There aren't that many films which combine Christmas with other elements and still have it as a central theme; one main idea usually takes centre stage. Sure we can all watch Gremlins repeatedly on an annual basis, but as a mixture of festive themes and puppets the monster elements have always been the focus - it was originally a summer release after all. Michael Dougherty's Krampus (not to be confused with the countless low effort releases to feature the same Yuletide figure) is all about the holidays. Part Scrooge, part creature feature this is certainly a low budget affair, but you'd never notice during the story since this is a film made with a maximum effort from everyone involved involved.
The movie opens with the full force of a consumer centric holiday, as festive music plays to a slow motion montage of people trampling each other to reach gifts. The blend of sickly sweet sounds and humorously dark sights really sets the tone here before we are introduced to our family of main characters. This is a comedy at heart, and while the monsters (domestic and otherworldly) are going to play a big part there is not a great deal of actual horror nastiness or bloodshed. This purely about having fun as expectations and reality begin to clash. Their picture perfect family portrait with Santa is all wrong for a variety of reasons and it sets the rest of the story right on course.
Max (Emjay Anthony) wants this years reunion to be a great few days with the family just like the good old days ... but this hope is immediately derailed once his relatives actually show their faces. The mixture of character types is pretty broad but it maintains the amusement factor as obnoxious cousins, uncles obsessed with home defence, and great aunts who say whatever they think without any tact arrive to upset Max's expectations. Of course this means it's all the more satisfying to see some of these characters being tormented by the uninvited guests later on. There's plenty of head butting before he gives up on the whole idea and tears up his Christmas wish letter - which leads to the intervention of the titular antagonist and all his nightmarish helpers. It's kind of like what might happen if Mary Poppins decided to come down and ruin everyone's weekend.
Visually this is slick throughout but the aesthetic choices in the film really kick in when the pieces of the destroyed letter are whisked away and a sub zero weather front hits the whole town. In the daylight a huge blizzard covers the streets while at night only candles and firelight are available. Being stuck without power while the family bickering heats up might be bad enough, but the arrival of some sinister looking snowmen on the lawn and a bag of mystery parcels on the doorstep herald the arrival of a few more malicious visitors to the household. For a film titled around the evil version of Saint Nicholas you might not have expected any other arrivals, but he's bringing with him a band of helpers in the form of monster toys and other assorted minions to punish those who have lost their Christmas spirits.
The big event here is this creepy spectacle, and they certainly deliver with plenty of imaginative designs courtesy of Weta Workshop. Outside a few killer gingerbread creations everything here is at least part puppet, and once the madness begins to gear up in the third act it becomes a showcase for these monsters; some part toy, some twisted versions of Santa's regular helpers. There's a long build up to some of the reveals but it's never dull and is worth the wait. It's not a gruesome movie, and the horror sequences are more zany than disturbing. There's something amusingly gross about all of the creations on show which are filled with detail and character.
For a premise which is so silly they really didn't need to put so much work in, but the whole thing is full of great moments and creativity. Even what could have been dry exposition is done with flair, as they throw in a great stop motion sequence to talk about Krampus himself. The sort of festive fable ideas, dysfunctional relatives and monster attack gags included here are nothing new, but the way it all comes together makes this a satisfying treat. It's a film that will sit easily alongside some of the regular viewings for those who like their Christmas films to be a bit more weird and wonderful.