Good Gandhi, I’m really starting to love the horror-comedy genre! Last night, my wife and I went to go see Krampus, and we took our friend specifically because she would be that person to laugh inappropriately when a movie sucks. Well, actually, Emily had that idea; I expected the movie to be at least entertaining, if not good. To paint a more clear picture, when our plans got cancelled to see it Friday night, we rented A Christmas Horror Story, since it features a Mister Krampus villain. She inherently fought falling asleep, since she hates campy movies. I loved it, and couldn’t figure out why she wanted to see the other film; probably because her friend would make it more fun. Anyways, we went to see the main titular movie, and it was epic!
If you’re not familiar with the German story, here’s a primer. When I was a tyke, my dad was stationed in Germany and I remember hearing how if you were naughty Herr Krampus would come and give you switches instead of presents, and fill your shoes with coal. I think once or twice my mom neglected to edit out the part where he stuffed you in a sack, kidnapping you. Terrifying for a kid! It’s worse than that NSA-esque Elf On The Shelf crap. But the Europeans don’t muck around. If you eff up, you’ll be effed up. And that’s the film’s premise.
If you’ve read my “Halloween Flicks” post you’ll be able to reference my dabbling in horror-comedies. This one tops them all! “Better than The Cabin In The Woods?” you ask. Yes, because of its family appeal. (It’s only PG-13, and not nearly as gruesome as TCITW. Krampus will still appeal to a slasher/monster film crowd, and it’s not for young kids in any way [parents should screen this before bringing their early teens].) Usually, limiting your audience scope for anything besides speaking to an intellectual community is just dumb, and usually unwarranted. Whedon was making more of a quasi-art film than a blockbuster with TCITW, and his target audience was actually smaller than his affected audience. Lots of people saw it and hushedly said, “WTF was that? It was bloody and kind of scary, but more funny.” How to tell their friends about it, they didn’t know. Horror-comedy films do something interesting, since they are hommages to the low-brow 1980’s slasher films, yet the cash-cow demographic is way too young to be likely to have seen those. They appeal to a cultured—we’ll use that term loosely—audience who recognize the genre that’s so “yesterday” that it’s classic. And it’s an odd thing to say that someone who can recognize outdated and bad film-making is cultured. But I guess that’s what Whedon has done. And not only is Krampus 80s-horror formulaic, it expands that audience by omitting the blood spurts and ta-tas (not as critical an ingredient as some argue), without sacrificing the camp. Horror-comedies can’t exist without camp. And camp is a tricky word to define, especially since I don’t think it always meant what it means now. Here is how my friend, Tim, defines it: Exaggerated or over-the-top. As in “Ed Wood went to great lengths to ensure his films were campy (as befit his persona) yet, they’ve developed a cult following.”
Krampus is self-aware of its camp, and laughs at itself! The protagonists are incredulous at the weird horror, and say things like “For God’s sake, Howard—shoot it!” and”Ah, this is some fairy-tale horse sh**!” The comedy is the best part of the film. Nothing seems ill-timed or forced, and that’s due to well-chosen actors. They play holiday archetypes, and do it well. Adam Scott has earned his comedic chops with his supporting roles in Parks and Recreation and slough of films. His scrawny frame and fits the ridiculed Boy Scout veteran character. Toni Collete killed it as the humorously juggling mom in Little Miss Sunshine, reprising the role here. David Koechner makes a great bully windbag in anything he’s done, and pairs well with Scott as the gun nut. I haven’t seen it, but he plays a Scoutmaster in The Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, and I’ve got to give props to the casting director for the ironic choice. Now knowing this, it makes it sweeter to see him pick on his brother-in-law. And until I looked her up, I had no idea who Allison Tolman was, but she owns this heroic mama-bear scene that changed what from the film I expected! A background character to the supporting characters saves the day! (Not a spoiler.) Thankfully, this film doesn’t play out like you would predict—while still holding onto the aforementioned convention—and once that bit happened, I dropped my notions that it would be the same monster film with different actors. Much of it I found surprising! [And hereafter this point in this post I will be making up for the thousand words I lost through a “Select all” mistake. And. I. Completely. Forgot. That iPhones have an “Undo” function. Le sigh.] The best archetype is the sage, played by Krista Stadler. To this role, she brings such gravitas. Ninety percent of her lines are in German, giving her this Old-World-wisdom feel, and having a psychological effect: it’s undeniable that subtitles demand a higher caliber audience, and this tells me that writer/directer Michael Dougherty has a lofty vision. Only a few English films are on the actresses repertoire, so it couldn’t have been easy. (See here how she went the extra mile in the German dub.) It’s with authority when in the expository scene she speaks English (also, the animation is cleverly stylized), and it punctuates the film.
I wish I knew more about Dougherty. His Trick r’ Treat was a tasty flick with bite-sized stories weaved into an anthology. This time we get something substantive, and a natural heroic journey. But funding for a major-studio film isn’t characteristic of someone with such a short history. Usually a director will have more flops or successes, or even gigs. Whatever the case is, his style is Burton-esque, telling the macabre, and doing it well. Douglas Pipes backs him up on the soundtrack well. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of re-arranged Christmas hymns and classics. This whole film comes together so well. It reminds of Tim Burton’s story, since both worked at artists before helming the camera. Which brings me to my next subject.
Krampus the character is so well-designed. I don’t remember much from my childhood stories, but what I saw in the film embellishes yet matches what I was told. At first sight, you think he’s an anthropomorphic bull, which is a little trite but still creepy. [SPOILER] And then much later, after you feel like you know him, you see he has the gnarled face of an old man, with an agape mouth that leers at you. You can see that this is a demented abomination, a result from the Hulk sodomizing a wicked bovine. And this context perverts and contextualizes his attacks even further. And at the climax [‘NOTHER SPOILER], you perceive he’s only wearing a man’s mask, and through it you can see his eyes are those of a goat’s. WTF, is this Baphomet?! My gosh, this movie is layered! In the same scene you see how insidious this legendary character is.
I really enjoyed the film (not that you can tell). Everything came together so smoothly, and it’s mindfulness was refreshing. It made me laugh, and legitimately scared me. Oh, and it had a nod towards Boy Scouts, which can’t seem to get enough major PR. I recommend seeing it, and give it 9 out of 10 stars.