Pity young Max (Emjay Anthony). He's still young enough to believe in Santa Claus but just old enough to appreciate the sentiment of his grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) who, in classic "Yes, Virginia" style (though translated from the German) believes it's the belief in the SPIRIT of Santa Claus that really counts. Well, Max has lost the Christmas spirit (along with most of his family) while enduring an all-too-typical "family from hell" holiday gathering (bickering relatives, teasing cousins) that nobody really wanted to have in the first place. In a fit of pique, Max destroys his final letter to Santa... unaware that he's just invited a different spirit to town.
KRAMPUS is the holiday followup from TRICK 'R TREAT writer/director Michael Dougherty, and it looks like he's finally (and deservedly) gotten his hooks on the big screen. Back in the 80s, critics and parents alike were mortified by the concept and trailer for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT... today KRAMPUS is here with a PG-13 rating--and of course, it's not Santa Claus terrorizing the folks, so that makes it okay, right? Don't kid yourself... you bring the youngsters to this one (exceptions granted for those properly 'seasoned' to such material, naturally) and you're as bad as anybody IN it.
Okay, time out, time out. I remember well how Roger Ebert initially trashed NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DEATH RACE 2000 not by reviewing the actual films but by complaining about how many children were in the audience. And yes, some of my enjoyment of KRAMPUS was sullied by the spectacle of the terrified little girl clinging to her father as the delightful Christmas trappings turned into nasty chomping monsters... but that's NOT the movie's fault. Just throwing that out there.
KRAMPUS itself manipulates its audience beautifully. While you certainly care about, for instance, Max and his parents (Toni Collette and Adam Scott), you cringe at the encroachment of the awful Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) and you really want to take the contemptuous Uncle Howard (David Koechner) down a peg or two as he humiliates his brother (serving as a fine example for his own brood). But when "the shadow of Saint Nicholas" and his myriad minions start wreaking havoc, the family learns (too late?) exactly why they pull together, and not once are you allowed the smug satisfaction of seeing someone you hate "get it."
That KRAMPUS makes you care is only part of its sinister magic, of course. This is still a monster/horror thriller, and while it's certainly not a gorefest, the title apparition makes one hell of an entrance (even at a distance--you'll have to wait for the closeup) and the film is packed with imaginative displays of demonic activity, possessed toys and other surprises (I'd compare it to "vintage" Sam Raimi, but hey, ASH VS. EVIL DEAD is alive and well and kicking tail today). There's even a brilliant animated flashback sequence courtesy of Omi which wasn't even hinted at in the trailer (it's all too rare today that a trailer conveys the spirit of a film without blowing half the movie in the process, but KRAMPUS scores in that department as well).
When I'm this skimpy with the details, you know what that means. See it for yourself. Some have complained that it's being labelled a "classic" far too soon, and I agree that such hype is always premature and pointless. But I think this one's going to stick around for a good few Christmases to come.
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