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Worth A Look77.78%
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1 review, 3 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"A treat for good boys and girls who like monsters for Christmas."
4 stars

There's another horror movie featuring the titular dark shadow of Santa Claus out this holiday season ("A Christmas Horror Story"), and it's perhaps telling that neither group of filmmakers saw this monster as carrying a whole movie. In "A Christmas Horror Story", he's basically one selection in an anthology; here he's more or less a final boss for the heroes to face after everything else. It's a smart choice; Krampus may be a nasty piece of work, but it's the lead-up to him that makes this particular movie a whole lot of fun.

As things begin, it's already a rough holiday season for the Engel family; father Tom (Adam Scott) is overworked, and his wife Sarah (Toni Collette) is frustrated with that and busting her hump making preparations for festivities that she knows will not be appreciated by her sister Linda (Allison Tolman) and her husband Howard (David Koechner), not to mention their uncouth children. These cousins coming over has teenage daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) wanting time away from her family even more, and even son Max (Emjay Anthony), who loves Christmas as much as his German grandmother/"Omi" (Krista Stadler), is getting into fights at the holiday pageant. The fact that his heart is in the right place may be what proves dangerous in this case, as his torn-up letter to Santa drifts into sinister hands and a strange blizzard strikes their neighborhood.

The film opens with scenes of Black Friday-esque madness at a shopping mall, ironically accompanied by classic mellow Christmas music, but even then there is the sense that the knives are not out and sharpened to the extent that they perhaps could be; these images are familiar and director Michael Dougherty stages them with an eye toward getting a laugh, but from the very start, he's attacking the film from the angle that Christmas is worth saving, and that there is something good in all the frustrations that go along with it. Maybe he and his co-writers shouldn't; maybe it would be a sharper story if Max's dedication seemed hopelessly naive and he had to really fight everything to being back the spirit of Christmas (or, with this being a horror movie, ultimately lose it himself). Just looking at the themes in play, this seems like it would be the smart move.

On the other hand, the fact that this extended family is not made up of broad caricatures but recognizable people is part of its charm. There's a moment in the middle of Linda's and Howard's twins first taunting Max for still writing letters to Santa that their guards down and they come across as human and hurt, and while there is a great deal of friction between Sarah and Linda - the two couldn't be much more different - they still always feel like sisters who love each other. And perhaps most important of all, Beth winds up being the first put in danger not just because she's worried about her boyfriend but because her parents trust her, and in a certain way, that grounds and enhances the horror even when things get silly - Krampus isn't doing out ironic punishments, he's being cruel and unfair.

It's good that Dougherty and his collaborators establish that sort of weight, because Krampus's cohorts are delightfully ridiculous, twisted takes on traditional Christmas imagery that get hearty laughs even as they are established as legitimate threats. The monsters are for the most part done with practical effects (with just a few obvious but hilarious exceptions), and when they start coming in waves, it comes off as something out of a darker version of Labyrinth forcing its way into the family house. Dougherty may not be the greatest when it comes to shooting action, but he's not bad, and he puts some neat bits in, and handles the comedic bits very well while keeping the tension up.

The cast is strong up and down the line, with Conchata Farrell particularly good at stealing scenes as the blunt-speaking aunt and the kids and adults both making strong showings. By the time it actually brings Krampus to the fore, the film has already been a very fun monster movie - not always scary, but generally exciting and capable of surprising. That's probably just the right amount of scary for the Christmas season, especially if you don't really want to tear the whole thing down.

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originally posted: 12/08/15 16:18:32
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell good horror 4 christmas 4 stars
11/19/16 Mark Louis Baumgart Hateful characters, disapointing ending, bad movie!!!! 2 stars
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  04-Dec-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 26-Apr-2016

  04-Dec-2015 (15)

  DVD: 26-Apr-2016

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