‘Krampus’ review: Dir. Michael Dougherty [Alternative Christmas]

As much as it ’tis the season to be jolly’, a good scare never goes amiss during the Yuletide period. If you haven’t seen it yet then now is the perfect time to screen Krampus, the festive offering from Michael Dougherty, the mind behind Trick ‘r’ Treat. Krampus sees an extended family terrorised by the mythic titular being, a kind of anti-Santa who punishes the naughty with more than just a lump of coal.

Krampus starts strongly with a nice real-life comment on what Christmas seems to have become about in recent years with a chaotic shopping scrum (think black Friday sale). The strong opening is followed closely by an interesting thirty to forty minutes wherein the film plays like a traditional horror film, though one with its tongue firmly in cheek. It builds the atmosphere and tension well, one sequence involving the family’s teenage daughter is particularly nerve-shredding.

Sadly around the half way part Krampus falls down the comedy-horror plot line, throwing everything including the kitchen sink into it. It still works but the tonal shift comes from left field and gives the feel that the film has a bad case of multiple personality disorder. With two very distinctive halves Krampus would play better were it to decide which side it wanted to be. Each side works, but putting them together doesn’t quite make the whole that was obviously intended.

As with all good horror films Dougherty teases Krampus throughout and gives glimpses here and there, following the mantra less is more. He is built up and up before the big reveal. Krampus himself is a visual delight but it is the sound design of the cloven-hooved beast that is really wondrous. The noise is so intense that if you watch it in the right conditions you’ll feel your chair vibrating. The infuriating thing though is that Dougherty does a Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla and barely utilises the titular character. Instead the film focuses heavily on Krampus’ minions, and he has a few.

Rather than our dysfunctional family fighting the anti-Claus they find themselves pitted against grotesque killer teddy bears, Christmas angels and Jack-in-the-Boxes, as well as an army of creepy elves and malevolent CGI gingerbread men. The range of opponents and time given to each gives Krampus the feel of something akin to one of the camp comedy horrors of the eighties like Puppet MasterCritters or The Ghoulies.

Krampus is a schizophrenic and psychedelic sleigh ride that would work a little better were it to lay off the holiday cookies.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Krampus is available to watch on Netflix now.

This review was first published on THN.