'Krampus': Film Review

Some decent chills, but not as scary as shopping on Black Friday.

The Alpine legend of the evil anti-Santa Claus is brought to the big screen in this comic horror film starring Adam Scott and Toni Collette.

Apparently believing that American children deserve to have just as many nightmares at Christmastime as European kinders, director Michael Dougherty (Trick 'r' Treat) has brought the Alpine legend of Krampus to the screen. A sort of anti-Santa Claus who punishes rather than rewards, the cloven-hoofed, horned creature and his evil minions deliver plenty of cinematic mayhem in this twisted holiday offering. It's only too bad that they couldn't find the time to meet the Coopers.

The sole wide release opening the weekend after Thanksgiving, a traditionally dead time, Krampus will probably be confined to box-office leftovers.

The pic begins promisingly, with a cleverly ice-encrusted Universal logo and a terrific slow-motion sequence depicting frenzied shoppers pummeling each other in a big-box store as Bing Crosby's "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" plays on the soundtrack.

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The storyline starts out as a standard dysfunctional-family comedy, as we're introduced to workaholic husband Tom (Adam Scott); stressed-out mother Sarah (Toni Collette, overqualified for this gig); teenage daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen); and young son Max (Emjay Anthony), whose disillusionment with the holiday provides the impetus for Krampus to eventually make his appearance.  

The clan are soon joined for an extended visit by boorish Uncle Howard (David Koechner); his wife Linda (Allison Tolman); their tomboyish daughters (Lola Owen, Queenie Samuel) and bratty son (Maverick Flack); and hard-drinking, obnoxious Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell).

Also on hand is Max's Austrian grandmother, Omi (Krista Stadler), whose stern, worried demeanor is a harbinger of the terrors to come.

A massive blizzard leaves the extended family stuck in their home without electricity. Grandma Omi advises, "Keep the fire hot," while Beth braves the nasty weather to visit her boyfriend and fails to return.

Beth's disappearance is only the tip of the iceberg of woes. All hell breaks loose as the group is besieged by monstrous living versions of familiar holiday icons including gingerbread cookies, snowmen, teddy bears, cherubs and a jack-in-the box. Demonic elves eventually make an appearance, but the titular figure remains largely unseen until the conclusion.

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Despite its PG-13 rating, the pic is surprisingly intense, with the filmmaker strongly emphasizing the horror elements. But while the violent sequences are very effectively staged, the results are a strange hybrid that doesn't quite work. Lacking the antic, witty humor of something like the similarly conceived Gremlins (1984) or the full-out gore of a traditional horror flick, Krampus never really finds it niche.

Still, the movie has more than a few virtues. The visuals are outstanding, with the wintry landscape convincing enough to make you shiver even in a well-heated theater. And although there is some use of CGI, the majority of the effects are practical, with many of the creatures superbly realized through puppetry, costumes and makeup. They're genuinely creepy, and the actors' obvious physical exertions while interacting with them add to the tension level.     

Krampus is not exactly likely to become a feel-bad Christmas perennial. But it's not a complete lump of cinematic coal, either. 

Production: Legendary Pictures, Universal Pictures

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler

Director: Michael Dougherty

Screenwriters: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields

Producers: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Michael Dougherty, Alex Garcia

Executive producers: Daniel M. Stillman, Zach Shields

Director of photography: Jules O'Loughlin

Production designer: Jules Cook

Editor: John Axelrad

Costume designer: Bob Buck

Composer: Douglas Pipes

Casting: Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, Amanda Mackey

Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.