M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Six of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2015 and going through September 30, 2016. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on December 4, 2015. Available on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand!

KRAMPUS (2015)

Directed by Michael Dougherty
Written by Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey, Zach Shields
Starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, Leith Towers, Maverick Flack
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here

While I’m going to have to get some perspective on it, I will say that Michael Dougherty (TRICK R’ TREAT) has made yet another (mostly) great holiday horror film.

Christmas these days seems more of an arduous task than an actual holiday with so many traditions to uphold, it’s hard to just sit back and realize what it’s all about. That’s pretty much the message KRAMPUS is trying to tell you as it follows young Max (Emjay Anthony) the sole believer in Christmas spirit in his family which is comprised of father Tom (Adam Scott), mother Sarah (Toni Collette), sis Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), uncle Howard (David Joechner), aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), drunk great aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), three horrific cousins, and sweet grandma Omi (Krista Sadler). Max is growing up and seeing the way his family acts around Christmas time makes the young boy sad as he remembers when Christmas was the most magical time of the year for him. Writing one last note to Santa asking for everything to be like it used to, Max becomes frustrated and tears up the note and tosses it into the night sky, unknowingly unleashing the fury of the Krampus; a not-so-mythical Anti-Santa who punishes the naughty rather than rewards the nice. Trapped without electricity or heat by a sudden blizzard, the family must band together (and maybe learn a little bit about the important things about Christmas) as the Krampus and his minions attack their not-so-happy home.

There’s an overall sense of sweetness that goes on through this entire film. From the slo mo montage of shoppers barreling through the doors of a store and running a violent gauntlet to get the latest Christmas deals in the opening, to the bucking of all holiday traditions because people are too busy or self absorbed to care, this is a film through the eyes of a child. Often referred to as an Amblin-esque sort of film, KRAMPUS feels more along the lines of TIME BANDITS in tone than anything like EXPLORERS, because there is a undercoating of pure evil to this film that those with more starry eyes may refuse to admit. People die in this film…horribly. And it really is a rather true and sad reflection of the times we live in that the actions of many of the characters in this film are pretty realistic. The ending especially is pretty diabolical in nature and had Dougherty chosen not to go this way with the wrap up, I might not have had such a favorable feeling about this film for its conviction to stay dastardly all the way through.

From a story perspective, I think there are some problems here. Dougherty seems to have a lot of fun highlighting the Griswald-esque shenanigans that are going on and illustrating why these folks are Krampus worthy. I don’t want to say it’s not entertaining. I laughed quite a bit at this portion of the film as it did, sadly, hit close to home numerous times. But while the film takes its sweet time soaking in the talented and comedic character actors playing these horrid people, it kind of forgets to establish what the Krampus is and what its powers and limitations are until later in the film. This makes things feel rather rushed in the climax in order to catch the viewer up as well as come up with the Krampus’ “undoing” in the end. In doing so, things get murky at the end as what’s left of the family take on the Krampus. Add that to the quick way each of the family members meet their end in the last half hour and things begin to feel uneven.

It’s not for lack of trying. There’s a fun animated bit in the middle as Omi (Sadler) explains what the Krampus is. I loved the animation in this film which looked like Christmas cartoons of old mixed with folksy paper puppetry. But this again seems to come a little too late in the game. This discourse as to who the Krampus is and how he was once defeated needed to be earlier so things could have played out more organically.

Effects wise, the film is pretty amazing. They seem to go practical for a lot of the effects which is a lot of fun seeing the monsters in the frame and attacking out horribly family. The toys and elves who accompany the Krampus were seriously awesome and nightmarish and Dougherty does a great job of both working in some creative and terrifying scenes highlighting each of Krampus’ monsters.

I have mixed feelings about the Krampus himself. While I love the overall design and silhouette of the monster with its hunched back, hoofed feet, and swirling horns, the face of the Krampus, which is hidden from us for most of the movie and from the public eye until its release has some issues. The main problem is that the Krampus’ face is never really shown. He is wearing what looks to be the skin of a Santa Claus over his face in a more Leatherface fashion. The mouth is not articulated, so it’s always open in some kind of gaping scream/snarl. This looks menacing in stills, but whenever the camera lingers on the Krampus’ face for too long, it starts to look less and less scary and more goofy. I understand the allure of practical effects, but to have the big face reveal be a masked face is anticlimactic.

That said, despite the fact that there’s a hiccup in the pacing and some snags in the Krampus face, KRAMPUS is a crowd pleaser of a film. It’s not too scary as to frighten away mainstream audiences, but it does have a diabolical kick to it that will make hardcore fans appreciate it. Filled with fun action and horror sequences and an even portion of sugar and spice, just as Doughtery’s TRICK R’ TREAT was something fun to find in your candy bag on Halloween, KRAMPUS is just as much a fun surprise to find under the tree.

Click here for the trailer!

THE 2015-2016 COUNTDOWN!

#13 – BODY
#16 – MORGAN
#20 – DECAY
#21 – EMELIE
#23 – HUSH
#28 – BASKIN

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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