Krampus and the Balance of Scares and Laughs
Updated: Sep 24
When it comes to Christmas movies catered towards adults, there are usually two extremes: your raunchy comedies like Bad Santa, with a Christmas setting where Billy Bob Thornton irreverently curses out the holidays with a drunken slur, or the classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which puts the ugly side of visiting relatives during the holidays front and center. On the other hand, you have your horror and action movies that use Christmas as a juxtaposition of tone to emphasize the horrible and violent actions occurring onscreen – whether it be sorority girls being brutally murdered by toy unicorns in Black Christmas, or a barrage of bullets from a machine gun (ho ho ho) being fired 20 feet adjacent to the office Christmas tree in Die Hard. Michael Dougherty’s Krampus, however, reaches both heights in a more accessible and light-hearted fashion without losing the true essence of what makes both genres so enjoyable.
Dougherty accomplishes the unique tone of Krampus by balancing comedy, drama, and horror and showing proper restraint on everything, while still retaining quality. Krampus never leans into the comedy too hard by being too vulgar or by pandering to the lowest common denominator with fart jokes or slapstick. It never leans too hard into the horror either, at least when it comes to explicit violence. You don’t see innocent people being pulled apart by gingerbread men, or people’s eyes being gouged out by icicles, or snowballs being used as frag grenades blowing people’s arms off into bloody bits, which are then stuffed into Santa’s bloody Christmas sack as blood drips down Santa’s beard, turning it from white into crimson red… Anyway, you don’t necessarily see any main human character die onscreen. The way the titular Krampus and his bag of evil toys operate is quite similar to how Willy Wonka and his Oompa Loompa’s function in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Most of the children (or family, in Krampus’ case) aren’t quite killed by all the demented contraptions of Willy Wonka, but are instead dragged off screen by some various kind of weird device, and death is only implied, but not necessarily confirmed.
The comedy and horror instead rely on each character’s interactions with each other. The whole family fits into many of the caricatures associated with both the comedy and horror genres. The parents, Tom and Sarah, are too wrapped up in their own egos and daily stresses to even notice that their son, Max, just wants the family to come together and be happy again. The Southern gun-happy Uncle Howard, and the hesitant Aunt Linda, come to visit with their tomboy children, adding to the pure disconnect the family has with each other. And their misunderstandings of each other just add to the awkward humor the first act presents itself with anchored by Conchata Farrell’s belligerent and drunken, Aunt Dorothy. You’ve seen this dysfunctional family in countless holiday films: (usually in the Hallmark Channel films my mom watches on a daily basis this time of year), the family learns their lesson through communication, melodrama, and the “power of love and Christmas” or whatever. In Krampus, the family learns the hard way what happens when you’re douchebags to each other during Christmas time by getting their asses handed to them by an army of Christmas demons.
When said army of Christmas demons, led by the titular Evil-Goat-Santa, arrive at the Engel family’s front door, they arrive hard and relentless. The tension is real, and the creatures while humorous in their design, with cutesy high-pitched voices, are a real threat to the family’s lives. While the characters are initially unlikeable, we watch them grow together through their horrible circumstances. The humor, sprinkled throughout the horror, is grounded, and makes the characters more relatable, and thus, we care about their fates and whether or not they get out of their Christmas nightmare scenario alive. The balance keeps you at the edge of your seat, but you’re laughing while leaning on the edge, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable to watch. All these traits make Krampus a truly well rounded Christmas horror comedy, and I hope it becomes a staple tradition for many folks in the mood to celebrate the holidays with a little, but not too much, edge.
Jeremy is younger than he looks, and has passionately studied the art and craft of filmmaking for as long as he can remember. He is currently a freelance wedding videographer, and is also heavily involved in Competitive Fighting Games. IG: jeremyko95