Christmas themed horror movies are pretty rare, so it’s always exciting when one comes out that’s actually good. Black Christmas is probably this subgenre’s most famous example, but I would even place something as playful as Gremlins into this category. Bringing a dark twist to such an overly joyful time of year can really yield some memorable results if done well. With Krampus, director Michael Dougherty has put his own darkly comedic spin on the holiday. Dougherty’s previous film, 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat, was an incredible Halloween showcase that was pretty much disregarded by studios before finally being dumped on DVD. Krampus is getting a wide release in theaters across the country, which does seem strange because the film might be a little too weird for mainstream audiences to truly embrace. But whether or not the film is a hit at the box office, it definitely deserves the opportunity to be seen by as many people as possible because it’s an absolute blast. Don’t let this awesome little horror film slip under your radar.

Max (Emjay Anthony) is a young boy who has always kept the Christmas spirit alive by writing to Santa every year. For him, Christmas is one of the best times of year and one of the only times that he, his mom (Toni Collette), his dad (Adam Scott) and his sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) feel like a family. But this year, he’s being visited by his Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), his Uncle Howard (David Koechner) and their four annoying kids. After Max gets in a fight with two of his cousins, he tears up his letter to Santa and throws it out the window. But this single act spells doom for the entire family because an ancient Christmas demon is now on its way to their home. His name is Krampus.

Seasoned horror veterans probably won’t be too frightened by anything in Krampus, but that hardly matters because the main point here is to have fun. The film has an almost equal measure of horror and comedy, sometimes trying to scare you and make you laugh in the same scene. It usually works because some of the scenarios in the film’s second half are so utterly ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh. But the film can be scary when it needs to be and a lot of the horror sequences in the film are creative and visually interesting. Whether it’s Krampus chasing Beth down a deserted snowy street or an unknown force pulling our characters underneath the snow, there are a lot of exciting moments that keep the momentum high.

The design of the Krampus creature looks great when it’s finally revealed and Dougherty’s decision to use practical effects as often as possible really elevates the film. But for me, as great as Krampus is, he doesn’t even hold a candle to his little helpers. They include a snake-like jack-in-the-box creature, a trio of angry gingerbread men, a demented Christmas angel and dozens of sinister elves. I loved the design of all these creatures and the most exciting parts of the film were when the family was stuck inside of the house with them. Some of them are completely goofy, but it fits with the comedic tone of the film. It’s really refreshing to watch a modern horror film that doesn’t try to ground things in reality and instead cranks the ridiculousness up to eleven.

The only place where the film really fumbles is in its ending, which feels like a cop out based on everything that came before it. The sentimentality that’s tacked on also feels a little forced and the film probably would have benefited if its ending had taken a darker path. But this is hardly a problem when everything that preceded it was so much fun. I’m the kind of guy who usually favors the journey of a film over the destination and 95 percent of Krampus is nothing short of spooky holiday-themed fun. It’s sure to become a yearly tradition with horror fans.

Krampus receives 3.5/4

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