awful cousins bring the worst out in him. He runs upstairs, tears up the letter, and throws it into the night. The clouds roll in, a freak snowstorm immobilizes the town, and the movie descends into the most ruthless lesson about keeping your holiday spirit that you could possibly imagine.
From this point forward, the movie just straight up starts eliminating characters left and right, with a machine-like efficiency. The titular monster has a lot of gadgets under his sleeve to hunt those without holiday cheer and these gadgets are the film's highlight. Minus some CGI ginger-bread men, most of the film's various monsters are all in-camera animatronics, puppets, and creature suits. They all look fantastic on camera, in particular the Krampus itself, a massive creature lovingly built by the incredible WETA Workshop.
The horror trappings here are a blast, but the way that Krampus leans completely into the literal spirit of the holiday is just fantastic. The aforementioned elderly grandmother tells a story of meeting the Krampus as a child in Germany and the entire flashback is represented as a Rankin-Bass style stop-motion animation. Krampus doesn't just love horror, it loves the holiday's cliches itself, wielding the holiday as a literal weapon against its characters.
The most surprising part of Krampus though is how much fun the characters really are. The film employs comedy actor pros from Adam Scott to Toni Collette to David Koechner. Again, they're all playing archetypes straight from the previously mentioned National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation playbook, but they all admirably commit to playing damn good versions of those archetypes. They come off as walking cliches at first, but the film does just enough to keep you on board with wanting them to stay alive. Or, at least some of them.
What lands Krampus on this list though is its ending. The ending might seem a bit disappointing at first, but it quickly takes enough of a turn to win the audience back. The ending is where the 50s horror comic comparison really stakes its claim.
Krampus is arguably the most cynical film on my list of ten, but it still ultimately fits onto the list. While it does bastardize the holiday just a little bit, it does it with a surprising amount of love for the spirit of the holiday.