“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… and that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”

-Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

It is really hard to think of a less scary time of the year than Christmas. Traditionally called “the holiday season” or “the season of cheer”, Christmas isn’t often explored in the horror genre. There are classics like Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night, but more often than not Christmas films are full of joy. So the trepidation of Krampus is logical. What isn’t so logical is how perfect it feels as a take on post-modern consumerism. Krampus is a surprisingly fun, twisted, and thought provoking exploration of family and faith.

When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus, a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. The lovable traditions of the holiday turn to terrifying monsters, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive. All the tried and true holiday fun is flipped into horror and mayhem.

Emjay Anthony is the focus of the film, but Adam Scott and Toni Collette receive top billing. Scott and Collette were such great choices for this film. Scott’s charmingly smooth sense of humor and Collette’s gracious motherly beauty make this film easy to watch. Collette’s Sarah is a brave and empowering character who elevates the film. David Koechner is also excellent as an NRA card-carrying redneck who is primed to fight. Perhaps the best performance though is that of Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy. Dorothy serves as the comedic sidekick, but is also potentially the most level-headed character in the film.

It is somewhat shocking that this is Michael Dougherty’s second feature film. His camera work and overall direction hearkens to some of the greats from the genre. Although jump scares are few and far between, Dougherty builds suspense and dread masterfully. Krampus is filled with chilling visions. If a man-eating jack in the box isn’t enough, how about fiendish nail gun toting gingerbread men? Every horrific touch in Krampus feels well thought out and playfully placed. Dougherty has an extremely bright future ahead of him. As horrific as it is, Krampus has the holiday spirit. The very root of the film is based on losing the holiday cheer.  Krampus feels like equal parts Elf and The Evil Dead with a splash of Drag Me to Hell. Much like Santa’s sleigh in Elf runs on belief, Krampus is fueled by disbelief.

It is really hard to find cracks in this film, but I find it a bit glaring how soft it is on the gore. I don’t need blood spewing out of every character who is killed, but almost every death is off screen. While I find Krampus to be genuinely creepy and horrifying, I don’t believe the film is all that scary. I don’t think that less scares weaken the film, but having more certainly wouldn’t have hurt it either. I suspect that Michael Dougherty may have been implored by the studio to keep this film at a PG-13 rating. It is infinitely harder to make money with an R rating, and I understand this, but there is a certain appeal to letting a film flow to its natural place.

Ratings aside, Krampus is joyously fun. It’s not the typical holiday fun, but fun nonetheless. Michael Dougherty is full of talent, and every minute in this film shows it. Krampus feels like it was majorly influenced by the films of Sam Rami and could reach the same cult status he has. Dougherty has also done a great job casting this film. Adam Scott and Toni Collette are so enjoyable to watch. Collette in particular seems to be relishing in her role. Krampus is the antithesis of It’s a Wonderful Life, but teaches the same endearing holiday principles. Even though it most certainly does not have the same veneer as Miracle on 34th Street, Krampus has just as much to say about cynicism and faith. You will be hard pressed to find another holiday film that implores you to celebrate in the holiday spirit more than Krampus.

Grade: B+