Even by the miserable standards of other Folkloric characters, Krampus has a particularly wretched cinematic legacy. On second thought, ‘’cinematic’’ might not be the most appropriate term for his outings. After all, whilst the festive menace has certainly appeared in his fair share of films, he’s only graced multiplex screens on one occasion. This was for Michael Dougherty’s supremely enjoyable, 2015 Horror-Comedy, Krampus, which can be distinguished as ‘’the only proper one’’.
Elsewhere, the anthropomorphic goat-demon has been firmly relegated to straight-to-DVD atrocities, such as Krampus: The Christmas Devil (Deplorable), Krampus: The Reckoning (Ghastly), Krampus: Unleashed (Bilious) and something called Mother Krampus (???). Naturally, these are all cheap cash-ins, farted out around the Yuletide in order to fill up supermarket bargain bins and the more undernourished sections on Amazon Prime.
Targeted at less discerning viewers (like yours truly), they aim to sucker in anyone with an itch for holiday horror, which is a gambit that must surely pay off for them, otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing it. Indeed, for us connoisseurs of trash, watching these dumpster fires is a veritable Holiday tradition, akin to putting up a tree, caroling, or spending the entirety of Christmas day neglecting your social obligations, so that you can play a new video game.
And with the release of Krampus Origins, the season is upon us yet again! To be fair, this year’s offering is nowhere near as horrendous as some of its forebears, by virtue of being largely in focus and having some form of a screenplay. Nevertheless, it’s still a laborious watch, one that is severely weighed down by a humourless tone, weak production-values and crippling pacing issues.
The film opens at the tail end of World War 1, with a largely irrelevant prologue sequence set deep behind enemy lines. Here, we watch as a band of American soldiers, garbed in ill-fitting uniforms, carry out a search-and-destroy raid on a German bunker. After successfully clearing the base of hostiles, the grunts begin to scour the area for intel. In the process, one of them happens upon an ancient tome that is filled with all kinds of eldritch knowledge, cryptic spells and handy instructions for performing occult rituals. The young man confiscates the writings but before he can deliver them to his superiors, he is unceremoniously gunned down by a hidden enemy squadron.
Fast forward 3 weeks later and we are now in small-town Arizona, where the soldier’s possessions are promptly bequeathed to his wife, who is a teacher at the local orphanage. Overcome with sorrow, the grieving widow does not take the opportunity to examine these belongings and instead dumps them on her desk. As you have likely guessed, the aforementioned evil text is among the items and is quickly purloined by one of the school’s disruptive students.
Suffice it to say, it’s not long before the little trouble-maker is reading aloud from the malevolent manuscript, because presumably that’s how children entertained themselves prior to the advent of Shrek memes and Fornite. Anyway, to cut a long-story-short, she accidentally invokes the spirit of Krampus, at which point a generic slasher movie is set in motion. Albeit one where all the exciting stuff occurs off-screen.
In case it was somehow not obvious, Krampus Origins is a load of cack. But that comes with territory where you’re making this kind of schlock. What’s less predictable though, are all the strange and idiosyncratic ways that the film manages to screw up.
For instance, the production design is all over the place. Some of the period detail is beautiful realised, with authentic looking paraphernalia, old-timey cars and even era-appropriate branding. Yet on the flip side, everything is so dreadfully sparse, with sets that are frankly naked and unfinished . You subsequently get the impression that the crew stumbled across a disused factory, roughly 5 minutes before shooting, and then hastily tried to renovate it in a feeble attempt to eradicate any trace of modernity. Because the rooms are all conspicuously bare, the furnishings are non-existent, and you can see where the plug sockets have been visibly ripped from the walls. This might come across as nit-picky, but it’s very distracting once you notice it.
Likewise, the central MacGuffin (The Spell Book) might be one of the least believable props in movie history. Again, you could dispute that this isn’t a worthy subject of criticism but they insist on shoving the bloody thing in your face with all these endless close-ups. It’s like they’re proud of it!
Consequently, you have no choice but to scrutinise the blatantly fake and freshly-printed document. To their credit, they’ve attempted to make the spine look charred and degraded, but their method for doing this is to merely slap some flimsy black material over the cover. Likewise, they have obviously crumpled up the pages and dipped them in tea in order to artificially yellow them, like you would with a school project! You can’t turn a blind eye to this kind of awfulness.
Nor can you overlook the astonishingly bad audio quality. On that note, was every other line recorded on a separate device? Because some people sound like they’re in front of a mic in a professional studio, some sound like they’re on location in an echoey corridor and others sound like they’re communicating from the great beyond, ala the little girl in Poltergeist. Occasionally, the ADR becomes so tinny and muffled that conversations devolve into incomprehensible mumbling, a problem that is exacerbated to-no-end by the fact that half of the cast seem to have been ‘’discovered’ at the nearest community theatre.
You really can’t understand what the hell they’re supposed to be saying and this is a quality that the film unaccountably doubles-down on, by giving half of the characters weird vocal quirks and irritating mannerisms. To wit, there’s the one kid with the unconvincing stutter, the one with the badly affected British accent (who curiously has the sociolect of a Victorian aristocrat) and the one who turns up halfway through and may-or-may-not have a speech impediment.
Oh, and there’s also the drunk priest, who overdoes the slurring to such a ludicrous extent, that you’d be forgiven for assuming that he has a learning difficulty. When all these actors are thrust together into the same dizzying exchange, it can be an incredibly grating to sit through, but also perversely amusing at the same time.
Best of all however is the undignified depiction of Krampus himself, who is just as embarrassing as everyone else, if not worse! This is partly down to the demon’s (cost-friendly) ability to shapeshift and impersonate others. Granted, that could be an interesting twist if the script was willing to expand upon the idea, but it’s clearly just a transparent way of keeping the effects budget down. In fact, the villain spends the vast majority of the film incognito as a crappy Damien Thorn rip-off and doing very little Krampusing.
So, anyone hoping for fun, creature-feature action is going to be sorely disappointed. Instead, you’ll have to settle for watching another ‘’creepy’’ kid movie, as if we don’t have enough of those already. It doesn’t help that he’s such an adorable little tyke and his most menacing attribute is that he gives people hard stares, like he’s fucking Paddington or something!
Having said that, when Krampus finally bothers to shed his disguise- in the last 20 minutes of the movie- then you instantly understand why the filmmakers were so hesitant to reveal him. With a visual design straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and a voice so preposterously throaty that it makes Dr Claw sound like Taylor Swift, he is a legitimately risible antagonist. Compounding the issue, he also inexplicably draws out the last syllable of every word, like someone who is suffering from painful constipation.
Whilst all of that might seem amusing on paper, it’s worth reiterating that Krampus Origins is not a candidate for the ‘’so-bad-it’s-good’’ club. On the contrary, it’s an aggressively morose slog, one that is severely lacking in incident, drama and scares (The titular ”origin” is also absent, with Krampus being an established entity at the beginning of the film). Even the small nuggets of amusement that can be gleaned, like the unintentional laughs described above, are few-and-far between.
Honestly, it’s a tad depressing, what with all the illusions to orphaned children and wartime tragedies. There are no (deliberate) moments of levity to alleviate the mood either, which you’d think would be a key ingredient for any Krampus story. He’s evil Santa for Christ sake! Why would you place that character in anything other than a horror-comedy? Alas if you’re hoping for some trashy fun, then this arduous chore will not satisfy that craving. Nor will it satiate anyone who is looking for a fundamentally competent film.
Oh well, at least we still have the proper one.