December 15, 2016

Krampus

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Hey, everybody. Derek here. Due to scheduling stuff (again), we couldn't record this past weekend for Holiday Moviepalooza. So, in order to maintain some sort of regularity around this joint, I decided to writea review. However, as Christmas Evil was Jake's pick, I decided to pick another movie in the same genre: 2015's Krampus, starring Adam Scott, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Toni Collette, Stephanie LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Conchata Farrell, Allison Tolman, Maverick Flack, Queenie Samuel, Lolo Owen, and Leith Towers.

It's Christmas, and the family is making what they can of it. Max (Anthony) is upset because the rest of his family isn't getting into the holiday spirit like they used to. His parents, Tom (Scott) and Sarah (Collette), aren't getting along as well as they used to, and his sister Beth (LaVie Owen) is not interested because she would rather be with her boyfriend, Derek (Towers). His grandmother, Omi (Stadler) is trying, but nobody seems to notice because she only speaks German. Max is showing signs of depression, and decides to write a letter to Santa asking for help getting things back to how they used to be.


Things take a turn for the worse when Sarah's sister Linda (Tolman) and her family arrive to spend Christmas with them. Linda's husband, Howard (Koechner) is a loudmouth who likes to shoot things. Jordan and Stevie (Samuel and Owen, respectively) are their daughters, both of whom are tomboys who revel in antagonizing Max. Howie, Jr. (Flack) is their son who doesn't speak, but makes up for it by being creepy and chugging soda. There's also a baby (Sage Hunfeld) who is introduced and mostly left alone. Oh, and they brought an obnoxious, alcoholic aunt (Farrell) and a dog, too! Fun times.


When Jordan and Stevie steal Max's letter to Santa and read it at the dinner table, a huge fight ensues, leading to Max wishing everybody would just go away. He tears up his letter and throws it out the window, where the wind catches it, taking it...somewhere else...

And that's when stuff starts going off the rails.


A huge snow storm moves in, knocking out the power. When Beth can't get through to Derek on her cell phone, she asks to go check on him, making the excuse that she can check on the neighbors and see if they lost power, as well. Tom and Sarah reluctantly agree, and she heads out into the less-than-hospitable weather. As she walks down the street in waist-deep snow, she sees a dark shape jumping from house to house, seemingly following her. And boy howdy, is it!


As it gets later in the evening, Beth's parents start to worry that she has not returned home yet, so Tom and Howard take a few of Howard's guns and go searching. They get to Derek's house but nobody is there. When they hear what they think is Beth screaming, they run outside, and Howard is attacked by something that leaves a pretty impressive bite mark on his leg. Tom manages to get him back to their own house, where Beth takes care of Howard while Tom lets Sarah know what happened.

From there, things get even worse, as whatever it is that attacked Howard--and possibly took Beth--starts working its way through the whole family, using some pretty creative methods, including a batch of murderous gingerbread men armed with a nail gun and sharpened candy canes, and homicidal toys, that are swiftly dealt with in a rather entertaining fashion.


A plan is finally hatched involving Tom getting the remaining family to a deserted snow plow and make their way to somewhere that might have food, electricity, and maybe a stiff drink. It goes about as well as you might expect, and culminates in Max facing down the actual Krampus and its minions, where he demands that the family be returned to him and things go back to how they were. This does not appear to impress the best, as its buddies grab Max and stuff him down Krampus' sack.


Max wakes up to find himself at home, and everybody there with him. Things seem to be back to normal. But are they really?

The thing that I like most about this movie is that director Michael Dougherty manages to maintain a reasonable balance between both comedy and horror. What could have turned into National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, but with Lots More Murder ended up reminding me of Steven Spielberg's Poltergeist; it starts out as a slice-of-life piece about a typical family that is sudeenly thrust into a supernatural situation that gets progressively more terrifying as it goes forward, but without the resolution the former gave us. (At least before the two terrible sequels ruined everything for everybody ever. But perhaps I'm being a bit hyperbolic.)


Adam Scott is a great straight man, who faces every new development with a disappointed head shake, followed by a grim determination to make it past each new hurdle. He excels in this role, and it's nice to see him not acting as a huge douchebag, as he does in most of the other movies in which he appears. That's not to say he isn't funny in those; it's just nice to see him taking on a darker, broodier role.


Scott is the perfect foil for David Koechner as his equal but very opposite brother-in-law, Howard. I like Koechner, and by all accounts he is a generally quiet, friendly man in real life, which is something that I've always had a hard time reconciling in my head, having been so much the opposite of that in just about everything I've seen him in. And yet, even as a loud-mouthed jerk in this film, he still manages to show that he has some serious acting chops that haven't been on display very much in previous roles. And when things get serious in this movie, he's no longer the yelling idiot. He's quieter. More serious. And very good at it.

The other adults in the cast-- Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, Krista Stadler, and Conchata Farrell--are also excellent, although Tolman doesn't get a lot of screen time, being relegated to the "Alice Kramden" role to Koechner's "Ralph", Howard. She shakes her head with a knowing look, argues with Sarah, and takes care of the baby. The rest of the time, she frets and looks nervous. It would have been nice to see her doing more.

Stadler also had very little screen time, and what time she had was mostly spent speaking in German. However, she still gave a wonderfully creepy performance as Omi, and when she reveals in the one scene where she actually speaks English that she believes that they are being stalked by Krampus, telling a story about how it came to her village when she was a child, she owns it, even though most of it was done in voiceover to a Tim Burton-style animated sequence, which was another brilliant choice, in my opinion.

The kids in this film--Emjay Anthony, Stephanie LaVie Owen, Maverick Flack, Queenie Samuel, and Lolo Owen--are amazingly subdued. As Jake has pointed out more than once, too many child actors seem to think that "acting" means "yelling your lines and making goofy faces". This group is very much not from that school of thought. They all performed at a level you might expect from older, more experienced actors. Anthony, in particular, handles the role of Max with just the right amount of sadness, fear and defiance, especially when going head-to-head with Krampus.

And, of course, we cannot forget to mention the design of Krampus itself. It is super creepy, appearing to be made primarily of toys, a theater mask, and lots of teeth. It has a scream that sounds suspiciously like the T-rex from the Jurassic Park movies, but is still effective in adding to the overall feel of the thing. Add some cloven hooves, sharp claws, giant curled horns, and a really gross snake-like tongue, and you've got a winner of a murder monster!

Should you watch this flick? I think that's the wrong question. What should be asked is, if you haven't seen it, why not?! It pulls off something that rarely works right: a Christmas horror film with all the trimming that actually manages to be scary and not cheesy. So, yes. See this movie. Heck, watch it regularly during the holidays. It's the perfect film to cue up after you've let the kids watch A Christmas Story and sent them off to bed.

And if you hear something on the roof, you had better hope you were good this year!