Christmas Becomes Nightmarish Hell in Demonic Santa Movie ‘Krampus’

For some reason I went into a screening of Krampus expecting it to be the best movie of the year [Editor’s Note: This isn’t surprising]. You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to see this movie. By fault of excessive self-hype or otherwise,Krampus didn’t quite live up to the expectation, but this Christmas-gone-wrong tale of a demonic Santa (based on some German urban legend) has delightfully nightmarish moments.

It starts with the kind of Christmas nightmare we’re familiar with: RETAIL HORROR. As a soothing Christmas song plays in the opening credits, people are seen tearing each other apart in carnal, primal, slo-mo glory. Kids are feral-ass creatures, man.

Even though Krampus is one of those “dumb,” “mindless” movies, it operates in a Dante’s Inferno kind of way. There are several circles of Christmas hell in this film, and after the retail one, the second takes place inside the Martha Stewart-looking home of a family. Adam Scott and Toni Collette play married couple David and Sarah, parents to Beth (Stefania LaVie) and their well-intentioned tween son Max (Emjay Anthony), who accidentally makes this whole shitshow happen. There’s also a creepy grandma in this movie—as there should be—and her name is Omi and she only speaks German. Of course, this movie needs the German roots to make sense in an otherwise very American tale. Whether or not it was a consciously comedic choice, it’s kind of hilarious when Krampus uses subtitles during the German-speaking parts (AND ALSO ADAM SCOTT SPEAKING GERMAN IS TOO MUCH).

But anyway, the next circle of hell comes in the form of their crass relatives: Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her gun-toting husband (played by David Koechner in the only kind of role David Koechner plays), their bratty children, and token Drunk Aunt (Conchata Ferrell), who spends most of the bitching about literally everything and making peppermint schnapps. She’s clearly supposed to be the comedic relief to the film’s already half-assedly funny effort, but Krampus’ comedy really shines when it’s not so try-hard. Drunk Aunt could have been so iconic, and yet. Oh yeah, there’s also an infant but he/she is not very important and certainly not helpful in fighting evil creatures. (This movie might have anti-children undertones, actually.)

All hell breaks loose when those bratty children find Max’s letter to Santa and read it out loud, mocking his wish for his parents to get along and for him to be closer to his sister. After they tease him, Max screams “I HATE CHRISTMAS” and dramatically tears up his letter, letting its loose scraps fly up into the sky and disappear into the moonlight (that’s not how physics works AT ALL but whatever). This anger summons the German demon Santa, who is hard to see for most of the movie ’cause he lurks in the shadows but sorta looks like a centaur (he’s hooved and has horns but has a human-like upper half).

First sign of trouble is that all the power goes out, no one gets cell service, and they’re trapped in a blizzard with a bunch of people they don’t like. Teen daughter Beth thinks this is a good time to go over to her boyfriend’s house, and I don’t need to tell you what a bad idea that is because UH OH—motherfuckin’ Krampus gets to her first. Then it becomes a mission for the family to get Beth back. Beta Male Adam Scott is the perfect candidate as a hot horror movie dad because not only does he wear Ethan Hawke-level cardigans (ones with popped up collars) but he also puts his Beta-ness aside and decides to be brave for his daughter. Gun-toting uncle even makes good use of himself because guess what, guns are the most effective thing in fighting these monsters. (No, I do not think this is pro-gun propaganda nor do I wish to get into that right now.)

Still, these lousy humans are helpless against Krampus’s Christmas minions (oh my god, is this another Minions movie?), as he sends one evil helper after another to do his naughty deed. These minions are THE best part of the movie. There’s a Bride of Chucky-looking doll who licks Toni Collette’s face with her long, disgusting tongue, a terrifying Jack in the box (see first image), elves who look like they’ve been plucked straight out of Eyes Wide Shut, and my favorite, demented gingerbread cookies who are very handy with a nail gun. When you’re not asking “Why is Toni Collette in this movie?” you’ll be screaming with disbelief and manic joy.

Even though family members get snatched up one by one (a surprising number of children are taken) Krampus is not depressing holiday fare. Drunk Aunt has one actually good line (“We’re fucked”)—and boy is that true. The weird part is no one spends a lot of time grieving over their abducted (possibly killed?) children, but maybe that’s what happens when you’re too hyped on survival mode adrenaline. At one point, though, the German grandma decides it’s storytelling time and finally speaks English (what the?), grandmasplaining to her American family (and by extension, American audience members) what the fuck a Krampus actually is (think of him as St. Nick’s evil twin).

Look, I don’t know if Krampus is a good movie or a bad movie or even a funny one (it was neither great nor terrible, but I did laugh at parts?). I refuse to give this a star-rating because it would rank low on that, but if you want to know if you should spend your Christmas watching this in theaters, I say absofuckinglutely. Why not spread some Christmas fear this year? *Cackles*

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