Two Cents: Cool Guys on KRAMPUS


Two Cents
Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Michael Dougherty has traveled a winding road to cultishy adored genre favorite, the kind that gets the Internet all into a tizzy when they’re pegged for a blockbuster (in this case, the upcoming Godzilla: King of Monsters). Dougherty first popped up on the scene as a screenwriter, collaborating with Bryan Singer on the still-beloved X2 and the maybe-we-shouldn’t-have-been-so-harsh-on-this in the wake of murder-Superman, Superman Returns.

Dougherty made the leap to director with 2007’s holiday horror anthology, Trick ‘r Treat. Anthology films are a booming business these days, but in the aughts, the studio had no idea what to make of the oddly structured film, especially a horror film that was frequently as ghoulishly funny as it was scary, if not moreso (a kid with a bag over his head murdering people with lollipops?). While the studio didn’t know what to do with the film, genre fans immediately did, and Trick ‘r Treat rapidly became a yearly tradition for many in the horror-set.

For his follow-up, Dougherty continued his very specific trend of taking holiday folklore and running it through the filter of balls-out horror-comedy. Krampus finds a family struggling through the endurance nightmare that is Christmas, with passive-aggressive (and sometimes just aggressive-aggressive) behavior driving each other to the breaking point. It gets so bad that youngest child Max (Emjay Anthony) rips up his letter to Santa and resents his family, accidentally triggering the arrival of a massive snowstorm and the demonic anti-Claus, Krampus.

But before the horned and hooved one gets to work, he besets the family with a menagerie of nightmarish creatures, from a man-eating Jack-in-the-box to some violently dickish gingerbread men. Can the family (packed with underappreciated luminaries like Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, and Fargo‘s luminous Allison Tolman) outlast the storm and the monsters and have a happy Christmas?

Probably not, but we decided to find out for ourselves and braved a holiday night with Krampus!

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

– Brendan

Next Week’s Pick:

Folks, we’ve noticed over the last few weeks that something… crazy is going on. Have you guys noticed? It seems that everywhere, between juvenile fanboys, your racist uncle posting on Facebook, Dreamworks’ latest animated merchandise commercial — I don’t mean to alarm you, but we’ve found ourselves surrounded by trolls. We’ve been digging and found this corruption goes all the way up to the Presidency.

And so we have put our heads together and come out with an official statement on the matter:

You know what? F–k trolls.

Let’s watch Trollhunter.

Oh, and Guillermo del Toro’s new animated series entitled Trollhunters hits Netflix next week? So there’s that, too.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

– Austin

Our Guests

Husain Sumra: Christmas is supposed to be a time when people embrace giving and sacrifice, where you believe in hope and kindness and where the words “it’s Christmas” can save you from the bitter realities of life. Krampus understands that this isn’t the case for everyone, and that for a lot of people it’s about burying their feelings down deep and painting over them in red and green. Be happy! Tolerate the family members you only see once a year! Clench your teeth and get through it! Spend a month traversing the web for the “best” deals!

Ironically, understanding that and upending the traditional Christmas movie turns Krampus into a pretty wonderful Christmas movie. It points out the absence of spirit in modern Christmas, allowing you to realize just how special the holiday should be.

At the same time, and like other Michael Dougherty joints, it’s able to marry holiday understanding with a fun terror that contains some of the most interesting creature design of the past couple years. Like most things during Christmas, Krampus also comes wrapped with a bow; in this case, it’s an absolutely perfect ending. This movie is a Christmas miracle. (@hsumra)

Trey Lawson: Krampus has officially entered rotation as a holiday film I plan to revisit annually. As with Trick ‘r Treat before it, Michael Dougherty has made a holiday-specific horror flick that effectively captures the essence of the season. The lead kid’s desire to return to an idealized, nostalgic version of what Christmas should be is definitely something that resonates with me these days, even given the consequences shown in the film. What strikes me most about Krampus is how the first act of the film could easily be a more traditional Christmas film. There’s a lot of John Hughes in the family dynamics, and I can’t help but think of both National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Home Alone as important parts of the film’s DNA.

And yet as the film shifts into horror that setup still fits. Within the first 20 minutes I was practically begging for a cloven hoofed Christmas monster to come along and take out the obnoxious cousins. By the second act, Krampus plays more than a little bit like Joe Dante’s Gremlins – both in horror comedy tone and in its “lots of small monsters attacking throughout the house” structure. There’s also a really great animated sequence, more or less evoking Rankin-Bass style Christmas specials, that sort of establishes the “rules” of the Krampus.

If I have a complaint, it’s that I wish there was more of the title creature in the film – it’s a really great design, but we really only get a good look at it near the end of the film. I’m always one to appreciate the “less is more” approach to monster movies, but with a movie called Krampus I expected the Krampus to be more directly involved throughout the film. But I suppose there are worse things than to be left wanting more. I really didn’t have much in the way of expectations for Krampus, but it is easily one of the best holiday films I’ve watched so far this season. (@T_Lawson)

Brendan Agnew: So, I’m going to compare Krampus favorably to Gremlins. In fact, I’m going to talk specifically about stuff that Krampus does better.

Yes, better.

To start with, Gremlins is a better movie. It’s got better pacing, more memorable characters, and is clean and functional as anything. But aside from “nasty as hell,” it’s missing a crucial piece of thematic identity. There’s an important difference between a takedown and a pointed satire. Michael Dougherty knows his way around a holiday-themed creepfest, but Krampus feels like something from deep inside him. The story of an extended family trapped over the Christmas holidays and beset by Santa’s opposite number is a good idea on paper – “bottle episode” setup, killer heavy, awesome props/creatures – but it’s aiming for more than “What if The Thing were funnier and had more eggnog?”

What Krampus nails, with a sledgehammer, is the tightrope walk between furious nihilism regarding and genuine love of the “holiday spirit.” Not only does it build its inciting incident around it, it then uses this balancing act to inform on every single character. In a situation where you’re supposed to hate most of the cast on sight, Krampus then works overtime to show these people family the hell up in situations where literally eating each other wouldn’t be unexpected. To combat the tonal whiplash endemic to horror-comedies, Krampus suckers you into starting to LIKE some of these assholes so that, by the time things are decidedly going down, it has well and truly Gotten Real Bad Boys-est sense.

Then he goes and packs this sucker with character actors who are game for anything, gets freakin’ WETA to do the creature work, has time for a beautiful little “Deathly Hallows Pt. 1“-style vignette mid-movie, AND sneaks in two “Calvin & Hobbes” references.

Merry. Christmas. (@BLCAgnew)

Jaime Burchardt: I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Krampus the first time I watched it. Actually I don’t remember almost any of my thoughts after that night except ‘These bastards worked hard to not get that R-rating.’ It deserved a second viewing, and after a year passed, it finally got it. The second viewing definitely helped me have a grasp on it, and although it might be considered hearsay at this point, in some regards I prefer it over Michael Dougherty’s last film Trick r Treat…in some regards. The former’s impact is heavier thus earning its cult-classic status, but Krampus is no slouch. A game ensemble, wickedly sharp cinematography and some of the most $#%@-up make up effects I’ve seen in awhile gives it a nice contemporary punch. And this time around, kudos must be paid for Dougherty going all the way with that ending. I appreciate Krampus a lot more now. (@jaimeburchardt)

Matt Miller: From the hilariously cynical opening sequence until the ending pan out through snow-frosted windows of our characters’ terror-stricken faces, every bit of Krampus feels meticulously thought out, visually and emotionally. Like Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat before it, the film’s packed with countless small moments that make the whole feel completely fresh yet endlessly familiar. While it’s hardly the first film to expose the lurking dread of “the most wonderful time of the year,” I consider it one of the best. Krampus doesn’t shy away from infusing a good helping of comedy—whether purposefully or wrought out of the situations themselves, I’m not sure—because it’s difficult to be attacked by a killer gingerbread man with a straight face. The (exceptional) horror and the comedy alone would’ve made a functional but hollow end product. The fully-realized characters, their strained relationships and underlying care for one another serve as balance to the equally necessary pessimism. I can think of few times I’ve been more affected by a single line of dialogue than when Toni Collette tells her son Max, “I love you” before being pulled under the snow.

If Trick ‘r Treat was about not believing your eyes, Krampus is about keeping our hands tightly clasped in the cold, cold night. (@mmscripts)

The Team

Frank: The mythology of Krampus is one of the most fascinating things in the whole world to me for the simple fact that it is both incredibly legendary to many, yet still unknown to lots. How great that this film, which will certainly remain the ultimate cinematic incarnation of Krampus, brings the myth to the forefront with a movie which works as both a solid comedy/horror experience and a surprisingly genuine Christmas tale.

There’s a wonderful tongue-in-cheek factor throughout Krampus, beginning with one of the most entertaining opening sequences ever and continues on through wacky family member characters and the nature of the holiday creatures which come to life. I love it when a horror film involves an ENTIRE family, rather than just children who are oftentimes dismissed by grownups in these situations. Here, everyone does battle against some incredibly demented and maniacal Christmas-themed monsters, each more horrifically designed than the last. And yet as a much as a creepy and hilarious creature feature as Krampus is, it manages to make a surprisingly earnest comment on both the season and on the importance of family in general. This is of course shown through lead character Max’s journey in embracing the admittedly annoying individuals he’s related to and especially in his grandmother’s flashback tale of her own encounter with Krampus as a young girl. Watching the stunningly-designed sequence as it lays out the core essence of what makes Krampus such a terrifying figure, along with a wonderfully appropriate “up in the air” ending helps to ensure the film’s future as a bona-fide holiday classic. (@frankfilmgeek)

Justin: Trick r’ Treat is one of my favorite anthology horror films since 2000, if not ever. Of course, this meant I was excited to hear the director took on another holiday. While decidedly less brutal than his Halloween film, Krampus is a solid Christmas horror film in the tradition of the Gremlins films and, more recently, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Darkly comic with a ton of heart, this is essentially the story of a family dealing with family stuff… as well as the Christmas demon and his minions.

If I had to speak on one favorite thing about the film, it’s the use of great practical effects. Overall, however, there’s not much about the film I don’t enjoy. While you shouldn’t go in expecting to be scared out of your mind, you will gasp and jump a couple of times. And, if you don’t have some fun with this, you’re a goddamn Grinch! (@thepaintedman)

Brendan: As someone who felt pretty let down by Trick ‘r Treat when I finally watched it, I was wary of Krampus. It looked to be doing much the same thing as that film, with the added gimmickry of “Isn’t it crazy how Christmas is actually, like, weird and sad and fucked up?” thing that not-clever people trot out to try and feel clever.

So I’m happy to report that I had a blast with Krampus. It’s a tricky tone that Dougherty is trying to juggle here, sincere but winking, and for the most part he carries it off, ably assisted by a cast that is willing to play everything he throws out them. If the film has one failing, it’s that it never quite builds the same momentum gleeful carnage that a Gremlins did. There’s one giant setpiece where the adults find themselves combating a litany of horrifying toys that is an absolute fucking blast, truly in the best tradition of the acidic fun of a Joe Dante in his prime. But that energy level is hard to keep up and at times you can see the sweat as Krampus tries to keep itself going.

That’s a nitpick, though. Krampus is a hoot, and I fully expect it to gain a legendary status among children who see it way too young and spend the rest of their lives recalling the nightmarish lunacy that Dougherty and his team cooked up.

I heard a little buzz about Krampus when it came out, and made a mental note to check it out. But now that I’ve seen it, I can’t believe the buzz wasn’t deafening. Krampus is a raucous and irreverent holiday horror romp that will doubtless become an annual staple for many (myself, certainly, and clearly some of our Two Cents guests as well).

Like Brendan, I’m in the minority of genre geeks who didn’t much care for Trick r Treat, finding it basically “fine” but not something I’d probably revisit. But Krampus didn’t hit me that way at all – it’s a blast. The film’s saucy first half is peppered with humorously cynical observations on people and the season, and the second half a creature-filled carnival of gleefully fun nightmares. The script subverted my expectations and goes in some pretty wild directions with its story and characters.

My biggest takeaway is that I’m upset I can’t show this to my daughter yet (she’s about 2 years old, so it’ll be awhile). I can’t wait. (@VforVashaw)

A weird side effect of this film is that there are a bunch of Krampus-themed copycat films – a whole new subgenre. Anybody checked them out? Any worth seeing? Sound off in the comments!

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

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the author

Brendan Foley lives in Massachusetts, where he has made a habit out of not knowing what he's doing. He'd like to make a career out of it. You can follow his ramblings on Twitter: @TheTrueBrendanF, and his ramblinger ramblings on Tumblr. Three years from now, it will be revealed that he was dead the entire time.