Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.
Directed By: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell, Luke Hawker, Krista Stadler
Running Time: 98 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: A boy who has a bad Christmas accidentally summons a festive demon to his family home.
2015’s KRAMPUS, Michael Dougherty’s follow up to 2007’s TRICK ‘R TREAT, has gained a cult following and even a Director’s Cut in 2021. I have enjoyed KRAMPUS since I watched it in theaters with a small crowd, knowing it would be an annual viewing experience for some due to its visual creativity and a kind-of-relatable story about dysfunctional families over the Christmas holiday.
When KRAMPUS is really strong, it’s really strong. The visual presentation is top notch. The winter and snowy vibe is wonderful, as well as the portrayals of the beastly Krampus and his minions. The elves, teddy bears, angels and gingerbread men look like something out of a nightmare, creating a lot of tense and suspenseful moments through the sound design until they appear to cause havoc for the characters. The film is also well paced, edited and looks polished - creating a holiday horror-comedy that showcases the devastating results of when people don’t believe in the Christmas spirit.
The actors are also great, which is not surprising when you have Toni Collette, Adam Scott and David Koechner in your principal cast. They all portray so many emotional beats throughout, from disgust and indifference to spending time with family on Christmas to bonding together to stop Krampus from destroying their dysfunctional family. Emjay Anthony is really the only likable character in the film as main protagonist Max, handling the material well in his young age. And while her character was probably the most unlikable of them all, Conchata Ferrell is a hoot as Aunt Dorothy. She had the best dialogue and had some bad ass moments towards the end.
The story itself is pretty straightforward, with young Max ripping up a letter to Santa and denouncing Christmas due to his hateful and dysfunctional family. This leads to the arrival of Krampus, who punishes those who hate Christmas in violent ways. It plays out well, with some nice surprises here and there, as well as an interesting twist ending that I didn’t see coming when I first watched it.
The only reason I don’t love this film like some others do is really the unlikable characters. It’s hard to root for any of the human characters here [maybe besides Max] when they’re all hateful people. I get that’s the point of the film, because Krampus wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for that. But you should want to root for some people in a movie to survive a terrible situation, whether they put themselves in it or not. Some characters do get better towards the end, but others either do dumb things or remain frustratingly annoying that I just want Krampus to be done with these people. Even dysfunctional people and families can still be fun and entertaining to watch. A lot of these characters weren’t or not given enough time to become so.
Overall, KRAMPUS is a good time if you’re a Christmas horror fan. Despite a lot of unlikable characters who are more frustrating to watch than fun, there’s a lot of good stuff going on in this movie. The anti-Santa premise is simple to follow, with cool twists and surprises elevating the story. The creature designs are stuff of nightmares due to a nice balance of practical effects and CGI, especially the cool looking and beastly title character. The acting is very solid, which one would expect with a cast like Toni Collette, Adam Scott and David Koechner fighting each other before coming together to take out common threats. And the wintry and holiday setting feels just right, especially if you’ve celebrated with dysfunctional family members during Christmastime. It’s nice to see that KRAMPUS is gaining a nice cult status that is pretty well deserved for this time of year.
Directed By: Chris Peckover
Starring: Olivia DeJorge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Aleks Mikic, Dacre Montgomery, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen
Running Time: 89 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (8 out of 10)
Plot: On a quiet suburban street tucked within a ‘safe neighborhood’, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from strangers breaking into the house, only to discover that this is far from a normal home invasion.
2016’s BETTER WATCH OUT is a Christmas movie that you’ll end up believing it’s one thing by its marketing, but ends up doing a 180 with a major twist that makes you re-evaluate what you had watched earlier in the film. It’s also a film that’s tough to review because of the twist, as it would spoil the entire film for those who haven’t watched it.
What I can say about the narrative is that it’s well done, if not a bit mean-spirited which might turn certain demographics off. Topics of toxic masculinity and homophobia are at play, taking the story into disturbing avenues that may make some uncomfortable. But while this is dramatized, the situation at play here could possibly happen in some way, shape or form - making it creepy that we may not know the darkness certain people in our lives hold within. Is the storytelling perfect? No. But I do find it effective quite a bit.
The film looks polished and director Chris Peckover maintains a nice pace while effectively changing the tone once the film takes a turn and never lets up from it. The film isn’t the goriest, but the violence can be pretty brutal at times. Peckover also brings some nice tension and creepiness to the film when you wouldn’t really expect it.
The actors are all good, especially Olivia DeJorge and Levi Miller. Both bring their A-game here, fleshing out their characters with all the emotional beats they have to play within their scary situation. Dacre Montgomery portrays a jerk in an early role before his Stranger Things fame. We also get decent cameos from Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton, who don’t get to do much but are a nice presence regardless.
Starring: Jessica Cameron, Ashley Mary Nunes, Melynda Kiring, Natalie Montera, Lilo Velasco, Jason Ray Schumacher
Running Time: 80 Minutes
SCORE - 2 Howls Outta 4 (6 out of 10)
Plot: A deranged masked Santa-Slayer comes to town for some yuletide-terror. He leaves behind a bloody trail of mutilated bodies as he hunts his way to the front steps of the town’s most feared and notorious home.
2015’s independent slasher film ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE is a film I have heard about for a while now, but finally sat down to check it out this holiday season. I’ve heard podcasts praising this film. I’ve had friends who hated the hell out of this movie and warned me against watching. After seeing it for myself, I was kind of in the middle with ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE. It had a lot of great qualities going for it, but the film definitely has flaws that one can’t overlook.
Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way: the screenplay itself. Here’s a film that starts out pretty roughly, only getting better as it nears the end of the runtime. While I liked the second half of this movie, I thought the first half wasn’t all that interesting. While some elements of the main story are introduced in the first half, there’s too much of a focus on anything but. We get random characters reciting similar lines before they’re about to have sex, only to get murdered by the evil Santa before there’s even time to care about them. I get slashers need a body count, but good slashers usually space the random dead characters apart from the more important elements of the narrative to maintain a nice flow. The first half pretty much kills a majority of its cast, letting the second half feel like the real movie that was promised to the audience. I like my slashers with sex and violence, but without sacrificing the plot. You could have used the first half to build up the main characters more leading to the finale, interspersing these random murder scenes in between as sort of interludes.
I also thought a lot of the acting wasn’t all that great. Besides Ashley Mary Nunes and Melynda Kiring, I thought everyone else was fair to not good. I blame that more on the script than anything else, as a lot of these characters didn’t have much interesting material to work with. A lot of those characters in the first half were interchangeable to me due to not letting the actors get to do more. I know slashers aren’t about the acting, but it helps to flesh out some personality to make even the littlest characters stand out from the others.
Other than that, I thought the film was fine. The main driving narrative, while influenced by other slasher films, is at least interesting to keep one watching until the reveal of the twist. While the mystery ends pretty predictably, it was still well told enough to keep me from shutting off the movie. I also liked the characters attached to the main story. While not given the most depth, the three main female friends are likable. And Mrs. Garrett is a great character, who right from the start is shown to be a bit mentally disturbed. Her character arc is probably my favorite because she gets crazier as the film goes, especially when the twist is revealed. I wish more of the film had focused on the main plot right from the start, rather than throwing in random characters just to up the kill count.
Speaking of the kills, they’re probably the saving grace of ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE. Considering the low budget, all the murder sequences and gore are excellently done. We get a lot of stabbings through multiple body parts, multiple violence with hedge clippers and a lot of penis mutilation [which works within the context of the story]. There’s also an unintentionally hilarious scene where the killer pushes someone in a wheelchair off of a cliff. Whoever was in charge of the gore effects did an awesome job, because it’s obvious that’s where most of the money went [besides all the Christmas decorations].
And while I had major issues with the pacing and flow of the movie, especially in the first half, I thought the overall direction by Todd Nunes was alright. He managed to create some nice tension and atmosphere during the last half of the film, shooting the killing and stalking scenes quite well. I also like that Nunes went all out in highlighting that this is a Christmas movie through the use of lights and decorations in every scene, which is more than what some other Christmas films do to capture the spirit of the holiday. The focus could have been stronger and the editing could have been tighter, but overall Nunes did a nice job in bringing his story to life.
Overall, ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE is an okay slasher that I can see being a yearly Christmas watch for some. The gore is excellent and is really the standout of the movie. The slasher movie influences are obvious to see throughout the film’s runtime, making the film predictable yet entertaining to spot all the references. The acting isn’t top notch, but the main actors do a well enough job to be invested in their arcs. And while the first half of the film wasn’t great [saved only by the awesome gore effects], I thought the last half was much stronger and flowed quite well leading to an interesting finale. Not a lump of coal, but definitely not the greatest Christmas gift ever. Worth a look if you need a killer Santa fix that’s CHRISTMAS EVIL or SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT.