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Along with the usual award-season Oscar bait and big-budget franchise blockbusters that accompany the Holiday season, one can always expect a handful of forgettable Christmas-themed films to cash in on this most festive time of year. This year’s offerings were admittedly not very family-friendly, at least on paper. First there was the drug-fueled Seth Rogen comedy The Night Before, and now we have Krampus, the darkly-comic horror film that draws upon the famous Alpine folklore legend for inspiration.

Indeed, Krampus tries very hard to be a different kind of Christmas movie, but it ultimately falls into the same trap that many do in wanting to have its cake and eat it too; vaguely satirizing the materialism and commercialism of Christmas while also championing its clichéd “true meaning”. It centers on a typical American family and their usual concerns during the holidays. Mom (Toni Collette) and Dad (Adam Scott) are short-tempered and stressed, ignoring their good-natured son, Max (Emjay Anthony), while paying more attention to their rebellious teenage daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen) and preparing for the arrival of the obnoxious relatives (including four poorly-behaved cousins and their shallow parents as well as their boozy great aunt). It’s with his German grandmother (Krista Stadler) who Max seems to share the strongest bond with, and who recounts the tale of Krampus, a horned demon who comes to punish children who have been naughty instead of nice on Christmas.

As you expect, Max soon acts in a way to draw the ire of the titular demon, and from there Krampus turns into a typical supernatural monster movie whose only distinguishing feature is the Christmas setting. With its carefully employed swear words and mostly gore-free violence to account for its PG-13 rating, it plays like a darker, less-entertaining version of Joe Dante’s Gremlins. The talented cast mostly treads water and despite containing occasional flashes of inspired humor and a few noteworthy scares (the most memorable sequence employing murderous gingerbread men brought to life), director Michael Dougherty and screenwriters Todd Casey and Zach Shields are only able to get so much out of the premise. Krampus would likely have fared much better as an hour long episode of a horror anthology show a’la Tales from the Darkside. Instead, Krampus drifts uncomfortably between comedy and horror before arriving at an all-too-predictable conclusion.

Watch the trailer for Krampus

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