This had real potential, but it should say something about sticking to your game plan. I mean, going the malevolent route for a Christmas-themed release? It wouldn’t be the first time. Make it scary and funny? Okay…but, of course, “Gremlins” set the template for this in 1984. So, immediately, your work is cut out for you. And the whole disparate class and personality family reunion thing? National Lampoon and Chevy Chase got there first. However, if you set the tone correctly, and balance that laugh/scare ration properly–you might just pull it off. “Krampus” gets some of it right. Just not enough.
It’s a few days before Christmas, and a suburban family is preparing for their holiday get-together. But after getting involved in some yuletide shopping mayhem, preteen Max Engel (a very good Emjay Anthony) wonders: have we forgotten what Christmas is all about? His mom Sarah (a fine Toni Collette) and dad Tom (a strong Adam Scott) butt heads with Max over his desire for family traditions, upon which Max tears up a letter to Santa…and tosses it into the wind. Things only worsen when white trash relatives Uncle Howard (a super David Koechner) and Aunt Linda (perfectly cast Allison Tolman) arrive at the Engel home, with their quartet of dysfunctional brats. Plus, they’ve arrived with acerbic Great Aunt Dorothy (comic relief queen, Conchata Ferrell). Soon, an unexpected blizzard hits town, and kills power to the entire area. When Max’s sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) disappears after a walk to her boyfriend’s house, Tom’s old-world Austrian mother Omi (bubbling with portent, Krista Stadler) tells them all about the legend of Krampus…
Writer/director Michael Dougherty had a cult hit with 2007’s “Trick ‘r Treat”, so he’s got some decent history with the horror genre. “Krampus” scores with a few nifty frights, and the main baddie is pretty cool. If only it didn’t remind you of better movies, like 1982’s “Poltergeist”, and the aforementioned. The performances are quite able, and the special effects are mostly impressive. However, just a little more oomph, plus a bit more darkness than the PG-13 rating can supply, would’ve been welcome benefits. For a while, “Krampus” conjures the B-movie feel of the work of a young Joe Dante. And while it works in fits and starts, it has a tough time sustaining it. Nice try…wish it was better.