A modern fable set during what’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year, Michael Dougherty’s Krampus is a wondrously twisted take on the Christmas season that confidently blends scares and good-hearted cheer, making for a new holiday classic that proves that old-time saying true, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Krampus follows the adorable Max (Emjay Anthony), the youngest member of the Engel clan who wants nothing more than a peaceful Christmas with his family. But once his Uncle Howard (David Koechner), Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), and their unruly brood show up, the perfect holiday concocted by Max’s parents (Adam Scott, Toni Collette) is quickly thwarted after the youngster hits his breaking point. Max declares his hatred for the holidays and what his family has become, thus triggering the arrival of a menacing force who is hellbent on teaching Max the true meaning of Christmas with a horrific lesson he (or us viewers) won’t ever forget.

Little known fact about me is that I’m a Christmas junkie. Once Thanksgiving hits, I go into full-blown Martha Stewart mode and what follows is an endless barrage of cookies, treats, movie marathons and decorations everywhere. So when you couple Christmas with the horror genre, it makes for this writer being as happy as a hungry zombie participating in a brain-eating contest.

And while there have been numerous straight-up horror films that happen to feature the December 25th holiday as its theme, very few exist that are made for folks of all ages (Gremlins being the obvious exception to the rule), which is just one of the reasons Krampus was an exceptionally fun experience for me personally. It’s hard to walk that line, to make something that’s terrifying but still can be shared with younger viewers, and Dougherty does a masterful job with Krampus in creating a timeless holiday film that feels like something you can bring your kids to (just probably not the real little ones, though), while us adults can still appreciate its demented vibe just the same.

With Dougherty’s background in the visual arts, it should come as no surprise that Krampus is truly a feast for the eyes, especially once he takes us outside the Engler home. The snowy landscapes are lush and haunting, despite their monochromatic nature, and immerses viewers fully into his chilling Christmas tale. The creatures themselves are incredible, especially our titular monster that feels like it was plucked straight out of the pages of some harrowing old-time German fairy tale meant to scare children into being good centuries ago. Krampus also brings along a few friends, transforming several children’s toys and token holiday creatures into demonic forces unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

What I loved most about Krampus (beyond the evil Gingerbread Men) was that Dougherty wasn’t afraid to take chances as a filmmaker and made a film that doesn’t play it safe by any means. So many family or kid-friendly films these days are afraid to
"upset" younger viewers with a realistic approach to subjects like loss and regret, but clearly Dougherty realizes that a healthy dose of fear is precisely what kids need, and delivers an unexpectedly dark story in Krampus that pulls no punches whatsoever and doesn’t try to dumb things down either.

Very few directors have been able to successfully tackle a singular holiday with pure confidence as a storyteller, but somehow Dougherty has done it twice, first with Trick ’r Treat and now with Krampus, which is a pretty monumental achievement when you really think about it. For those of you who love the holidays, for those of you who don’t and for everyone in between, Krampus is the perfect blending of yuletide-themed horror and heart, making for an instantaneous classic that you’re sure to revisit each and every year. I know I will.

Movie Rating: 4.5/5

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.