Special Effects: B-
Krampus takes the basic tones of holiday comedy classics like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Gremlins, mashes them up, and then presents something new that's not quite as good. It starts off promising enough, eliciting a few good giggles as the opening credits roll over slow motion shoppers trampling each other through the doors of a "Mucho Mart." This, incidentally, is one of only a couple of scenes with any extras. The vast majority of the story takes place in one family's house, locked in by a snowstorm -- and mysteriously appearing snowmen -- in the few days leading up to Christmas.
This is where the comparison to Christmas Vacation comes in: upper-middle-class couple Tom and Sarah (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) get a holiday visit from Sarah's trashy gun-nut family, comprised of her sister Linda (Allison Tolman), brother-in-law Howard (David Koechner), and their bevy of shitty children. These comprise of two girls who are pointedly presented as tomboys in a weird way, and a fat little brother who is so obviously telegraphed as an expendable character, he literally has zero lines in the film. Oh, and they also bring a baby that is often quite obviously swapped out for a doll; and their rude Aunt Dorothy (Two and a Half Men's Conchata Ferrell).
That's not to mention Tom and Sarah's own two children, Max and Beth (Emjay Anthony and Stefania LaVie Owen), who aren't bratty so much as a little self-involved; and Tom's mother, "Omi" (Krista Stadler), who turns out to be pivotal in this family's run-in with Krampus, the anti-Santa of German folklore who, instead of rewarding good children, punishes bad ones. Omi even spends most of the film speaking in German.
It is this cast of eleven (counting the baby) that we spend the vast majority of the film with, starting with rising class tensions between the two sisters' families. It's too bad Krampus never goes as far as it could, or even should, with these themes; it's too easy to compare it to other films that are both similar and far superior. A dinner table scene in which one of the tomboys snatches Max's letter to Santa could have played out well, were it written better; the script, which includes three writers, is filled with dialogue that either fails to ring true or falls flat. We're supposed to glean the reasons why these relatives can't stand each other, but none of their discussions sound anything but contrived. The cleverest it gets is when Aunt Dorothy arrives and asks where the nog is: "I need to get cheered."
I spent way too much of this movie wishing these characters were more fun, or even more interesting, to watch. But, when the action starts -- way too far into the movie -- it does, at least, offer some pretty indelible images. Homicidal little gingerbread men getting torched to death is almost worth admission on its own. Seeing a snow-obscured Krampus hopping from rooftop to rooftop through a blizzard is pretty cool. The monster teddy bear is something that would make a great toy for those of us with bent senses of humor.
For every amusing or impressive bit, though, Krampus offers something equally dumb: an unknown monster burrowing through snow and sucking people under. I gigantic monster jack-in-the-box with a mouth that looks like it was borrowed from Predator. And worst, a strange mix of relatively competent CGI effects and occasionally inept practical effects that look fake enough to pull you out of the story.
These problems would be far more forgivable with a better script, but Krampus just wants to keep its "horror comedy" genre trappings in the action, rather than in the plot or the characters. So, it might still work for some viewers, depending on what they're looking for. I did get a few good laughs in over the course of the film, but the stretches in between go on too long. And this movie only clocks in at 98 minutes. Adam Scott and Toni Collette are talented enough actors to be better than this, but they probably had fun making it, and can't be faulted for that. There's just so much missed potential here, because Krampus could have been great fun. It swings for bonkers-silly and lands on intermittently amusing.