Review – Holiday Fun for the Whole (Manson) Family! (“Krampus”)

Not to be confused with the recent VOD release, A Christmas Horror Story, which has Krampus and boasts William Shatner as their lead, this quirky and very strange movie is the flip side to Christmas and Santa Claus coming down the chimney.

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First off, who (or what) is Krampus? Dating back as far as 1800 in Germany and other parts of Europe, Krampus is (depending on what country you’re from) a huge furry horned goat-like beast-thingy that punishes wicked children on Christmas by spanking them with a birch tree whip or, in more severe cases, bagging them and carting them off to Hell! YIKES! Even TV’s American Dad! devoted a whole show on it! So, you better be good, for goodness sake!

It’s Dec. 22nd in Somewhere, USA and young Max’s (Emjay Anthony) family has just been visited by the in-laws from Hell. Not the fun ones like Uncle Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but real obnoxious and disgusting ones like survivalist Uncle Howard (David Koechner), his rotten kids, and acid-tongued Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). Max’s mom, Sarah (Toni Collette), dad Tom (Adam Scott), and older sister Beth (Stefania Lavie Owen) try to cope with this onslaught of negativity, but nobody more than dear ol’ German-speaking gramma (Krista Stadler). She’s seems worried about something. Hmmm. . .

This year Max has lost all hope in Santa Claus and Christmas and has torn up his annual letter to St. Nick. Bad idea, Max! This brings a massive blizzard, a power outage, 12 perturbed people stuck in a house, and Krampus! But before he makes his appearance, he sends his band of mutant minions to either terrorize, haul away, or devour the household. One by one, each is picked off until only Max is left to confront the ominous Krampus and his gang of Terry Gilliam/Tim Burton creature rejects.

The ending, a twist on the whole Christmas Carol redemption story, is both old-hat and a little Twilight Zone-ish, but not enough to save what could have been a genuinely excellent film, had it stuck to it’s guns and delivered a true horror-comedy like it promised, i.e. An American Werewolf in London. Instead we have a disjointed wanna-be movie with a great cast and some excellent acting, torpedoed by a luke-warm script that didn’t go far enough in either direction.

Written by Todd Casey (who writes animated kids shows), Zach Shields (who’s written only a few short subjects) and director Michael Dougherty (who co-wrote Superman Returns) you can see why the screenplay needed help. Neither a comedy or a horror nor both, but an uneven mélange of some hybrid, however Dougherty does an amiable job as director, keeping the pacing going and using some nice camera techniques.

Acting wise, you’ve got a sumptuous cast to watch starting with the expressive Anthony and Owen. Both are equally brilliant in their roles and honestly deserve better material. Koechner finally gets to stretch some of his dramatic wings here and Collette/Scott just shine as the parents on the edge. Ferrell, who seems to have made a career by being abrasive and sarcastic (TV’s Three and a Half Men), manages to have some fun with her thinly-written character. Stadler is the icing on the cake with her compassionate, soul-filled eyes and beautiful accent. What the hell are they doing in this film?


Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
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Merry Christmas? Let me tell you about the queen mutha of all Holiday slasher films that caused SUCH an uproar back in 1981. The TV trailer commercial alone was pulled off the air after a week, the movie was picketed and even banned in some theaters, and both Siskel & Ebert slammed it on TV as despicable! Wow! And all because a murderous psychopath dressed as Santa Claus goes on a killing spree. So, you better be good, for goodness sake!
A seriously controversial film for 1981 that has gained a humongous cult following throughout the decades, this box office bomb spawned five horrible sequels and one helluva reputation. All this for what is essentially a low-budget blood ‘n’ guts movie with alot of naked boobs in it. And Santa Claus. There’s also Santa Claus. With an axe. A big axe. And blood. A whole lotta blood. I suggest you start running at this point!
 
Little 8-year-old Billy Chapman (Danny Wagner) is sent to an orphanage after he witnesses his parents get butchered by, you guessed it, a crazed man wearing a Santa suit. Hard-core strict disciplinarian Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) whips the poor boy after he cold-cocks the schools visiting Santa, while concerned and loving Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) tries to comfort the child. Yes, it’s a hard-knock life for Billy.
 
Fast-forward ten years and Billy (Brian Robert Wilson) is working in a friendly neighborhood toy store when, uh-oh! He’s asked to play Santa Claus when the scheduled one calls in sick. He reluctantly does, but after he sees his would-be girlfriend Pamela (Toni Nero) getting banged by another co-worker, something snaps and…  the killing spree begins!
Axes, Christmas tree lights, arrows, box cutters, antlers from a stuffed deer, and a good ol’ hammer are Billy’s weapons of choice. As the body count mounts, Sister Margaret grabs the nearest cop (H.E.D. Redford) and the hunt for not-so-jolly St. Nick in on. Billy eventually heads back to his old orphanage for a little payback, but is gunned down before Mother Superior gets hers. Awwww!
 
Screenplay (if you can call it that) by Michael Hickey; he wrote only a stage play about newscaster Edward Murrow after this movie. Director Charles Sellier, a writer and huge producer for TV shows like In Search of Noah’s Ark and stuff you’d see on The History Channel, rarely dabbled in directing (he only did three forgettable feature films).
Needless to say, the movie was sloppy, the acting was either over-the-top or just plain bad, and the direction was laughable. The hokey and ridiculous dialogue is fun to listen to, not to mention the egregious blood-letting going on and topless girls. Back in 1981, this movie was considered shocking, perverted, and morally reprehensible; today it’s a tongue-in-cheek, late-night giggle-fest.
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