Friday, December 4, 2015

KRAMPUS (2015)

Directed By: Michael Dougherty
Written By: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Starring: Adam Scott, Emjay Anthony, Toni Collette

Max is young but old enough to notice the magic of Christmas slipping away a little more each year. His German grandmother makes sure he still writes his letter to Santa to keep the spirit of the holiday with him but when relatives come over and get into a fight with Max making fun of his letter Max tears up his letter and throws it out his bedroom window into a strong winter wind. That night a sudden blizzard hits the town knocking out power and snowing the family in. They'll soon find out that the weather is the least of their worries.

Holiday based horror movies are nothing new. They continue to be a favorite amongst fans and provide a familiar and usually eye catching setting. Christmas horror films are no different and there have been plenty over the years that run the gamut from cute and lighthearted horror fun to down right mean and despicable that caused public outcry. KRAMPUS will fit in nicely with the more highly regarded Christmas horror movies.

Director Michael Dougherty is no stranger to holiday horror, having made one of the finest films based on or around Halloween, horror or not. It was exciting news to fans that he planned on tackling the Christmas season with the old world legend of Krampus who is quite the opposite of jolly old Saint Nicholas. Krampus is a horned figure, resembling that of a goat man from hell. He uses his chains to capture children and put them in his own toy sack to punish them. This isn't the fairy tale you tell the kids on Christmas Eve.

My expectations were high and given the film's PG-13 rating perhaps a bit higher than they should have been. I'm a big time believer that PG-13 horror can (and has) worked perfectly in the past but when dealing with a more restrictive rating it is easy to fall into traps and cliches to try and get the scare factor across. Michael Dougherty showed me that he will not be a victim of such shortcomings in his movies. The scares in KRAMPUS are real. The atmosphere alone is enough to make the audience want to crawl up in a ball with a warm blankey and call for mommy. It's increasingly claustrophobic as the weather has no intention of letting up and Krampus uses his various minions to attack the family barricaded inside the house and try not to be picked off one by one. Their only hope is to brave the weather and try to make it to a snow plow a couple blocks away, a rather unsavory option all things considered.

KRAMPUS allows the audience to have fun with a bounty of laughs throughout. This humor isn't forced, it is organic for each character and given to us almost as a well timed gift from Dougherty to allow us to still laugh and have fun with the film without breaking a single ounce of tension. While KRAMPUS is absolutely a horror comedy it is first and foremost a horror film.

The writing is brilliant without being overbearing. The KISS principle is on display here. Simple but realistic characters that everybody can relate to keeps KRAMPUS grounded in the real world. Every character has their role to fill and there's a good bit of development going on with a few of our main characters. The cast is excellent from Emjay Anthony as Max to Adam Scott as Max's father Tom and David Koechner as Max's uncle, the polar opposite of Tom. And I can't write this review without mentioning Conchata Ferrell, the loud mouth Aunt that nobody invited. She carries the comedy weight on her back and is brilliant.

The thing that may have stood out most to me while watching KRAMPUS is that I felt like I was watching something made in the 1980s. I don't mean it felt like they were trying to capture the feeling of a movies from the 1980s. It had a genuine energy and vibe that only films of the 80s had. While being a seriously scary horror film it was also lighthearted enough to allow the audience to laugh and smile once in a while. KRAMPUS doesn't feel out of place next to a movie like Gremlins though it ramps up the horror quite a bit.

There was a single moment at the end of the movie that I feared was going to blow the entire thing. I thought to myself "oh no, here's the moment I was afraid of... here's the cop out" as my enjoyment faded from my face into a grimace. Then KRAMPUS proved itself right. It was the movie I hoped it would be and the movie I expected from Michael Dougherty. The grimace quickly turned to an ear to ear smile. The ending was handled perfectly.

There's something intangible about KRAMPUS that makes it special and only time will tell if fans hold it in high regard for years to come but I can tell you that it deserves a place among the favorite Christmas horror films of all time and in the hearts of horror fans.

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