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We continue our festive mini-season this week with a movie that should have been a no-brainer for cult classic status. Director Michael Dougherty had already established his horror-comedy credentials with his feature debut Trick ‘r Treat, so setting him to work on the Austro-Bavarian folk legend of Krampus, a horned, cloven-footed demon who terrorises naughty children at Christmas, should have been a match made in heaven.
Frustratingly, while the movie shows glimmers of Dougherty’s visual flair and dark sense of humour, there’s a tonal imbalance and a resistance to fully committing to the premise that suggests a production that suffered a major identity crisis. Krampus mostly plays like a horror movie, but with an incongruously sentimental plot about a Christmas-loving child losing his faith in Christmas when his dysfunctional relatives arrive to crash the holidays.
The movie never quite decides whether it wants to be a parody or a straightforward – if twisted – family film. The US PG 13 rating keeps the kills largely offscreen or by suggestion only. There are some cartoonishly funny moments, such as a teenage girl being devoured headfirst by a carnivorous Jack-In-The-Box, and Conchata Ferrell’s gun-toting Aunt Dorothy being dragged through a window by masked ghouls. But the characters are never made hateful enough for their fates to register as entertaining, or interesting enough to allow you to root for them.
Most disappointing of all, the Krampus itself barely appears in the film. The other monsters – which also include a trio of psychotic, nail-gun toting Gingerbread Men and a sabre-toothed teddy bear – are great fun, but even they get sidelined in favour of a perplexing amount of domestic squabbling. Some – like the menacing snowman that appears to be inching ever closer to the house – bizarrely never pay off at all.
Perhaps one day Dougherty will have a candid discussion about studio interference and the kind of movie he was trying to make. Or maybe Krampus really is the movie he set out to make, and it just didn’t land. Until we find out either way, we’ll have to settle for some course-correcting sequel ideas – which this week include a twisted take on Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause and a Stranger Things crossover that parachutes in some kids we might actually give a shit about…
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