Of all the horrors on parade in Krampus—including murderous gingerbread men, oversized jack-in-the-box clowns with hungry, fleshy maws, and a horde of evil “elves” in cloaks left over from the cheapie 1975 Satanist extravaganza The Devil’s Rain—there is no image so terrifying as Adam Scott’s neck fur. Men of America, if you insist on growing beards, please don’t let the spillage run right past your Adam’s apple and practically down to your clavicle. No one, not even Santa’s evil counterpart, wants to look at that.
Krampus is the latest entry in the semi-venerable tradition of Christmas horror movies like Bob Clark’s 1974 silly-scary sorority-house chiller Black Christmas, and you could argue that we need more of these. But no one needs Krampus. Directed by Michael Dougherty—also the guy behind the 2007 Trick ’r Treat—Krampus begins as a tale about restoring a sense of hope and wonder to Christmas and evolves into a manic nightmare in which children are snatched and eaten by Saint Nicholas’ demonic opposite, a shadowy, craggy figure straight out of German folklore. A young spud named Max (Emjay Anthony) accidentally summons the creature when, in a fit of pique and disappointment, he tears up his heartfelt letter to Santa. Suddenly, the sky grows dark; the power goes out; a smirking, lopsided snowman mysteriously appears in the family’s yard. At first Max’s parents (Scott and Toni Collette) treat the power outage as a mere inconvenience—it doesn’t help that they’re already beleaguered by visiting family (an unruly brood whose parental units are played by Allison Tollman and David Koechner). But when Max’s older sister (Stefania LaVie Owen) mysteriously disappears, the grown-ups spring to action. Before long, they’re fending off all manner of beasties and ghoulies, whose goal is not to spread joy, but to punish.
Some clever soul might have done something moderately effective with this idea, but Krampus is too dumb to be scary and too listless to be entertaining. The script—by Dougherty, Todd Casey and Zach Shields—borrows some ideas from the genuinely creepy 1973 made-for-TV movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, in which Kim Darby plays a young housewife beset by little gray men who live deep in the bowels of the country house she and her husband have just moved into. (The material was remade, far less effectively, in a 2010 version starring Katie Holmes.) In Krampus, the chattering, whispering gingerbread monsters who live in the family chimney are clearly the descendants of Darby’s tormentors. At one point they attack Koechner with a nail gun, just as their forbears harpooned Darby with kitchen utensils. But their antics are just so much frosting—neither funny nor scary, and certainly not funny-scary. In short, they’re no match for the rangy Christmas foliage ringing Adam Scott’s neck. Please, Santa baby, in the name of all that’s good and holy, bring him a razor.