Krampus is a 2015 Christmas / horror movie from the man who wrote Trick 'r Treat. After questioning his belief in Santa Claus, the child of a middle-class suburban family finds himself tormented by Santa's demonic counterpart: Krampus. Only his grandmother knows what's going on, but it turns out that old bitch isn't even a little bit helpful. Check out the trailer below and then continue down to read our review.
Jack: Okay, So I have a question: Did you think this movie was trying to be scary at all?
Jake: I certainly don’t think it was scary. Put it this way: if it was trying to be scary, it failed. I think it tried to maintain a decent amount of creepiness, but I don’t think it was trying to be out & out horror. It had elements in there, sure. The subject matter is something that is certainly scary enough. It’s about a mythical, anthropomorphic creature that comes in place of Santa Claus to punish bad children…. Nightmare fuel for sure. It just felt more like a holiday movie that had a scary backdrop than a horror movie. I’m assuming the choice of where to land with the overall tone and feel of the movie was one based on being accessible to a mainstream audience.
Jack: That’s probably right, but it was frustrating because the movie could have been what it was but actually had some scary scenes. Like in the first scene where Krampus shows up when the daughter is walking to her boyfriend’s, that wasn’t creepy at all. It could have been. Walking alone at night in a blizzard is scary. That scene could have felt isolating. Then when Krampus shows up jumping on the rooftops, that would have had some oomph to it; could have actually been frightening. It was a well-made scene, just not scary.
Jake: It was funny because I thought the movie had a lot of those instances. For example, the music. There were times where the Christmas-y score provided a great juxtaposition to what was happening on screen. For example, Krampus coming down the chimney. Setting that to “Up on the Rooftop” was genius. Loved it.
Jack: Yeah, that instance was great, but it didn’t work other times. Like in the scene I was just talking about, that full orchestral score with holiday themes was a big part of why it wasn’t scary.
Jake: The sound design in general was a little too holiday for me. I really disliked the bell and chime heavy score used for most of the movie. It just felt like it missed the sweet spot. Some of the other aspects of the movie were like this, too. The goddamned gingerbread men being the greatest offenders. Having Krampus fish down a chimney with them as bait and having them run amok and cause mischief was, for lack of a better way to describe it, cute. It didn’t need to be cute. Those characters kind of reminded me of gremlins, which is also a Christmas-set horror film, so there’s that. In general, there was just some frustration in terms of the split between some genuinely creepy elements and things like the gingerbread men. The best example is the setting itself. The blizzard outside was such a perfect, desolate backdrop. It rendered this family completely helpless in their home, and the use of the snowmen outside that slowly grew in number and proximity to the house was fantastically oppressive.
Jack: Those snowmen were really creepy. And the way it was shot from inside the house through all of those slats was cool. And frustration was the right word to use because it was frustrating how frightening this movie could have been. It didn’t have to lose the winking dialog or the overall comedy feel, but it could have just had genuinely scary moments. Instead, they did all this work to set up a truly terrifying background for the movie; they just never took advantage of the atmosphere they made.
Jake: While we are still on the topic of design, I have to point out that while I just shat on the use of the gingerbread men, the overall design was great. The jack-in-the-box jester-masked lamprey thing was flat out awesome. The elves were cool. And Krampus himself was great. I didn’t expect much. Everything I have seen about him led me to believe he would follow certain conventions. The hooves? Check. The liberal use of the tongue? Yuuuup. But I expected him to look sort of goat-like. The choice to make him look like a grotesque, withered Santa Claus with dead eyes and a gaping mouth was really unsettling and looked good. There was a depth to his character that wasn’t explained, which I liked as well. It shrouded him in just enough mystery to add an extra bit of creepiness. Ending the movie in his dark workshop was a great touch as well. All the snow globes of the places he has been to teach a lesson both fit with the setting in terms of the blizzard, and was a nice take on how he could conceivably keep his own macabre sort of naughty & nice list.
Jack: Since you just brought up the end, what . . . what . . . like what’s the lesson this movie is trying to teach? I lost track of it almost instantly. Is it have hope or some goddamn lunatic will murder your whole fucking family until you hope again? Because that doesn’t seem like the right way to go about it.
Jake: Why was Max the one learning a lesson?! I don’t even begin to understand what Max did to misbehave in this film. He was the one with all the Christmas spirit and even got in a fight defending the name of Santa Claus. He’s a holiday spirit freedom fighter battling the overpowering forces of consumerism and ungratefulness that seem to plague the season. All he wanted was for his parents to love each other and his aunt and uncle to rise up out of some hard times. He didn’t ask for a damn thing.
Jack: “Hey kid, your dad works too much, your mom’s really stressed out, your aunt is an alcoholic, and your other aunt and her shit-bird husband are trashy bullies. And you just sit there, being nice and wishing the best for them. I’ve had just about enough of your shit, time for you to learn a lesson motherfucker.” --Krampus probably.
Jake: I was so confused for most of this movie. I’ve gotta rewind to grandma, which we will have to discuss more a little later. We find out that she has dealt with Krampus previously, when she was a child. How does she allow this to happen again?
Jack: Jesus Christ that was driving me nuts. Krampus didn’t kill Max’s family, but it seemed like he had actually killed the grandma’s parents? And she knew exactly what was going on the whole time! At no point did she ever tell Max to hope harder, so what lesson did she learn from her Krampus-ing? Keep the fire hot?
Jake: I’m still very confused as to what the overall message of this movie was. Ostensibly, in the grandma’s prior experience with Krampus, he came and murdered her family because she had lost hope and left her alive as a reminder that you must not give up hope. What!? Knowing what I know of the old tales, I thought Krampus was about behaving or being punished. Not “you have hope or your entire family will get murdered and you will be left broken and alone”. It doesn’t make any fucking sense. For example, a kid from a broken home could not conceivably be held at fault for being hopeless. Yet in this system, he or she seems like the one who would get schlonged worse than anyone else.
Jack: Exactly. And you know what? The lesson wasn’t even have hope or your family will be murdered. Krampus didn’t end up murdering the kid’s family at all. All the kid had to do to stop it was cry and ask for his family back. What kind of psychopath would not sob and ask for their family back after some maniac goat-man Christmas’ed their whole family to literal death? Who would not learn that lesson? The real lesson was more like have hope or Krampus will come and force you to have hope again. Either way you end up with hope.
Jake: Is that even a thing that can happen? I saw Invictus. I don’t think that’s how that works.
Jack: Morgan Freeman’s got a lot left to teach you.
Jake: Now I need get to the grandma… specifically in terms of her character and communication in the movie. For what in the shit? I don’t like the inconsistency of starting with subtitles and then, seemingly at random points, removing them to try to add suspense. And then bringing them back. And then having her start speaking English. Man oh man. The mom, who actually looks like the grandma (which further confuses matters), apparently cannot speak the language at all. Max was very fluent for the mom to know nothing. Especially considering grandma lived with them.
Jack: It was worse than that. Max would speak to his grandma in English, which she understood perfectly, then she would speak back in German, which he understood perfectly. Then that would just repeat and bam: they’re having a full conversation in two different languages. In what world does that happen? What the actual fuck?
Jake: I don’t know man. Maybe that’s just how they’re teaching him German.
Jack: Maybe. You know what else was confusing? Max telling Krampus that he takes his wish back. What wish? The note to Santa? He already kicked that fucker into the creek . . . er, ripped it up. So the original wish that was on the note was for his family to be happy or whatever. Then he took that back when he ripped up the note right? But I think he told Krampus he takes his wish back, so did he take back the nice things he wished for his family? Where did we end wish-wise?
Jake: If we are to believe there were wishes involved in this film, there was the following: A wish followed by a counter-wish, which was then followed by a counter to the counter-wish at the end of the movie. Gotta keep up; there’s a lot of twists in this thing.
Jack: So there were clearly a lot frustrating aspects to this movie, but brass tacks time: did you like it?
Jake: I thought this was an entertaining movie, which is all you can ask for. It had the horror elements. And while you can’t really argue that it wasn’t a horror film, I thought it was a pretty good holiday movie. It is something I can see myself throwing on at Christmas time because there was enough of the holiday vibe despite the subject matter being decidedly darker than conventional wisdom says the recipe for holiday-appropriate viewing should entail.
Jack: I agree. The acting was really solid and the characters were great. The dialog was knowing, clever, and layered . . . mostly. There were a couple of scenes where that was not the case. And mother of fuck was it not the case in those scenes. Like when Adam Scott is looking out the window with his wife: no more winking, no more meta lines, no more clever banter; just clunky, stilted, hokey dialog. There was really no middle ground, it was weird.
Jake: Yeah, there’s really no arguing with that. It was a bizarre dichotomy. I did like the characters though. They developed them enough so that the plot points based on the characters’ exaggerated traits were believable and didn’t stick out as absurd. Well, didn’t seem absurd in the context of them making decisions in a heat of the moment battle against a supernatural monster. Like David Koechner’s bananas Hummer with the biometrically locked gun rack in it or whatever the fuck that was. It fit.
Jack: Shhh. Jake. Can you hear it? Put your ear to the ground and listen to that tune flowing in on the autumn wind. It’s back.
Jake: That was shockingly few words for how batshit insane it made you sound. What’s back?
Jack: [GAMESHOW MUSIC] IT’S JACK’S INCOMPREHENSIBLE NOTE OF THE WEEK!
Jack: Ready? I found this on pg. 3 of my notes. Had a little trouble transcribing it to computer-words, but I think I nailed it. Here it is:
Jake: I was going to tell you that segment has a really stupid name and you’re terrible at branding. But given the content of the segment, I think it fits now. You’re an idiot. Ratings.
For 1, think of what Mr. Parker thinks of the Bumpus hounds:
For 10, think of what how much the holidays make you want to go on a Krampage:
Jack: 6 - I was confused by what the goddamn message was, but I liked the snowstorm isolating them in the house, and they didn’t really do anything wrong plot-wise.
Jake: 6.5 – I thought the way it presented the holiday and the way it offered a different feel was good. It’s also dealing with a well-known subject matter, so it’s hard to go wrong.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 2 - I was never sucked into it. The dialog was winking and clever, but it never grabbed me and completely immersed me.
Jake: 4 – I loved the bleak blizzard-scape and I think the snowmen will be an enduring image. There were just too many things going against my immersion in this one. When the score worked well, which was very rarely, it was cool. But the cackling gingerbread men and some of the same things you mentioned really brought it down.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF)
Jack: 7 - I thought Krampus, the elves, and the monsters all looked good. The gingerbread men got a little too cartoony, and the movie was maybe a little overwrought with that kind of stuff. Overall good though.
Jake: 7 – Krampus looked amazing. The computer and practical effects were well mixed and I liked the use of both. The one thing I really did hate was the story the grandma told, which hopped into animation. I thought there was an opportunity for something more bone-chilling for that part of the movie. Good overall though.
Jack: 2 - Not scary. But it had so much potential to be more scary. The pieces were all there, they just didn’t use them.
Jake: 3 – A few creepy parts. I was pleasantly surprised by Krampus’ design. Intentionally not a scary movie.
Jack: 5 - I enjoyed it. I’m probably gonna pop it on the tv in the background next Christmas.
Jake: 5.125 – I’d recommend people see it. It’s one you can have on during the holidays and not have it feel off-tone. Good for a few laughs and a few frights.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS JERKS & REMEMBER TO HAVE HOPE OR YOUR FAMILY WILL BE SLAUGHTERED IN YOUR DREAMS AND MAYBE IN REAL LIFE BY A MYSTICAL MAN-GOAT. - Jack and Jake