‘Krampus’ Review: Holiday Horrors for the Whole Dysfunctional Family


Movie Rating:


Twisting the festive joy of Christmas into something sinister never ceases to tickle the shriveled hearts of weirdo cynics like myself. Sure, most folks like their holiday entertainment dripping with sap and shining with sentiment, but others are only satisfied when jingle bells are wrung with explosions or dismemberment. For those who fall into the latter camp, ‘Krampus’ is a delightful holiday romp that should quickly worm its way into the X-mas viewing rotation.

The movie probably tries to be a few too many things and would have benefitted from R rating leniency. At the same time, the fact that a holiday horror flick executed on this scale and with this much style made it through the studio system is an absolute delight.

The movie kicks off wonderfully with a slow-motion Black Friday trampling and riot set to the tune of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” instantly establishing the tongue-in-cheek tone that co-writer/director Michael Dougherty continues throughout. Emjay Anthony stars as Max, one of those plucky young kids who loves Christmas so much that he’s willing to get in a fistfight over it. His family, on the other hand, struggle to keep their festive feelings pumping thanks to good old-fashioned dysfunction.

Dad Tom is played by Adam Scott with all the sarcastic dismissiveness that implies, while mom Sarah is Toni Collette stressed out in that special way only the holidays can provide. The stress thickens when Sarah’s sister (Allison Tolman) and her gun-toting husband (David Koechner) arrive with their bratty kids and a requisite alcoholic whiny aunt (Conchata Ferrell). The arguments and insults that define most awkward family Christmases kick off in such rousing fashion that Max loses his love of the holiday, requiring a visit from good old Krampus to set things straight.

Yes, it’s that sweetheart holiday demon from ye olden days that has become a figure of ever-increasing pop culture fascination in recent years. Dougherty doesn’t dive too deeply into the strange and varied Krampus mythology. Instead, he sticks to the basics with a layer of mystery. His Krampus is an evil deity that arrives to punish those who have lost the Christmas spirit, as explained in an amusing creepy stop-motion origin that twists those old holiday TV specials into something nightmarish. That’s essentially Dougherty’s approach to the film in a nutshell. Despite the supernatural horror trappings, ‘Krampus’ is an oddly traditional Christmas movie. The message is similar to any number of holiday entertainments, just delivered in a comedic monster romp. That’s a good thing.

Much like Dougherty’s admittedly superior Halloween horror flick ‘Trick r’ Treat‘, the film feels like a live action cartoon when it’s kicking. The director has a skill with visuals, both in terms of film grammar and his monster designs. Krampus and his helpers (which are monster perversions of popular Christmas icons too good to spoil here) are gorgeously creepy to behold and mostly created through puppetry. The filmmakers’ primary influences are clearly the creepier versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Joe Dante’s sick holiday joke ‘Gremlins’. He doesn’t quite reach the haunting depths of the former or the manic heights of the latter, but the film’s entertainment value is through the roof, so it’s hard to complain.

The monster movie moments are provided through old-timey latex slapstick. They’re creepy yet funny and safe. The family dramedy is played in sarcastic comedic tones with some wonderful deadpan performances and fantastic foul-mouthed child dialogue. This feel like a long lost Krampus movie from the ’80s VHS horror heyday in the best possible sense.

It’s not a perfect movie, however. The budgetary demands for the holiday horror fantasy that Dougherty had in mind slapped the picture with a PG-13 rating. It fits the family horror tone, but the big scare scenes feel a little held back, particularly when compared to the far naughtier fun of ‘Trick r’ Treat’. Likewise, the finale might leave horror fans feeling somewhat cheated as Krampus ultimately plays more like a Christmas movie than a genre effort.

Thankfully, the demerits are minor. Michael Dougherty and his team of effects wizards and overqualified comedic actors have delivered some B-movie bliss in ‘Krampus’. It’s an imaginative romp that should help slide a generation of youngsters towards genre fandom much like ‘Gremlins’ did many moons ago. It’s nice to have one would-be Hollywood holiday classic come along this year that actually has replay potential. The fact that it involves the world’s most beloved Christmas demon is the bloody icing on the gingerbread house.


  1. EM

    I plan to see the Krampus this weekend—at the annual Krampus festival in my town!

    As for this movie…I wasn’t impressed with the trailer, and the movie fell off my radar. However, a friend expressed interest; and the reviews, while mixed, have indicated something better than I had imagined…so, maybe we’ll go.

  2. Elizabeth

    It looked interesting but I’ll wait for the inevitable unrated blu-ray release. I can’t stand this garbage trend of forcing horror movies to have PG-13 ratings. You’re making a horror movie, it should always have an R rating.

    • No it shouldnt always have an R rating and honestly this is as much of a Christmas movie like we all watch every year AS a horror flick. the PG-13 rating didnt hurt this at all unless you have to have the gore and deaths. I’ve been a big advocate of R rated horror as well and Krampus is a movie that PROVES you dont always need it to make a fantastic and fun/creepy flick. The movie is funny, demented, twisted and just plain super fun….exactly like Gremlins was back in the day, splash in some Christmas Vacation here and you have one of the best Christmas movies I’ve seen in years. I really dont see this getting an Unrated Bluray release because it really doesnt need it, nothing looked edited out and honestly the movie pulled off everything it wanted without all the bloodletting. The Creature FX, visuals and tone are great, I had a giant smile on my face pretty much the whole movie and man, the reveal of Krampus was amazing, none of that CGI bullshit, please dont show me the monster stuff, he’s awesome and one of the sweetest designs I’ve seen in a long long time.

      I cant wait to own this and just like Halloween and Trick r Treat, Daugherty has provided me with another holiday classic that I will watch every year 🙂

      • Elizabeth

        Referring to this movie as Gremlins meets Christmas Vacation actually is killing any interest I had in seeing this movie. I was a kid when Gremlins came out and it was never scary to me. I had Gremlins toys and a stuffed Gizmo along with the storybook records that were available from a fast food restaurant at the time.

        I was kind of expecting it to be evil Santa killing a bunch of people that deserve it in creative holiday related ways.

        • Csm101

          Ever seen Silent Night, Deadly Night? 2012’s Silent Night ( I guess you can call it a remake ) has a creepy, evil Santa offing “deserving” people in pretty nasty ways, although I can’t remember if they’re holiday related. Christmas Evil also features a killer Santa, I’ve never seen it, but it is on my wish list. Pun intended, Ho Ho Ho!

        • Why would that kill any interest? Gremlins and Christmas Vacation are a couple of the best Christmas movies out there, Gremlins brought dark humor, some violence and a lot of fun to the table, and thats exactly what Krampus does, sure it isnt insanely gruesome deaths or anything but neither was Gremlins, still didnt take away from the dark comedy humor that it had, Krampus is SUCH a fun Christmas horror flick and it shouldnt be missed 🙂

    • And dont forget, Gremlins had a PG rating back in the day and its a classic of Christmas AND horror proportions, today that PG is PG-13 and it can be done in the right hands, and Daugherty was the right man for the job

      • William Henley

        Yeah, but this movie was creepier than Gremlins. Its clear to see influences here – Gremlins, Poltergeist, Home Alone, Critters, Coraline.

        What surprised me is that it was as creepy as it was. I was honestly expecting something on par with The Grinch – that is a creepy holiday miser that has sugar sprinkled all over it. I was honestly expecting a comedy. I explained to someone that I felt violated coming out of the movie – Imagine going into the movies expecting to get The Grinch or Home Alone, yet someone switched the movie and put on Poltergeist, and it was your first time to see it and you knew nothing about the movie. It’s not that Poltergeist was bad, in fact, its one of my favorite movies, but if you are going in to the theater expecting Holiday Comedy and you end up with paranormal / monster movie, it makes you walk out of the theater with a sick taste in your mouth.

        The movie honestly felt like someone took the comedy story of Elf, Home Alone and The Grinch, than handed the script over to Stephan King and Wes Craven.

        I would also ask that parents do a bit of research before taking their kids to this movie. While your 10, 11, 12 year olds may love this, this movie is NOT safe for, say, the seven and under crowd, and I disagree with anyone saying this is a family movie. The movie CAN be fun, but you need some perspective of who the proper audience is to show this to.

        Its been two days, and I honestly still could not give you an honest star rating on it, because its still something that I am stumbling in my mind to figure out what it is that I watched. I honestly cannot tell you if this was a 1 star movie or a 4 star movie, and would probably require me a second viewing knowing what to expect

        • Okay, did you even see a trailer for this movie? How in the world could you have thought this would be a straight up comedy or anything like the Grinch or Home Alone? If you didnt see the trailer I’m not sure how you expected anything really but I do find it kind of laughable if you did see the trailer and thought this wasnt simply a fun Christmas horror film. I actually thought it was going to be worse than it was, up until it got its PG-13 rating, I was under the assumption this was easily going to be rated R, the trailers certainly pointed that way and I honestly expected Trick R Treat but more fun and at Christmas, but it really turned out to be Christmas Vacation with Gremlins 🙂

          As far as taking kids who arent at least 13, thats a whole other discussion but you gotta be a crazy parent to take a 7 year old to something like this, why would anyone even think to do that? There is a reason for the ratings 🙂

          • Csm101

            I had zero Interest in seeing this until I realized it was made by the director of Trick r Treat. The fact that people are discussing this flick so much has piqued my interest even more. Btw, my seven year old would totally want to see this, although I wouldn’t take her to the theater to see it, we definitely would watch this as a family movie night at home.

          • William Henley

            I think there were different trailers out for it. The television trailer I saw made it seem kind of tame and campy, and quite frankly, it came across as a comedy. The advertising at the theater also made it look campy. I honestly was not expecting anything worse than The Grinch or Jack Frost or Snow Miser other Christmas “meanies”

          • I’m not judging but I find that pretty early to be seeing a flick like Krampus, most kids this movie would probably give nightmares to. Not to mention the creature attacks on children and the pretty good use of language with a big F bomb 🙂 But thats just me, my attitude might change as my son gets older but I dont plan on letting him watch something like this at 7 years old.

            As far as The Grinch and stuff goes, the Grinch is a PG rated movie and so is Jack Frost (if you are talking about the Michael Keaton one that is), they are family Christmas pics, Krampus isnt really a family Christmas movie, I would probably let my 4 year old watch The Grinch or Jack Frost but certainly not Krampus and none of those trailers pointed this to being a fun family film like those

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