Movie Review ~ Krampus

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.

Stars: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, Allison Tollman, David Koechner, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler

Director: Michael Dougherty

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: ‘Tis the season to be merry, not scary, but don’t tell the makers of Krampus that.  In fact, try to put aside your notions of what a “holiday movie” is and hunker down with this chilly chiller that aims to give your yuletide some monster movie madness.  Part Gremlins, part National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Krampus may not be destined for a yearly Christmas watch but it’s still fine entertainment, a more than decent bit of counter-programming to more traditional festive choices.

Popular in Austrain folklore for hundreds of years, the Krampus is a massive goat-like creature that has a fondness for punishing bad boys and girls that are most certainly on Santa’s naughty list.  I’m a little surprised that it’s taken this long for Krampus to headline his own Hollywood film but time has shown that Christmas is one holiday that movie audiences don’t like to see sullied with blood and gore (unless it’s in a “respectable” Scorsese or Coppola picture).

Released so soon after Black Friday, the opening credits of Krampus elicit some knowing chuckles playing over a slo-mo scene of chaos with customers at MegaMart pushing each other down and climbing over employees to get the best deals. Overzealous deal seekers are tasered and beaten as ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ sweetly plays in the background.  This opening tells you exactly what kind of movie you’re watching and helps set the tone for what’s to come.

Pre-teen Max (Emjay Anthony, The Jungle Book) just wants Christmas to be the way it was when he was younger, when his family spent more time together and everyone still believed in Santa Claus (ooops, spoiler alert?).  Nowadays, his sister (Stefania LaVie Owen) has better things to do and his parents (Adam Scott, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & Toni Collette, The Way Way Back) have lost some of their spark.  With the arrival of his timid aunt (Allison Tollman) and obnoxious uncle (equally obnoxious David Koechner, Hit and Run), their brood of heinous hellions, and a boozy grump of an aunt (Conchata Ferrell, Erin Brockovich), things go from bad to worse when Max inadvertently conjures up our titular monster.  Arriving with a bitter snowstorm and a host of creepy creatures to do most of his dirty work, Krampus stalks the snowbound family now holed up in their house without power or heat.

Director Michael Dougherty made a slick little Halloween horror film in 2007 called Trick ‘r Treat, an anthology film heavy on atmosphere that’s earned a cult following over the years.  He works a similar magic with Krampus, turning a hectic Christmas family gathering into a fight for survival as one by one the relatives meet grim, yet not overly gruesome, ends.

Working within the confines of a PG-13 rating without pandering, the movie is low on grotesque gore, opting instead to focus its efforts on several nicely spooky sequences that mix impressive CGI seamlessly with practical effects. There’s even a clever nod to television holiday specials with an animated sequence accompanying Max’s Austrian grandmother’s (Krista Stadler) recounting her previous run-in with Krampus when she was a young girl.  Horror fans with a bloodlust should look elsewhere because there’s little to be found here.

Over time audiences have soundly rejected horror films like Silent Night, Deadly Night that set out to make Santa and the holiday itself something to fear.  That’s not the case with Krampus.  Dougherty actually is celebrating the time of year and lamenting the loss of tradition that heavy commercialism has been chipping away at.  There’s a good moral to the story and though it starts off tentative and takes a while to get going, it has a terrific final act.  At times I wanted the film to be more than it was, maybe a little scarier, maybe a little less on-the-nose in its observances…but it’s a pleasing diversion that tickles as much as it terrifies.

Movie Review ~ Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Three scouts, on the eve of their last camp-out, discover the true meaning of friendship when they attempt to save their town from a zombie outbreak.

Stars: Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, Cloris Leachman, David Koechner, Halston Sage, Patrick Schwarzenegger

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Before the screening I attended of Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse there was a more than five minute headache of a tie-in music video from DJ Dillon Francis.  Like a bad acid trip brought to life as a Nickelodeon cartoon in order to punish the wicked, the nonsensical bit of dead brain cell material had me eyeing the exit with a longing to run.  At its conclusion, I braced myself for impact for the feature presentation I assumed would be more of the same bizarre antics.

The good news is that the movie was better than I expected it to be, the great news is that you won’t have to sit through the heinous pre-show nuisance I was subjected to.  Make no mistake that Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse breaks zero new ground and comes off as a Frankenstein monster, a movie cobbled together from random bits and pieces of other films that no doubt had a great influence on the filmmakers.

Equal parts Superbad and Shaun of the Dead, the movie strikes while the zombie iron is hot with its tale of three scouts and an Amazonian stripper, ahem, cocktail waitress that battle an outbreak of the walking dead in their small California town.  It’s that rare movie that actually gets better as it lumbers onward, with each new bit of blood and gore introduced providing repulsion and metered hilarity.

It’s fitting the humor is so sophomoric seeing that our three scouts are nearing the end of their sophomore year of high school.  Ben (Tye Sheridan, Mud) and Carter (Logan Miller, The Bling Ring) have outgrown their scout days, preferring to focus on surviving high school instead of surviving in the wild. They’ve made a pact to tell their buddy Augie (Joey Morgan) and Scout Leader Rogers (David Koechner, Krampus) that their next campout will be their last, but any plans for a kumbaya send-off are interrupted when flesh eating fiends start to chase them down.

The old archetypes are present from top to bottom.  Ben is a the good kid, Carter is the horny kid, Augie is the roly poly kid that his friends are secretly embarrassed of, there’s also a slutty girl, a girl people think it slutty but really has a heart of gold (Sarah Dumont, Don Jon), a virginal beauty (Halston Sage, Goosebumps), a mean jock (Patrick Schwarzenegger), a cranky old lady (Cloris Leachman, The Wedding Ringer, chewing the scenery as if it were her last meal), and a Britney Spears loving derelict (oh, if only more movies featured this stock character, right?).

Under the serviceable direction of Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), the movie hums along at a decent pace, and at 93 minutes it takes it’s time to introduce the characters more than adequately before the bloodshed starts.  The special effects are appropriately gory with slow-mo shots of zombie heads exploding and, in one case, a zombie phallus being stretched like a rubber band. Throw in a few shots of zombie boobs and you’ve completed the cinematic dreams of every randy teenage boy that finds their way into the R-rated film.

While it doesn’t attempt to reinvent the genre, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse just wants to have a little fun and I think it gets the job done without hurting anyone.  Your tolerance for crude humor and zombie mayhem may be tested at times but taken for what it is, the film works almost in spite of itself.

The Silver Bullet ~ Krampus

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Synopsis: A demon seeks out naughty people to punish them at Christmas time.

Release Date: December 4, 2015

Thoughts: In 2007, writer/director Michael Dougherty crafted a splendid little anthology film, Trick ‘r Treat, that quickly attained a cult status among horror aficionados.  It had a fair share of scares but even better it had something that’s missing from most fright flicks…atmosphere.  A sequel to Trick ‘r Treat is in the works but Dougherty fans won’t have to wait long for his next jolt joint because clearly he’s still in the holiday spirit with December’s Krampus.

Using the anti-St. Nick figure popularized in Austrian culture as inspiration, the film centers on a dysfunctional family that gathers for the holidays pitted against a horned beast intent on keeping things not so merry and bright.  Dougherty has a wicked sense of humor and with wise-acre comedians Adam Scott (The Overnight) and David Koechner (Hit and Run) on board I can kind of see where this one will land on the comedy vs horror scale.  Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) also pops up, lending a little dramatic credibility.  It looks like good scary fun that I hope won’t veer too far into campy territory.

The Silver Bullet ~ Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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Synopsis: With the 70s behind him, San Diego’s top rated newsman, Ron Burgundy, returns to take New York’s first 24-hour news channel by storm.

Release Date:  December 20, 2013

Thoughts: Well, the second trailer for the sequel to 2004’s Anchorman has arrived and, like the first preview, I’m left cold.  Though I know the first film has achieved a high position on the list of cult favorites over the years, I’ve never been a big fan of what’s essentially an overlong comedy routine from Will Ferrell and his gang.  Now I think all of these men are funny individually but I’ve yet to be swayed that as a group they’re the laugh riot they think they are.  I barely cracked a smile during this…and that doesn’t bode well for my enjoyment of the finished product.  I realize I’m in the minority here and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is poised to be a huge holiday box-office hit, but man-child humor has to work extra hard to get a laugh out of me and so far I’m unimpressed.