The many genres I try to avoid at all costs include romantic comedies, remakes, romance movies in general, and Christmas movies. Please understand, I do not hate the holiday, but I cannot stand the terrible music, the scumbags that do Luminaries, Christian fanatics screaming about a fictitious “War on Christmas,” and of course, the awful movies. Quite literally, every single film is the same, with the same story about a dysfunctional family, shenanigans that punish them for being dysfunctional, and then the conclusion where they come together, united under the Christmas spirit of not being shit. These films are just terrible and I jumped ship years ago when I saw the pattern of monotony.
There are, however, a few… okay, one Christmas movie I know of that is actually fantastic. Nightmare Before Christmas is so great I have been a fan since three years old. The grotesque imagery, amazing effects, and memorable songs captured my imagination and influenced the way I see the world and my perception of art. Christmas Vacation is quite famous, but I have not seen it all the way through to know for sure. When I saw the trailer for Krampus, I was nonetheless interested with its campy feel and unique premise. Did I find another great Christmas movie or did I make a horrible mistake?
While apprehensible relatives come to visit on the last week of Christmas, Max, played by Emjay Anthony, finally snaps and abandons his belief in the holiday spirit. Little did he know, he was the only thing keeping his family from the wrath of Krampus. When a freak blizzard descends upon the neighborhood, the family is trapped as they are punished for their blasphemy.
Irony is a double-edged sword in film. There is a balance one must achieve between having a fun premise and performances that illustrate the actors’ self-awareness. Any imbalance in those areas can throw off an entire film like the Twilight Saga, Batman and Robin, and Transformers (all of them). Furious 7, the Riddick movies, and the Underworld series find their balance by being outlandish and taking it seriously. They do not directly acknowledge how crazy everything is and simply go with it. They do not insult the audience by laughing at themselves or doing what they think we want to see.
That is what makes Krampus work. It knows what it is and loves it. The possessed toys, comically outrageous relatives, and fantastical elements are played completely straight. The eccentricity and craziness of it all complement the comedic feel and horror aspects of a mythical being that punishes the naughty. It is a perfect monster (no pun intended) that also works as a good Christmas movie. The dysfunctional element is obvious, but rather than have each character resolve their own issues, the family comes together in the process of survival and fighting back.
Casting funny people was the best decision the production could have made. Though not a complete comedy, the movie is subtle about its humor to maintain the overall feel. Adam Scott as Tom does pretty well as the miserable patriarch trying to deal with everything in a calm manner before he throws himself into action. David Koechner played his usual character of the hardcore redneck Uncle Howard who is really the most capable of the family when it comes to fending off sentient gingerbread men. Conchata Ferrell is the reckless Aunt Dorothy whose nihilism and honesty push the cast to look at themselves while being offended.
The camp factor is strong, but it could have been stronger. Krampus is very Sam Rami with the use of comedy and horror. His films are almost entirely gore oriented, which enhances the humor because it is so ridiculous. Gallons of blood would have made this movie twice as funny, yet I understand the lack of gore. Apart from maintaining the PG-13 rating, Krampus is a very grim movie with a shocking ending that would have been thrown off by too much comedy. It maintains its balance in a consistent manner and there is no reason to add more to the formula, unless it wanted to go full comedy.
Nightmare Before Christmas is still the best there is, but I am willing to admit Krampus does a great job subverting your expectations. It is the kind of Christmas movie that almost never comes round and is the perfect theater-going experience for the holidays. If you like horror or the Santa Claus mythos, you can go no wrong. Best of all, it is not Love the Coopers.