‘Krampus’ does not grant enough horror or comedy wishes

“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.”

Decades after first watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”, this familiar lyric from the famous song still plays in my head every December.   The Grinch – a brilliant Dr. Seuss creation – carries himself as the ultimate Christmas baddy with some obvious parallels to another holiday villain, Scrooge.   On the hand, after watching “Krampus”, I do not think The Grinch’s or Scrooge’s respective mean streaks can hold an advent candle to the malevolence of this sinister antihero named in this film’s title.    Who or what is Krampus?  It is a shadowy, large creature who sports long, angular horns, drags iron chains, walks with goat or horse-like hoofs, and carries a nasty attitude with bloody and deadly intention.  Say what you want about The Grinch, but he just wanted to take away Christmas, not take away lives.

In director/co-writer Michael Dougherty’s horror/comedy, he features this miserable demon’s descent on a nameless suburban town, but most unfortunately and surprisingly, “Krampus” is not terribly scary nor very funny.    The cast certainly is made up of some talented actors with natural comedic gifts.  Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner play a nice-guy dad, his well-intentioned wife and a goofy brother-in-law.    The setting is Tom (Scott) and Sarah’s (Collette) beautiful home, and they host Christmas for their family and “close” relatives, namely Howard (Koechner) and Linda’s (Allison Tolman) dysfunctional domestic clan.  Koechner tries to channel the “Vacation” films as he gives his best oafish Uncle Eddie impression, and the kids follow suit.

Dougherty tries to throw this kinfolk toxic mess under one roof for some intentional hilarious moments, but the jokes and associated conflicts just feel uncomfortable rather than funny or interesting. Howard’s twin girls repeatedly refer to Tom’s sensitive son Max as “Maxipad”, and this is one of several examples of caustic behavior that does not generate laughs, but “Oh, wonderful” sarcastic sighs instead.  The script, however, needs to be deliberately harsh, so Krampus has reasons to appropriately deliver “punishment” to naughty girls and boys of all ages.

Not everyone, however, is naughty, including goodhearted Grandma Omi (Krista Stadler) who speaks German to everyone (through most of the movie), but the other family members annoyingly respond to her in English.    Max, his sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), Tom, and Sarah are nice enough too, but most of the townsfolk are not.  In fact, in an effective opening scene, we watch dozens and dozens of folks trample, push and punch each other to grab spectacular bargains on Black Friday.   With little Christmas cheer and a very specific “anti-wish”, this antagonist – supported by many evil henchman – feels justified to inflict some painful justice on unsuspecting suburbia.

Regrettably, the proposed tension-filled sequences in which Krampus and his minions attempt to enter local homes and capture or kill all family members – including a 1-year-old baby – seem as synthetic as artificial snow falling on a Hollywood sound stage.   The sets look like the filmmakers quickly assembled them last week, while the chase scenes between monsters and humans feel like a production of the 1980s NBC television series, “Amazing Stories”.   There’s nothing particularly wrong with “Amazing Stories”, but that show’s overall vibe is three decades old.

With counterfeit backdrops and contrived characters, almost everything in the film really feels inauthentic, and in turn, blows up our suspension of disbelief and any chance of real scares (Well, at least for this critic, but admittedly, this movie probably would make my 9-year-old niece jump a bit.).    “Almost everything” is the key phrase, because the family dog does add one genuine moment of humor when he suddenly devours an “edible” gremlin.  In addition, Grandma Omi reflects upon her childhood in a highly engaging, animated stop motion sequence.   While the rest of “Krampus” looks plastic, it truly is ironic that the movie’s rare moment of authenticity comes from its lone animated scene.

Speaking of animation, I am suddenly thinking of a better Christmas story.

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

(Image credits: Universal Pictures, Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers)

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