Posted on December 23, 2015
The Horror-Comedy-Christmas film is a very narrow sub-genre for good reason: It’s always a losing proposition. Horror-Comedy films are something of a misnomer anyway. In fact, they’re just comedies with the trappings of horror to drive the action. Is there a moment in Shaun of the Dead when you feel truly horrified? No. There are a few moments of pathos, but none of the characters are likable enough for us to care if they are imperiled.
That’s why that movie works. We’re given early signs that we don’t have to care about any character other than one whose name is in the title. They’re all a bunch of kooky shits, some of them you’re actually rooting to be eaten. It’s a romp from end to end, it absolutely works and it does so because it knows it’s a comedy.
On the other hand we have something like Gremlins. I hate this movie. I was there the week it opened. I saw the house full of little kids come to see the cuddly Mogwai and I covered my ears as their cries of joy turned to shrieks of terror. Not only is this awful movie responsible for the execrable PG-13 rating that has done so much damage to quality film making, but it just doesn’t work. It’s uneven, it doesn’t know what it is, it’s not scary to grownups and it’s not funny to anyone.
Why it’s so popular, I have no idea, but it’s one of the first great examples of the Horror-Comedy-Christmas movie being a no win situation. Krampus is another one – with a twist.
Spoiler alert: The twist is a combination of beer, pizza and the knowledge that the movie is going to have to cheat to win. Yes, seeing Krampus (or any movie for that matter) at the Alamo Drafthouse hedges your bet with really good pizza and really cold beer. It’s hard to hate anything that happens while your eating pizza and drinking beer. That’s just a scientifically proven fact.
Okay, REAL SPOILERS follow.
Going into a movie like Krampus (or any Shyamalan film) you have to lower your expectations if you’re going to salvage the experience. You have to tell yourself ahead of time there will be funny stuff and there will be scary stuff but the two things won’t be related (they’ll probably seem like they belong in separate films) and in the end the movie will use one of the biggest, corniest cheats of cinematic history to get itself out of the predicament it’s put itself in.
So with that frame of mind – and the pizza and the beer – I enjoyed the parts of something I knew was not going to add up to a spectacular whole. Adam Scott is always a joy to watch as the consternated stand-in for every repressed, passive-aggressive modern male in our society. Having enjoyed Allison Tolman so much in Fargo, I spent most of the movie waiting for her to break out her baddassery. She has little to do in this movie unfortunately but when it happens, it’s great.
One nice surprise came from David Koechner’s role. DK only ever plays the same character. I don’t know if that’s by choice, limit or just type-casting but he seems relegated to playing the gun-totin’, opinion-spewin’ ‘Murican no matter which movie he’s in. It’s the same here, but the writers actually added a few layers to the character this time that give us an opportunity to see that he could probably play a number of different character roles.
The two top-notch turns come from the main kids played by Emjay Anthony and Stefania LaVie Owen. But it’s their quality, nuanced performances that give away the fact that the movie is going to cheat its way out at the end. Rotten kids can be dragged to the underworld, but good, earnest kids with a strong presence cannot.
If you haven’t guessed yet, I’ll lay it out for you. The big cheat is any single act that undoes all the ramifications of everything you’ve seen so far in the film. It was all a dream. The main character wishes it all away or he apologizes and wakes up to find his normal life restored. We can now add to that, one more big cheat: It was all virtual reality.
Why is it a cheat? Because we’ve invested real emotions in the consequences of all the actions throughout the story. By undoing those consequences with a cheap reversal, the movie has basically discounted our investment.
Moviegoers don’t like to be tricked but they do like to be outsmarted. The cheat is just a dumb way out of the corner the writers have painted themselves into.
Krampus has fun parts and funny parts, but the special effects in the parts that are supposed to be scary have a 1980s gloss to them that lack the visceral scenes in real horror movies like Day of the Dead or It Follows or Let Me In. Just make sure to lubricate your experience with lots of pizza and cold beer.