Krampus is a mild horror movie about a family who is terrorized by an ancient Christmas demon and his gang of monsters. I liked it for the reasons many likely would not: its relatively moderate tone.
Okay, maybe moderate isn’t a good word to describe a serpentine jack-in-the-box monster that devours children, or a group of cackling elf-goblins that raid a family’s unlit home. People are snatched away by blurry beasts in chaotic sequences, and the onslaught is relentless. But it’s measured in the way the ultimate Christmas comedy-horror Gremlins was, evoking fright and slightly twisted entertainment through imaginative practical effects instead of violent or comedic extremes. And though it’s not as unforgettable or powerful as Gremlins, it’s still a fun ride.
Krampus strikes a moderate balance in its characters, two quarreling families at different ends of the political spectrum. Adam Scott, now one of today’s best-known straight-man/everyman types, is great as the mild liberal father, as is David Koechner as his brash conservative counterpart. Conchata Ferrell makes for a perfect kooky aunt, and Lolo Owen and Queenie Samuel are quite funny as Stevie and Jordan, respectively.
The movie has a wholesome creepy-bedtime-story vibe. Born from Austro-Bavarian folklore, Krampus has the flavor of a cautionary tale: Be careful for what you’re not grateful. The archetypical “average American families” character setup allows for a lot of typical mild jabs (fat-kid jokes, etc.) that, being a Christmas movie, feel traditional more than anything. The monsters, meanwhile, are taken very seriously, and it’s great to see a healthy amount of realism from costumes and practical effects instead of today’s nonstop CGI. It’s kind of like Tremors, with an onslaught of puppet monsters descending upon a desperate clan of victims, and feels almost more from that era than now.
Depending on your idea of Eastern European artwork and folklore, it’s either surprising this movie got made or surprising it took this long. With an appreciative and imaginative art design, it’s good to see the filmmakers doing their best to honor the flavor of their source material. Just fun and thrilling enough, Krampus is a solid little jolt of dark holiday humor.