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Universal // PG-13 // April 26, 2016
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 24, 2016 | E-mail the Author
I get that it's a ways off, seeing as how Krampus is only just now hitting Blu-ray and everything, but I really can't wait for this movie to start popping up on cable. If you flip over to HBO once Krampus' ominous, frostbitten corporate logos are out of the way, the first twentysomeodd minutes play like a straightahead dysfunctional family Christmas comedy.

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In one corner, you have workaholic Tom (Adam Scott), his Austrian mother who doesn't seem to speak a lick of English (Krista Stadler), his embattled c'mon-it's-Christmas-put-on-a-happy-face wife Sarah (Toni Collette), perpetually eye-rolling teenage daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), and their other kid Max (Emjay Anthony) who's a little too old to still believe in Santa but can't bring himself to let the dream die. In the other, you're lookin' at Tom's blue collar, gun-toting, hellraisin' in-laws Howard (David Koechner) and Linda (Allison Tolman). Not only have they brought along their brood -- mute, barely sentient lump Howie Jr. (Maverick Flack), a pair of sisters who Daddy sure wish had been boys (Queenie Samuel and Lolo Owen), and, oh, yeah, the newborn they forgot in the Humvee -- but they've dragged along hypercritical boozehound Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) while they're at it. Sarah's weeks of decoration are sneered at. Her baby machine of a sister and company groan about how they can't pronounce the names of the food she's gone to such time and effort to make for 'em. ...and Max! Whew, boy. When tomboys Jordan and Stevie get their hands on the kid's overly confessional letter to Santa, that's when all hell really starts breaking loose. By the time Auntie Sarah cheerfully waltzes back in with a tray full of crème brûlée, the place looks less like a dining room and more like a UFC pay-per-view cage match. The whole thing is disillusioning enough that Max can't be bothered to put his faith in Santa any longer. He rips his letter to shreds, tosses it out the window, and more or less tells St. Nick where he can stick it.

...and it's right around here that this family Christmas comedy suddenly steamrolls head-on into Gremlins. Oh, and what I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall when some hapless channel-surfer realizes what he's gotten himself into. That clomping you hear on the rooftop isn't Santy Claus; it's Krampus, an evil so ancient that he predates Christianity. His dark magicks blanket in snow and punishing cold every square inch of whatever suburb this is. The power's out. No hot water. Phone's dead. No reception. There isn't any sign of life outside of Tom and Sarah's palatial home. One by one, Krampus and his minions snatch, torment, torture, and...well, worse Max's family. The good news is that the kid will no longer have to suffer through the holidays with people who don't have the Christmas spirit. The bad news...? Max won't have any family to do anything with the other three hundred sixty something days a year either.

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Let me stop you before you finish heaving that sigh about Krampus' PG-13 rating. This isn't some splatter flick that got neutered in the editing bay to pander to a wider audience. This is Michael Dougherty's throwback to the likes of the original Poltergeist and more specifically Gremlins. It's a horror movie, yeah, but Krampus is horror with heart. It has such a gleefully demented sense of humor that Krampus aims more for laughs of surprise than gotta-sleep-with-the-nightlight-on-tonight scares. I mean, it's teeming with armies of razor-fanged teddy bears, hellspawned Christmas tree topping cherubs swooping down vampire bat-style, oversized jack-in-the-boxes with Predator-style mandibles that swallow their prey whole like a Burmese python, and even a gaggle of gingerbread men who somehow got their mitts on a nailgun. I don't know if "family friendly" is the right word for Krampus, exactly, but I could totally see myself watching this with one of my barely-teenaged siblings and our parents. There's not much in the way of naughty language, the effects work is oriented around creature design rather than gruesome viscera, and there's scarcely a drop of blood to be seen. Many, many horrible things happen, but it's all still more on the level of spookhouse thrills rather than gutwrenching terror.

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Pretty much everything about Krampus is dead-on, essentially doing for Christmas what co-writer/director Michael Dougherty nailed with his Halloween anthology Trick r' Treat a while back. This is a film that genuinely loves every last one of its characters. As broad and archetypal as so many of 'em seem to be at first glance, more and more layers are gradually revealed. Movies that unleash this level of mayhem often come to a screeching halt when the time rolls around for characterization, but Krampus weaves all that in remarkably deftly, and caring about these folks makes the scares hit that much harder. Having a cast this talented sure doesn't hurt either. Dougherty was working with a tight budget -- reportedly somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million -- but every dollar and then some is right there on the screen. The cinematography is drop dead gorgeous, the overwhelming majority of the Krampus' minions are puppets and animatronics wreaking havoc rather than a bunch of soulless digital effects, and the creature designs are off-the-charts phenomenal. I haven't even gotten to the part with the stop-motion-inspired flashback!

Fast, frenetic, and a hell of a lot of fun, Krampus is a throwback to the sorts of movies I loved to pieces growing up but really stopped being made after the '80s drew to a close. Try to imagine the kinda-sorta-all-age action/horror/fantasy/comedy mashup that'd squirt out if Gremlins and Labyrinth got loopy on eggnog an' had a 97 minute long baby. Maybe late April isn't the most ideal time to revisit Krampus, but I can absolutely picture this being a holiday staple in my house. Oooooh, and what a refreshing change of pace this is from the killer Santa flicks that generally define Christmas horror. Highly Recommended.

Krampus is a knockout in high-def, and I especially love how it seizes hold of so many different palettes yet it all still feels like part of one, cohesive whole. The early stretches are lit with the bright holiday hues of something like A Christmas Story, a bunch of the interiors once the power's knocked out are warm and candlelit, while the snowy exteriors are blanketed in greys and steely blues. Definition and detail are almost always phenomenal, even if contrast looks little murky here and there, and the digital photography doesn't always dazzle in particularly dim shots. By and large, though, Krampus is a feast for the eyes, doing justice to the world-class creature and production design.

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The AVC encode for Krampus spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the film is letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

Even though Krampus lulls viewers into a false sense of security with its more traditional holiday flick of a first act, its 24-bit, six-channel lossless audio still goes straight for the jugular. The sound design is in every way phenomenal, and that extends beyond the showy effects you'd expect to hear in, say, the unhinged Evil Dead 2-style siege in the attic. Krampus does a brilliant job establishing a sense of directionality, making viewers feel as if they're squarely in the middle of the havoc rather than just passively looking on. The gutteral, foundation-rattling roar of the in-laws' Hummer pulling up, the snarl of this winter wind, the cackle of gingerbread men from every which way, cracks spreading violently across the ceiling, a hellspawned cherub soaring across the screen, the thunderous pounding of the beast on the roof, the discrete placement of jingle bells as he moves about: Krampus' DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a gift that never stops giving. Aside from one climactic stretch where Adam Scott's voice is deliberately drowned out, every last element in the mix is perfectly balanced as well. A track this exceptional really ought to be experienced full blast.

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24-bit DTS dubs (768kbps) and subtitles alike are along for the ride in Spanish and French. Also included are a Descriptive Video Service track and English (SDH) subs.

  • Audio Commentary: Director Michael Dougherty wrote Krampus with Todd Casey and Zach Shields, and the three of 'em sit down for this disc's terrific commentary track. Among the many, many highlights...? The logistics of filming a Black Friday riot in New Zealand, the challenges of licensing iconic Christmas music for what sure looks to be a horror flick, the project's evolution from a quasi-slasher to something more family-oriented, a sad parallel between the untimely passings of bulldogs, varying interpretations of the ingenious closing twist (and, no, they won't spell out what really happened), and how a little Rick and Morty crept its way into the movie. I had a blast listening to this track, and you're making a mistake if you skip past it.

  • Deleted, Extended, and Alternate Scenes (19 min.; HD): A lengthy reel of deleted and extended scenes spans fourteen (!) sequences, and an alternate ending scores its own spot on the menu. Don't expect any supernatural havoc, and the differences can be subtle enough that they're not always easily spotted. Even the alternate ending is a marginally sunnier version of the same thing, with some slightly different interactions and reaction shots. (It's also just a portion of the ending, losing the setup and without the camera pulling back nearly so far at the end.) As for the meat of the reel, I definitely appreciate the quips by Aunt Dorothy, and I would've loved to have seen some of the additional bonding between the two sets of parents find their way into the final cut.
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  • Behind the Scenes (40 min.; HD): Oh, Blu-ray disc, you had me at "Krampus Comes Alive!" This five-part, half hour making-of doc tackles pretty much everything, such as the film's '80s-era Amblin inspiration, the extensive stuntwork, creating a snow-covered suburban neighborhood entirely in a soundstage, and the timeless, practical effects that went into realizing Krampus and his demented henchmen. Krampus himself is very much the highlight, including his long, spindly claws, towering hoof rig, and how a monitor inside the suit basically had actor Luke Hawker playing a video game with his entire body. I also love how thoughtful and inspired the interviews with the cast are, reaching beyond the usual "here's who I play, and this is the TV Guide-style synopsis of what happens" that weigh down more promotionally-oriented featurettes. There's a real emphasis on personality and getting to know the folks toiling away on the other side of the camera that further set this apart from the rest of the lot.

    A separate behind the scenes piece focuses on the design, construction, and inner workings of Krampus' beasties. I'm not sure why this is its own feature, since some of the same general material is addressed in "Krampus Comes Alive!", but this does delve into greater detail. It's especially wonderful seeing the puppeteers at work, including the six of them bringing the hellspawned cherub to life.

  • Gag Reel (5 min.; HD): Now I know that Toni Collette hangs framed photos about as skillfully as I do.

  • Galleries (HD): Krampus' sprawling galleries span five categories -- theatrical poster art, creature art, story art, storyboards, and Michael Dougherty's twisted Christmas card art -- with nearly five hundred images in all. I'm deeply impressed by the fully-painted conceptual art, and it's neat seeing some of what was originally envisioned in the storyboards, such as a gingerbread man's longer, more painful denouement.

Krampus comes packaged in a slipcover, and a DVD and digital copy code have been lovingly tucked inside.

The Final Word
Michael Dougherty's previous holiday outing, Trick 'r Treat, easily ranks among the most exceptional genre films of the past decade. Krampus isn't in quite that same league, no, but it comes damned close to doing for Christmas what Trick 'r Treat did for Halloween. Its blend of fantasy, horror, comedy, and demented visual whimsy in with a dysfunctional family Christmas flick proves to be infectiously fun, genuinely capturing so much of what made the likes of Gremlins and Labyrinth so magical thirty years ago. Krampus has been lavished with a hell of a special edition to boot, boasting a presentation so spectacular that it'll surely impress for many, many Christmases to come. Highly Recommended.
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