Ah, comedy-horror. The one genre capable of evoking a smile of approval from some and a grimace of nauseous terror from others.
Hoping to get in the spirit of the season and perhaps change my mind on the yin-yang of laughter and screaming, I took it upon myself to pluck Michael Dougherty’s Krampus from beneath the 2015 tree, hoping it might warm my Grinch heart to more mainstream horror flicks.
True to its name, the film revolves around the dysfunctional Engel family as they celebrate the holidays with the in-laws. But, due to the forces of bad Christmas spirit, they inadvertently summon upon themselves Krampus, a goat-demon-monster from Austro-Bavarian folklore who, as a Satan-like counterpart to Santa Claus, punishes the naughty children via murder and/or devouring.
From the very beginning, the cast of this film is rife with some rich 2010s family stereotypes straight out of a Modern Family-esque sitcom. We’ve got a bratty teen daughter with a sketchy boyfriend, an obnoxious and gun rights-activist uncle and a stressed mother who’s ready to drink this whole holiday away. These archetypes, though just about spent of all originality, successfully achieve the first item on the Hollywood horror to-do list: get the viewer ready to watch these folks die.
However, this wacky familial tone doesn’t stop Krampus from busting out some promisingly eerie elements, such as the hollow and unsettling use of Christmas carols and, once the big goat-demon himself is revealed, some truly unnerving uses of dread. By the time Krampus had finally popped out the chimney and started wreaking havoc, I was honestly anticipating some real horror game.
And then they sent the dog to fight Krampus.
I give this particular point special emphasis not just because, yes, they actually send “Rosie” (played by a lovely dog named Thor) to fight off one of Krampus’s helpers, ending in Rosie’s inevitable demise, but also because it was at this point the movie really started to go downhill for me. The aforementioned helpers, though decently scary initially, eventually prove to be cheap, slapstick diversions from the big man himself. However, by the time he becomes a major player in the massacre, even he has been too given away in silhouettes and passing glimpses to be anything close to scary.
Make no mistake, the human characters get their due of bad presentation too. Imagine, for a moment, that your entire family is being slaughtered around you by demonic South Pole monsters. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I highly doubt you would be exclaiming “oh, great!” as your brother-in-law is dragged to his death, or ranting about how you just “got your ass kicked by Christmas cookies.” Typical comedy-horror idiocy like this makes the “sad” or “serious” moments in Krampus completely worthless and cause the film to end with an incoherent and lazy finish where none of the deaths, events or even characters have any consequence or meaning whatsoever.
In accordance with the mantra of “Jingle Bells,” the point of Christmas is to “laugh all the way” through the holiday season. So please, laugh. Laugh heartily. Just please don’t get horror involved with it.