It’s hard to believe that we’ve had to wait this long for a new Michael Dougherty-directed feature film, marking Krampus as his first movie since 2007’s Halloween classic Trick ‘R Treat. And just like Trick ‘R Treat, Krampus explores holiday horror in terrifying fashion, cementing his new film as an instant Christmas-horror classic. In it, after his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max turns his back on Christmas, unknowingly summoning the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers.
This movie is just a nasty little treat from Dougherty, who very clearly wanted to invade the Christmas season with something mean and scary. It’s absolutely brimming with holiday spirit, creating a world that comes to life on the warmth and meaning of Christmas while covering it in a cold, snow-swept nightmare. And just like Trick ‘R Treat, Krampus masterfully blends the atmosphere of the holiday into its story, not just taking place on Christmas but thriving on it. And that’s what makes Dougherty the best at what he does (holiday horror), because the film doesn’t just take place on Christmas, it’s about Christmas. It’s a Christmas movie through-and-through, only Dougherty has injected it with dark humor and pure horror.
The film reflects this image of what Christmas has turned into over the years—this idea of taking instead of giving—with a monster, Krampus, representing everything Saint Nicholas isn’t. And that’s exactly what makes him so terrifying because he’s the farthest thing away from the jolly old fat guy, a demon that shows up in a screaming blizzard to take all those who’ve been naughty. It’s such a delightfully terrifying concept that Dougherty runs away with, destroying Christmas for little kids everywhere. But as scary as Krampus is (and he is one creepy bastard), it’s his little helpers—the elves and demonic toys—that are pant-shittingly awesome. Dougherty used practical effects every chance he could and the film comes to life because of it, allowing his wicked creations to run amok and do horrible things to this family. If ruining Christmas for children wasn’t bad enough, Dougherty’s monsters will no doubt crawl into their dreams and ruin those, too.
To me that was the biggest surprise about Krampus, too, was just how dark it gets. It almost caught me off guard because much of the movie is driven by these really funny characters and there’s a lot of dark humor that keeps the narrative moving along quickly, but man does it get nasty and go to some scary places. What few quiet moments there are in the film are torn apart by one creature after the next, a constant onslaught of not-so-merry monsters terrorizing Christmas. And while all of this is going on, the shadow of Krampus looms in the background, just waiting to be revealed. A lot of the movie just teases the presence of Krampus, and I love that Dougherty makes us wait before unveiling his titular monster.
This is just a fantastic movie, a sure-to-be holiday classic that captures the very spirit of Christmas and the horror of what happens when Krampus comes to town instead of Santa Claus, bringing with him monsters and demonic elves looking for those on the naughty list. A world where evil Snowmen, frozen in darkness, watch your every move on a Christmas night filled with terror.