Allison Tolman, Adam Scott and Toni Collette in Krampus (Steve Unwin/Universal Pictures)
He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
We’ve all heard the song. Children everywhere want to be on the nice list. But what happens if you’re one of the naughty ones? Do you receive a lump of coal? According to old Germanic folklore, you will receive a visit from Krampus. If you are at all familiar with Germanic folklore, like Grimm’s fairy tales, well, a visit from Krampus is pretty grim indeed. The Grimm Brothers’ so-called children’s tales included plots like two children trying to not to be burned alive in an oven; a woman with long hair locked away in a tower; a wolf wanting to eat a girl with a red coat.
You get the point. The villains in some Germanic folklore tales make Freddy Krueger look like a boy scout. Krampus is no exception. Krampus, derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw, is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. Bearing horns, dark hair, and fangs, the anti-St. Nicholas comes with a chain and bells and hauls the bad kids down to the underworld. A lump of coal doesn’t seem so bad in comparison.
Based on the Germanic mythology (or horror story), the horror-comedy, Krampus, arrives in theaters just in time to scare even the naughtiest of us into being nice. When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas, unwittingly unleashing the wrath of Krampus. Max and his family members – including Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner – have to put their differences aside and band together if they want to survive.
Krampus starts out with one of the funniest opening credits scenes in recent memory. In a spot-on satire of commercialism, shoppers are trampling and fighting one another to get the best deals while being arrested and tasered by security officers. That the onscreen chaos ensues while Bing Crosby’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is playing in the background only enhances the absurdity of the scene.
This sets the tone for the film in which the scares and laughs keep coming, and also keeps the audience off-kilter since you aren’t sure what to expect next. In today’s upgrade, supersize, bigger-is-better world, writer-director Michael Dougherty shows that less can indeed be more. Clocking in at a taut 98 minutes, the film is more intent on taking the audience on a thrill ride than reveling in its self-importance.
If you have been waiting for a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz meets Silent Night, Deadly Night meets Beetlejuice, then wait no more. Apparently you’ve been nice, or naughty, enough for Krampus to arrive.
In theaters Dec. 4
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