Here Comes Santa Claus, Here Comes…..Wait; No, It’s Not Him – Krampus

6 01 2016

Krampus (Legendary Pictures - 2015)

“I know that it’s January!” Anyway; I am not all that big a fan of horror films. I like the ideas of horror films, plus have the real understanding of how a horror film should work. It’s not about blood and guts, it’s about being scared, receiving a frightful shock that makes you jump out of your chair, or not able to go to bed that night. The only Horror films I have seen so far are films like Battle Royale, The Purge, Aliens, bits of Predator and AVP. But the idea of taking such a happy time as Christmas and then subjecting the setting to an awful situation that leads to kidnap and possibly death is an interesting idea, plus also why I wanted out to point out that I know its January but am reviewing a film that is set during Christmas.

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Released in 2015 by Legendary Pictures and Universal, and Directed by Michael Dougherty; Krampus is a Christmas themed horror film based on the folklore legend of Krampus. Personally I never heard of the character of Krampus until this film came out. According to Wikipedia:

“In Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. Regions in Austria feature similar figures and, more widely, Krampus is one of a number of Companions of Saint Nicholas in regions of Europe. The origin of the figure is unclear; some folklorists and anthropologists have postulated a pre-Christian origin for the figure (see Germanic paganism).”

Anyway, that’s what/who Krampus is according to folklore; I just thought I better mention some form of knowledge before I start.

The film begins with a scene of people shopping for Christmas Presents, in a similar hysteria and mad panic that people get involved in during Black Friday. After getting into a fight in the store, young boy Max (Emjay Anthony) along with his sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and their parents Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) return home where Tom’s mother known as Omi (Krista Stadler) is busy making Christmas cookies. Max still believes in Christmas traditions and hopes for Christmas to be as close as that could possibly be, but the house is in chaos, and gets worse with the arrival of Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband Howard (David Koechner), their children Stevie (Lolo Owen), Jordan (Queenie Samuel), Howie Jr. (Maverick Flack), their baby daughter, and Linda and Sarah’s Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell)…oh, and their dog too. The chaos at home rises as the two family’s thoughts and beliefs begin to clash, and end with Stevie and Jordan taking Max’s letter to Santa Claus and reading it out loud during dinner, resulting in a fight. Tom tries to comfort his son, but Max decides to rip up his letter to Santa and throw it to the winds. At that moment a snow storm arrives and causes a power outage throughout the whole area. The following morning, the family struggle with the loss of heat and power, while Max is wondering about a snowman that has appeared in the front garden. A delivery man arrives with presents for the family, as well as a sack which is just left by the door. Beth decides to visit her boyfriend’s house to see if he has power; on the way though she spots a tall horned entity standing on a house rooftop. She runs away but is pursued by the strange being. She hides underneath a van, and watches as a creature with hooves walks around her. It soon leaves, but Beth is then attacked by something inside a Jack in a Box.

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The family grows worried for Beth, so Tom and Howard go outside looking for her. They find it strange that there are no other people in the area, no cars, nothing, other than for a snow plow. Back at the house, everyone else hears strange noises coming from the roof. Upon reaching Beth’s boyfriend’s house, Howard and Tom notice how much devastation around them there is, with the chimney split, and hoof prints on the floor. Upon leaving Howard is attacked by a snow monster. Tom saves him and drags him back home, telling the family to board themselves up inside. Omi, who has begun to act really strange, tells Tom to keep the fire burning. During Howard’s watch however, he falls asleep and the fire dies. While everyone else sleeps, a hook with a Gingerbread Man attached comes down the chimney. Howie Jr reaches for it and takes a bite, only for the Gingerbread man to suddenly come to life, wrap him in chain and drag him up the chimney. The family tries to save him, but is unable to do so. Omi then tells the family what is going on, and that they are being attacked by Krampus (Luke Hawker and Gideon Emery). When she was young, Omi lost her faith and hope in Christmas due to her poverty-stricken life in the village where she lived. As a result the ‘Shadow of Saint Nicholas’; Krampus came to town and took the whole town with him to the underworld, leaving Omi behind, with a Krampus Bauble to remind her of what happens when one loses their love of Christmas. Howard refuses to believe her, and goes outside where the whole garden is full of Snowmen and maliciously laughing creatures. He goes back inside. Tom forms a plan for them to try and run for the Snow Plow and find help. Meanwhile the sack of presents upstairs begins to rattle and shake. Stevie and Jordan hear Beth’s voice in the attic and go looking for her. Upon hearing the two girls scream, Tom, Sarah and Linda go into the attic and find a giant Jack in the Box creature swallowing Jordan whole. They are then attacked by the Jack in the Box and some other Christmas toys, while Howard is attacked by a trio of Gingerbread Men in the Kitchen. They are just able to fight off the creatures, but back downstairs a horde of Dark Elves burst into the front room and take the Giant Jack in the Box, Howard, Dorothy and the Baby with them. Krampus is then heard landing on the roof and descends down the chimney. Omi stays back at the house to give the retreating family some time to escape. Krampus seemingly recognizing her unleashes his monstrous, demonic toys on her.

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The rest of the family reach the snow plow, but then Tom, Linda and Sarah are all sucked into the snow by the Snow Monster from earlier. Max with Stevie in tow tries to start the plow, but it doesn’t work, and Dark Elves arrive and carry off with Stevie. Krampus then lands in front of Max, and gives him a bauble, wrapped in his ripped up letter to Santa, revealing that it was Max who caused all this to happen. Back at the House, Krampus, his minions and a chained up Stevie prepare to leave back to the Underworld, when Max shows up, throwing his bauble at Krampus and demanding he fixes everything. A pit of Lava opens up, and Max tearfully pleads for Krampus to return his family, and take him instead. In a silent moment Krampus sees Max Tears, but then begins laughing. Stevie is thrown into the pit, and Krampus drops Max in too. The following morning, Max wakes up in bed. Thinking it was all a dream, he sees the neighbourhood as it should be, heading downstairs to see his family is alright. They begin to enjoy their Christmas, when Max opens a Present with a Krampus Bauble inside, to which the whole family falls quiet. The camera then pans out to reveal the house is inside a snow globe, along with many others inside Krampus’s Workshop.

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Terrifying and Enchanting, that’s the best way to describe Krampus. It’s a term I have used since about 5 minutes after leaving the cinema (I didn’t walk out if that’s what you’re thinking). Krampus is a very clever film and one that sticks to both the modern Christmas life and the folklore legend that inspires it. It tells a story, but also teaches one; plus values. It opens up with scenes resembling the over commercialized Christmas holiday scene, with people rushing into a shop, tripping over and fighting one another in the hope of getting a present, then goes into the troubled Christmas family life with tensions between family members plus the arrival of the inappropriate and offensive in-laws. It makes the start of an over-promising Christmas family comedy film (which given by this evidence doesn’t usually work out). But then things begin to take an ugly turn, as the horrid in-laws begin to upset the family more, which instigates an unbelievable situation, which leads to horrible consequences, with each family member one by one getting picked off and killed by a supernatural entity and his minions. It begins with the over commercialized view of Christmas, but develops into teaching the true values of Christmas. It tells the story of a boy wanting the best for his family, but once is made fun of by his horrible cousins, loses his spirit for the holidays. This then leads to their terrible situation and shows that while there is heat between family members, there is still love, and once said members are lost, they are missed. So while the family life may not be paradise, there is still more value in it than any gift wrapped up in paper. The telling of this story then is much like how most good films work, it revolves around change, change from where you started from, and learning to bring about something much stronger. Even if it takes such a horrid situation to make people realize this. But then Krampus does something very clever. It does revert the narrative back to a normal life and make the idea that it was all just a dream and that everything is fine. But to prevent them returning to their old, miserable, horrid habits; they are presented with a reminder. A reminder that is true to everyone, not just one person, that what happened, was real, and that it can be done all over again just as easily. This makes both the family and audience think, and remember to take Christmas and the beliefs surrounding it more seriously in the future, because just like the film, it can all be taken away so quickly…even at this time of year.

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Krampus sticks very closely to its Christmas traditions and to its folklore legend. I mean that though into how Krampus as an entity works. Krampus is a horror film, and a very scary one at that, but the use of Christmas iconography to deliver these frights is very well done. For many who see this film, Krampus will remain a very mysterious figure that will require some access too to fully understand who he is and what he means. Krampus as a creature is more a man with creature like attachments, possibly more like a faun, but his great bulk and size, plus his two horns continue to present a monstrosity, than anything else for most of this film. For the meantime, it’s through the aforementioned use of iconography well known at Christmas time to deliver the first few frights. Things like Gingerbread Men coming to life (a scene which reminded me of the living cake scene in the Young Sherlock Holmes), traditional Christmas toys attacking the family residents, snowmen in the garden. Ok, I don’t know where Dark Elves come from, but for the most part, it comes down to Christmas traditions. Other things too like Krampus coming down the chimney (“sound familiar?”), snow globes, a giant jack in the box, a teddy bear, an angel, and even a robot, all these things work together to take the happy, joyous setting of Christmas and turn it around to create nothing but pure frights. This continues throughout most of the second act, but then come the third; it’s pretty much all reserved for the film’s titular character.

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As for the film’s cast, it is sort of filled with hits and misses. They all have their own major perks, but some are better presented than others. You do of course have the Tom and Sarah as the strong willed parents having to take care of the family. While there is a minor level of tension between them, the situation does bring them closer together. For the most part they are really strong and favorable characters who get sucked into a horrible situation, but are still level headed enough to keep their heads above the snow…as it were. While she may only appear very briefly, Beth is a pretty cool character. Playing the average teen at Christmas, more concentrated on her boyfriend than her own family, but is strong and caring enough for those around her. She is the first one at this event to see Krampus, and possibly the first victim too, but her death is a strong death and is just a taster for the misery to come. Then you get the in-laws, a miserable bunch of inappropriate. Linda is ok, but I don’t feel like she comes out all that strongly enough except for when her children are in Danger closer to the third act. Howie Jr. plays the role of a fat little kid who can’t stop eating, very much so representing the idea of gluttony during the Christmas period. He is quiet all the way through, and it is through his gluttony that he gets caught by Krampus. He is the first of a few comedy characters for this film. Jordan I feel doesn’t have much of a presence in this film to talk much about, other than being one of Howard’s very masculine like daughters. As for the comedians, this comes in the form of Howard and Dorothy. Howard is like the stereotypical, hard as nails Texan with a shotgun. His first answer is always his gun and is far more inappropriate than appropriate. A man who obviously wanted boys over girls, and enforces masculine like tendencies on his two elder daughters. He however has a redeeming quality in that he becomes a hard fighter during the fight against the monstrosities, and a worthy ally in such a situation, sort of making up for his attitudes in the films earlier scenes. Aunt Dorothy meanwhile is full on comedy, a character who just doesn’t really change. She is the negative aunt, the character who only really cares for herself in any situation, and pretty much ends hat way, but like everyone else falls silent during the end. Her role though in this is mostly just for laughs.

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Omi I find quite an interesting character as her place in the film is almost like a connotation or tribute to old American Monster Movies. Omi is someone who has experienced the wrath of Krampus before and instantly knows what’s happening and is consistently trying to prevent what is going on while everyone remains oblivious to this. She knew how it happened last time and knows what to do from that experience this time. Then she explains that its Krampus that is causing all this to happen. My mind keeps jumping to old American monster movies with her role, because she is a lot like the expert, or the scientist; the character who walks in half way through and explains the origins of the monster attacking the city, just to cover the science background and explain in detail what is really happening. I therefore feel like that towards Omi as she does just that but in a different role and context. I don’t have any problems with it, I actually quite like that and think it’s rather clever, it covers all basis and fills the audience in more with the details of the ancient legend. Then there is Max, the one who, while not the lead exactly, is the one the legend has come for. He starts off the film with belief and desire to continue the traditions of the Christmas and family, but things take an ugly turn when this is used against him by Stevie and Jordan, who use this as a ploy to have some fun. From that moment Max loses his belief in the Christmas spirit, and therefore Krampus comes calling. Throughout the film, Max plays a very strong and caring role, looking out for and trying to protect his family, even those he doesn’t like, as best as he can, but is of course the main target for Krampus, and so has to watch helplessly as his family is taken away from him. But then, as he is about to be left alone by Krampus, Max comes back, to try and get his family back, even so far as going to try and save Stevie, the instigator. While this in the end doesn’t really work out well for him, this courage and strength make him not just some weak crying kid, but a nice change with a strong one instead; and in some way is the film’s narrator too. Stevie meanwhile I find as something of a breakout role. While she does start off as this horrid instigator (and personally I think the real reason for why this is happening), I am sort of drawn towards her as a character. She remains tough most of the way through and changes herself much like everyone else, and in somewhat ironic way is the last one to be taken, despite it really being all her fault. However, despite all that bad stuff, Stevie is a really great character and I think Lolo Owen who plays her does it really well. I can see (but also hope) that Lolo Owen gets more roles in the future from her performance in this, because I think she really deserves it.

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The lead role though is of course the big guy – No, not Godzilla – Krampus. Just one quick thing firstly. I love the Dark Elves in this film. I didn’t know how they were going to be done when I first read about them, but the use of costumes and wonderful masks really do make them a fun, yet still terrifying, inclusion in this film. Anyway back to Krampus. The film is of course all about the titular character, the film title suggests so, and the shadowy figure in the film’s poster makes it so. For most of the early parts of this film, Krampus is merely just a suggestion, his figure is seen, but doesn’t really act. However I think this is Krampus at his best, because his legend is merely a shadow of Saint Nicholas, and so his presence is mostly just that, and I really like it. You see this monster, bigger than a man with some of the most magnificent horns (oh, and don’t forget the hooves) you have ever seen. He is like an army general leading his men from the sidelines, but then enough is enough, and here comes Krampus. His minions running to one side, following orders, and enjoying the prospect of watching their great leader getting his hands dirty. This shadowy like approach to Krampus is really rather fun and builds up magnificently to the point of where you finally see what he looks like. His character then comes out, followed by a malicious laugh later on. It’s really creepy and the buildup is so enjoyable. Despite all this though however; there is some disappointment.

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Krampus bolsters some terrific special effects for a film that was made on a relatively small budget. This lack of budget however did not seem to turn the filmmakers away. Most of the film’s special effects come in the form of costumes and puppets. The toys in the attic, the dark elves and even Krampus himself are all more like costumes and suits than CGI, and this is how most of the film’s special effects are done, however on 2 occasions at least there is also some brilliant CGI work too. The earliest of these is from Beth getting chased by Krampus, which is rather quick, but then comes the Gingerbread Men. Bringing these dastardly creatures to life is done really well, and really freaks you out when they come to life and then start attacking everyone. It’s a haunting sight, and one that will make you think twice before eating one ever again (and don’t forget their devious laugh too). There is one disappointment though I feel, and it’s the same one as mentioned at the end of the last paragraph. You see, despite all the great effects, done any way possible: either be the CGI gingerbread men, or the Dark Elves costumes, I feel like it’s a real shame that the face of Krampus is so lifeless. The film has been building up to this point for a long time, just seeing this great shadow like figure in the area, and now he finally shows us his face, and it’s a bit disappointing. The face of Krampus looks like a big mannequin face, wide mouth, but is just so dead. No movement, no life. The only thing seen moving really is the eyes, close up. Where is this great monster we have been looking forward to? Sure, he may be more human than monstrosity, but even Father Christmas has facial movement. It just feels like a wasted moment and can bring down with ease, what we have been waiting for. It sort of puts a real sour note to both this film, and this character.

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As for a soundtrack (composed by Douglas Pipes) to this film, it’s hard to really think about it, as for the most part I don’t remember hearing much in original music made specifically for a film sense. That doesn’t necessarily mean though, that there is a lack of music. The film instead makes great and ironic use of traditional songs and pieces that have become so well-known during Christmas. They’re used in some of the most ironically funny ways, such as the theme “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” which is used to depict the mass crowds running into the shopping Centre, and chaos enveloping in the last Christmas shop rush. There are a lot of instances like this taking place all over the film. The most powerful piece though I think is used during the end credits. Now for years I recognized the piece (Carol of the Bells) as a song used in Family Guy when Peter works in Burger King; but through the end credits, it was used to talk about the legend of Krampus. Now if that is what it was originally made out to be for, then it’s great to finally hear it as such, and since then leading up to Christmas, I couldn’t stop singing a sort of version of that with Krampus in the lines. It is a really nice thing to wrap the film up with, but still present a level of haunting and non-existent peace in the film’s final credits.

Terrifying and Enchanting, I used that term earlier and have since to describe Krampus the film, and I still hold to it. What I have stumbled upon here is a true Christmas cinema gem. There are many Christmas films out there, and every year like clockwork another one is released, but it’s fair to say that producing a Christmas based film is rough, because there are so many bad ones out there. What do you do for a Christmas film while still maintaining the theme of Christmas all the way through? It’s a hard thing to do because that’s what you’re setting out to do. Through the cracks of the good and the bad, every blue moon, one comes out that just shakes up the scene and becomes a legend within cinema goers during that time of year, and Krampus is one of them. It’s a film packed with laughs, frights and shocks. It’s set in a very believable setting and begins with very believable situations before developing into something else, something magnificently terrifying. It’s got a story, characters and monsters. It’s there for those who at Christmas want to see something else and while it may not be the greatest or even the scariest horror film out there, it’s definitely one of the best Christmas films. “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why; KRAMPUS IS COMING TO TOWN!”

GENEPOOL (I’m surprised Lordi wasn’t asked in helping out with the soundtrack).

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