Review by Ray Schillaci
The Movie Guys
Call it what you will, but the creative minds of the film industry tend to think alike at times, and so often the case comes up with similar ideas that end up racing for the viewer’s attention. We’ve seen this with disaster films, silly rom-coms, and westerns (“Wyatt Earp” and “Tombstone” going mano a mano). A few years ago, it was the black sheep in the Saint Nick family, “Krampus”.
According to the National Geographic website, Krampus is the “Christmas Devil” – “Half goat, half demon, horrific beast who literally beats people into being nice and not naughty.” In 2010, Norway gave us a unique glimpse into the fun and frightening fantasy of it all with “Rare Exports”. Five years later, here in the States, creative minds (and, some not-so-creative) deliver not one, but four tales of this yuletide terror. None of them as impactful or fanciful as the Norwegian product, but some do have their merits, and deliver some gruesome goodies for those that are seeking out the horror of the holidays aside from Black Friday.
Only one of the four have received the luxury of a decent theatrical release via Universal Pictures. This is not to discredit the others, but it does give Universal’s beast a far bigger audience to take a chunk out of. The Big U’s Krampus also comes equipped with higher production values and a stronger cast. Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”), Toni Collette (“Little Miss Sunshine”), David Koechner (“Anchorman”), and Conchatta Ferrell (“Two and a Half Men”) round out the tongue-in-cheek tale skewering beloved Christmas movies and spice it up with their brand of comic timing.
“Krampus” could be a close cousin to such dark holiday fare as “Gremlins” or “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. In fact, at times the film does remind me of early Tim Burton films (“Beetlejuice”, “Edward Scissorhands”). The scares are more silly than terrifying, but the creative energy behind it all is far more fun to watch. On the other hand, one cannot help but notice either a direct rip or a homage to Stuart Gordon’s cult favorite “Dolls,” which was probably done with less than a third of the budget and far more freaky fun over 25 years ago (God, I feel old).
Director, Michael Dougherty (2007’s cult favorite “Trick ‘r Treat”) treats us to a Christmas Eve with a very dysfunctional family that is about to come upon a rude awakening as to the meaning of it all (the holiday season) where a lump of coal would be welcomed over the ghastly events that are about to befall them. After the bickering, berating and mental beatings from annoying family members, young Max is sick of it all, and wishes them away. And that’s where our titled character is happy to oblige with demonic jack-in-the-boxes, evil elves, a beastly stuffed bear, possessed gingerbread men, and an angel doll with very sharp teeth.
The nastiness that follows is far more fun than frightful. The film almost cries out for audience participation during some of the more outrageous events, credit has to go out to the director, and the writing team of Todd Casey, Dougherty and Zach Shields. Although their film is not perfect and may not be as embraced or memorable for fright fans as “Rare Exports” or the “All Through the House” segment in 1972’s “Tales From the Crypt,” it still maintains a giddy fantasy-like darkness that is well worth seeing on the big screen. Some of the scares could have been heightened, and some of the comic hijinks could also have been trimmed to make it a leaner, meaner horror holiday tale. But out of the four films out there, “Krampus” is one helluva treat with a real cool ending.
A Christmas Horror Story is to be commended for not only it’s delightfully daffy ad campaign, sporting old Saint Nick actually doing combat with Krampus, but also being ambitious enough to deliver not one but four tales of terror that actually intertwine rather than be separate entities. On top of all this, we have a Norman Rockwell-type setting with a pugnacious radio host, William Shatner. All of this just adds to the fun, and you can’t help but feel that the directors, Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan went in with tongue firmly in cheek.
Unfortunately, it’s a rather uneven mix with two of the tales being sub-par in suspense and fun. The students seeking out to do a documentary, and living the nightmare once lived before feels tired and trite, and another dysfunctional family pays a visit to a decrepit aunt only to meet up with the legendary Christmas Devil. Both stories get nowhere near the creativity, fun and creepiness of the other two. They have their jump scares and cool effects (especially Krampus himself), but they are nowhere near engaging.
What sells us on the whole picture is a laid-back Shatner doing his best disc jockey snockered on egg nog, a family stealing more (unbeknownst to them) than just a Christmas tree, and Saint Nicholas dealing with a zombie outbreak amongst his elves, and eventually doing battle with a beautifully rendered Krampus. Shatner is purely delightful exuding the joys of Christmas in the small town of Bailey Down. The stolen Christmas tree story is creepy as hell, and probably the most suspenseful. It might have even had legs to be it’s own story, creepy little kid and all.
Then there is the ridiculous, but absolutely dizzy fun of watching Santa dismember his elves one by one. There’s something so dark and comical about the whole affair, you can’t help but laugh and cheer. To top it all off, this fun fright flick ends with a bang and a whirl of a twist. This is definitely worth renting over the holiday season and showing to friends and family (no impressionable youngsters – unless you have certain obnoxious members you wish to scar).
As for Krampus the Reckoning I reckon the makers of this joyless mess deserve to be visited by the real Krampus and tormented as much as I was while trying to get through this “B” monster movie. Yes dear reader, I subjected myself to nearly all the earmarks of a bad movie, so you do not have to. So, I expect some good presents this year for the sacrifice.
If only the filmmakers had put as much effort into the film itself as there was in the creature effects, that are quite impressive. This Krampus reminds me of the creature from Michael Mann’s “The Keep,” but this monster suit and head are even creepier, and could easily evoke nightmares in children (if they were allowed to watch this hard “R” flick). The design and the burn effects all look like they belong in another movie that should have a better script, and a more efficient director.
The story drudges along about a misfit creepy kid that is able to summon Krampus to punish the wicked. This Krampus has the ability of Stephen King’s “Firestarter,” and those that are naughty tend to burst into crispy critters. After the foster child’s last outburst, a social worker and a police detective seek out the mystery of the child and her past. This lends to bad dreams for the social worker, and even worse for some secretive nasty people that cross the foster child’s path.
“Krampus the Reckoning” has all the earmarks of fun bad “sinema,”; nudity, violence, some bad acting, but the pacing is deadly slow. We never get a sense of the season or the fantasy horror that could be evoked by such a project. In fact, the whole film looks like it was shot in the summer rather than the winter. And, the lighting and camera work really work against the obvious threadbare sets. If they are not sets, that means the director of photography is far worse than I could imagine.
Sex scenes are far from titillating, and maybe it’s because I am not 15 year-old boy. But actually, these characters are so repulsive, and at the risk of being cruel, the actors look far better clothed, that I find it hard to believe that any excitement could be had by a young hormonal lad. When it comes right down to it, those responsible for the effects and creature deserve some real treats this season while all others responsible for this folly should only expect lumps of coal.
I wish I could end this review on a happier note, but after subjecting myself to Krampus: the Christmas Devil, it only reminds me of how much mediocre talent is out there, and has me continue to ponder how the hell does anybody get this stuff funded? Mind you, “K:TCD” is a step above “KTR” (Krampus the Reckoning), but that is not saying much.
First off, I have to tip my bright red hat off to writer/director Jason Hull for actually going the extra mile and trying to infuse a sense of the season with snow, decorations a-plenty and a slight sense of fantasy with an attempt at dark humor. Then there is the cave where Krampus dwells, eerie with a multitude of candles and even the credits at the beginning show promise.
But with that being said, Hull’s tale eventually treads all-too-familiar territory with an exploitive “B” movie story fully equipped with horribly staged action sequences, awful dialogue that’s been lifted from practically every bad cop movie out there, subpar rock score, mediocre to bad acting, and sometimes annoying framing and slo-mo shots.
The tale is simple enough, cop gets kidnapped as a young boy, but manages to escape. Years later, he’s tracking the kidnapper who happens to be repeating his steps every ten years or so. The spin on this caper is that Krampus, the Christmas Devil is involved, and Santa is in cahoots! Yes, you read this right, Santa, who looks like Billy Bob Thornton on a bender. The Christmas Devil takes the bad kids and dumps most into a cold lake. For added attraction, he beats bad adults with chained hooks, and plays with the augmented boobies of a young nubile. The only purpose for that…the film needed boobies to go with its Herschel Gordon Lewis style of violence.
Now, to some of you, this may sound like a shoo-in for a great bad holiday movie night. But between the long expository dialogue, hack flashbacks, and drawn out hunt in the woods, this movie induces one to press the fast-forward button once too many times to get to something worth watching. And you would think the Krampus would be interesting, but there are far too many shots of it that resemble bad “big foot” footage.
The only semi-rewards offered are getting a glimpse of Krampus’ hooves and teeth. Oh yes, then there are the boobies! I have to admit, they are better represented here than they were in “The Reckoning”. Somebody cared enough to hire a stripper (sorry, I probably have to recant that since I do not know for a fact that the actress has ever been a dancer or stripper).
The lead, Jay Dobyns, fares far better than most in the film. He actually looks like he is trying to bring more to the screen than should be allowed with this kind of film. While whoever plays Krampus gives us his best Darth Vader imitation. And oh, did I mention the boobies?!! Yes, Angelina Leigh is actually billed as “Krampus’ pet”. She’s quite comely as the dark one’s sex kitten.
Once again, I’m making this sound far too much fun than it actually is. Perhaps it’s the Christmas spirit in me toying with my sensibilities. If you are one that relishes in bad movie making, then by all means treat yourself to these naughty, far from delightful pieces of coal, both Krampus outings – “Reckoning” and “Christmas Devil”. And, if you want pure dark fun this holiday season with a dash of the macabre, then I urge you to partake in the joy of Universal’s “Krampus” in theaters, and the insanity of “A Christmas Horror Story”. With those two, all kinds of wrong never felt so right. Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and to all a good night!
This article was originally published on 12/23/15