Apparently it's Christmas again. Who knew? The festival of compulsory jollity sneaks up on you earlier each year and you kind of have to go along with it whether you want to or not. Most Christmas movies are either shiny happy PG-rated fun for family viewing or sentimental comedies; it's not generally regarded as the season for horror. Yet, with the dubious exception of the (mostly awful) Santa slashers subgenre, there are a few nicely nasty seasonal horrors out there, the biggest and most famous obviously being Gremlins but recently we've had Rare Exports, Sint and (best of all) this year's A Christmas Horror Story.
Krampus actually features in one of the segments of A Christmas Horror Story but now he (it?) has his own movie and it's a lot of good ghoulish seasonal fun: it's got the bickering, stressed-out extended family learning to come together over the holiday season when the Anti-Santa responds to the young son's despair and loss of faith in Santa Claus by turning up, as legend dictates, to do away with all those who've turned their backs on the true meaning of Christmas. With various members of the family terrorised or taken by jack-in-the-box monsters or gingerbread men, dragged into chimneys and through air vents, and with every other house in the neighbourhood transformed into a derelict ruin in a blizzard-blasted wasteland, can they at least get to safety before Krampus' demonic elves and snowmen catch them?
Just as Michael Dougherty's previous film Trick R Treat was festooned with all the trappings of Halloween, so this is decked out with everything Christmassy, but twisting things around. Krampus starts with a terrific slow-motion scene of Black Friday-esque sales mayhem and a punchup at the Nativity play, accompanied by Bing Crosby singing It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas. There's also a nice animated sequence detailing the family's German grandma's previous run-in with Krampus two generations back, and Douglas Pipes' orchestral score drops in several nods to Christmas songs and carols but closes with new Krampus-centred lyrics for the Carol Of The Bells.
I enjoyed Krampus a lot: I liked it more than Trick R Treat, given that I wasn't quite as blown away by that film as everyone else - I certainly liked it but haven't felt the urge to put it on every Halloween. It manages to tread the line between genial Christmas humour and flat-out monster horror: the scares and threat are definitely there but it's wickedly macabre rather than outright horrific (the 15 certificate is about right), and the use of practical monster effects whenever possible gives the film a nice, warm, old-fashioned feeling. With a little bit of a message in there about being nice rather than naughty, it's another hit in a year which has been generally pretty good for horror films. Great fun and well worth catching.