Month of Horror 2016: Genre Exploration – Holiday: Krampus

Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources.  Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier).  Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.

10/11/2016 – Holiday: Krampus (2015)
Directed by Michael Dougherty

What better way to honor the best holiday than to celebrate all of them? Just about every holiday (except maybe Flag Day) has at least one horror films frequently (though far from exclusively) just named after the holiday. We’ve got representatives for Valentine’s Day (My Bloody ValentineValentine), St. Patrick’s Day (Leprechaun 2), April Fool’s Day (April Fool’s Day), May Day (The Wicker Man), 4th of July (I Know What You Did Last SummerJawsUncle Sam), Halloween (HalloweenTrick ‘R Treat), Thanksgiving (ThankskillingThanksgiving fake trailer), Christmas (Silent Night, Bloody NightBlack ChristmasGremlinsSilent Night, Deadly NightJack FrostSanta’s SlayRare Exports: A Christmas Tale), New Year’s Eve (Terror TrainNew Year’s Evil), and if you want to count it Friday the 13th (Friday the 13th).

Some are tied into the holiday more than others (or in the case of Mother’s Day not at all) and while it is hardly the first (or even the first holiday slashers since it was predated by four years by Black Christmas), like with slashers as a whole, Halloween is probably the prime culprit for these as it gave low budget filmmakers a recognizable way to get their film noticed; tie it into a holiday and if possible “corrupt” a figure associated with it. The top movies of the genre are probably My Bloody Valentine movies, The Wicker ManApril Fool’s DayJawsHalloweenTrick ‘R TreatBlack ChristmasGremlinsJack Frost, and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale with a large decline in quality after that but frankly I’m glad that garbage exists. If I had my way, every holiday would have a proper film (especially Arbor Day).

Despite Halloween being the obvious candidate for horror films, Christmas horror may be even more prevalent as shown above. It helps that Christmas movies are a veritable (frequently terrible) genre of their own with plenty of established mythology and a huge popularity. It’s also a rather “pure” event of “joy” which makes for easy ways to get attention by messing with and plenty of opportunity for satire. On a related note, once again fück you Roger Ebert and all you people who lost your shit over a murderer dressed as Santa Claus in Silent Night, Deadly Night. I hope somebody insulted Ebert every day of his life over that scaremongering, pretentious garbage. That movie seems rather quaint in a world where Rare Exports: A Christmas TaleSint, and now Krampus exist, cutting out the middleman and just having the big guy himself (or similar characters) be the threat.

Krampus comes to us from the director of Trick ‘R Treat, probably the definitive Halloween film as no other film combines a celebration of the holiday along with quality as well as it does. The film is a horror-comedy which for once is more on the horror end but the obvious comparison here is to Gremlins, both in Christmas setting, anarchic tone, and overall feel. I do confess that I wish they had followed that film’s lead with making the gingerbread men stop motion, but otherwise I am quite fond of the creature design for the film, the clear highlight of the film. Aside from the titular German mythological figure, we also get plenty of murderous toys, creepy unmoving snowmen, and the graboids from Tremors (well in movement at least). The editing can get a bit too choppy at times and the time where the CGI use gets obvious well… I get why it is but it’s still very low budget and comedic (whether intentionally or not) and not necessarily in a good way. If it wasn’t for those moments, I’d even go so far as to say that the film looks much higher budgeted than it actually is (complete with a great stylized animated flashback).

The film trades the anthology format of Trick ‘R Treat for a single story but still feels like a spiritual sequel. Like Sam from that film who doesn’t take kindly to people not properly celebrating his holiday, we get another (far less murderous and memorable) child who takes it upon himself to defend Christmas and more directly in comparison, Krampus who does the same. While the film has more material than could have fit or properly served as one of six stories, I confess that it might have helped the film if they made it one of say two stories and cut out the time spent with Alison Tolman’s aggressively unpleasant family.

The cast is a mixed quality with Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), and Alison Tolman (Fargo) on one side of that spectrum and Conchata Farell (Two and a Half Men) and David Koechner (Anchorman) on the other though really none of them are all that well served by the film aside from Koechner who shows up and does his usual shtick. It’s a real waste. The plot though is really what lets the movie down. After the freak blizzard interrupts the stale sitcom-y “Christmas isn’t about what it used to be” and “look how wacky and different these two families are” it’s like the film is just completely lost. Who lets their teenage daughter walk outside during a blizzard? A blizzard which knocks out cell reception too. Not even sneaks out which the movie even goes so far as to set up, just lets her go and tells her to come back soon instead of at least holing up there. It’s the kind of plot contrivance that reeks of “how the heck do we get things started”. The film then heads into a home invasion story while also bringing in every cliché from The Night of the Living Dead-type (though comparisons to The Mist feel more relevant) surrounded by a hostile force movie.

<spoilers>I love that the film basically teases stealing the ending of Home Alonecomplete with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or even just all being a dream only to reveal that they are essentially in a hell of Krampus’ creation. I sadly can’t say I fell for it though since it just felt so tonally dissonant, but it was a nice touch regardless. </spoilers> The film may have been a bit of a disappointment at least based on the premise and talent involved, but it’s still a fun horror film thanks largely to the creatures and a natural descendant of Joe Dante’s career. It just could have been so much more.

Bonus Episode #S-1 – Holiday: Making Friends (2011)
Directed by Marvin Suarez

In memory of this short from Michael Dougherty (okay I went to rewatch that one which I included below and stumbled upon this). Like that one, this is actually Halloween related and it just feels right to include it. The acting is amateurish and melodramatic especially from the mother, the camerawork is going to fool no one in to thinking it is from some great talent, and the whole short is SPOILER essentially just setting up the end twist END OF SPOILERS but it’s still worth a watch at its short length for that moment.

Bonus Episode #18 – Crime: Nothing but the Night (1973)
Directed by Peter Sasdy

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The crime-horror genre is a small subset of the mystery horror genre and frequently are crime thrillers that dip beyond that. Since this is a thin line, the topic contentious about whether many of these films are even horror, I only have a certain number of days, and the fact that so many of them fall under the genre of giallo which I will be getting to later, I’m keeping this to the realm of the bonus. Outside of the giallo genre, they typically fall under slasher/serial killer films such as the original The Town That Dreaded SundownAngel HeartThe Exorcist IIIThe Silence of the Lambs (similarly the other Lector and Lector influenced titles), Se7enFrom Hell, and Saw with a cop or detective heading into the dark underbelly of society to track them down. Rarer is something like The Devil’s Rejects which messes it up by dealing with a clan of serial killers on the run from the law, but what separates all these films (with the exception of Angel HeartThe Exorcist IIIand From Hell which bring in supernatural elements) is content.

They descend from the darkest film noir with detectives who seem trapped in that time, or at the very least a bygone age (The Town That Dreaded SundownThe Devil’s Rejects). But I find it hard to merely call a film neo-noir when they show such scenes as a man wearing the skin of women he killed, a man biting off the flesh of a still living man, a pedophile chained up for a year until he is a barely alive, near desiccated body, or a man sawing off his own foot. Silence of the Lambsand Seven are as stated in past write ups, attempted to be disqualified from horror out of lack of respect for the genre. It’s pure semantics but we mustn’t deny the essential elements of the films.

The film stars horror and Hammer mainstays Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and from the director of numerous Hammer films (including Taste the Blood of Dracula the official Hammer entry for me this year and the not particularly good Hands of the Ripper), but is surprisingly not one. We also get a supporting role for Michael Gambon (The Singing DetectiveHarry Potter). The film is a pretty standard and dull crime film starring Lee as the police officer and Cushing as a psychiatrist investigating the attempts to murder off twelve trustees.

It’s only SPOILERS the reveal of supernatural elements that gives the film any momentum. It’s finally revealed that the trustees are transferring their minds into that of children through their memories making for a horror version of Being John Malkovich. The creepy kids are fun in their limited time post-reveal with Lee’s presence and their dancing around a fire giving me strong The Wicker Man vibes which is never a bad thing. We also get a hilarious ending with a helicopter spreading a fire to the lead girl who runs away, gives her surprisingly non-scream filled final words then jumps to her death, followed one by one by the other not-kids. END OF SPOILERS It’s a fun twist and it’s just a shame it’s attached to such a nothing of a movie.

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