[Blu-ray Review] Scream Factory's 'Krampus: The Naughty Cut' Spikes the Eggnog with Foul Language and Other Gifts
“‘Krampus’ was my prank on the world…”
…Those are the words of writer/director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) in a new interview entitled “A Dash of Mischief”, part of a freshly wrapped lineup of special features for Scream Factory’s just released collector’s edition of Krampus, Dougherty’s 2015 film that is still arguably one of the best (and most frightening) gateway horror films of the last decade. Turns out, the film is the gift that keeps on giving, because as a part of the disc, Scream Factory has restored the “Naughty Cut” of Krampus, what I’ll call the “Sailor Version”, because this thing has a mouth on it!
The prank? Dougherty welcomed the misguided backlash towards his scary, warped holiday movie. He loved it, because some people just weren’t ready.
For most everyone except for us dorks, the German legend of Krampus, a satanic version of Santa that punishes the wicked, was pretty much an unknown just a few years back. The tale had been adapted to film before (Krampus: The Christmas Devil, for example), but Dougherty and fellow writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields brought this nightmarish yin to the big jolly guy’s yang mainstream in the biggest and baddest way possible.
Dougherty’s Krampus follows young boy Max, (Emjay Anthony), who ends up losing faith in the spirit of Christmas, tears up a letter to Santa, and inadvertently summons a visit from the hulking monster that is Krampus and his horde of evil minions, hell-bent on making Max and his family learn what happens when you forget what Christmas is really all about.
Part of the genius of Krampus is that, as Dougherty describes, the goal is for it to be a holiday film first and a horror movie second. If you came into Krampus partway through the first act and didn’t know any better, you’d think it was just another family holiday movie.
You aren’t prepared for your kids to be terror-crying thirty minutes later.
Krampus’ feel-good comedy vibe comes from a cast that might as well have a big red bow wrapped around them, because it’s through them that the audience finds the warm heart beating under the chilling exterior of the film. Along with Max, there’s trying his best dad, Tom (Adam Scott), stressed-out mother, Sarah (Toni Collette), boy-obsessed sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), gun nut uncle Howard (David Koechner), ugly Christmas sweater-loving Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), loud-mouthed Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell)…*takes breath*…plus Howard and Linda’s obnoxious kids/bullies, Jordan (Queenie Samuel), Stevie (Lolo Owen) and Howie Jr. (Maverick Flack).
That’s a lot of names, and every single one of them deserves mentioning for how well they bring these quirky characters to life.
Dougherty and his cast set up what feels like your average family gathering. All cheery smiles and whispered “fuck offs” behind each other’s backs. Tensions boiling underneath. But even the most annoying characters have their charm, all thanks to a lively group of comedic actors dropped into a type of role we normally wouldn’t see them in, who have an understanding of timing and play off chemistry so deep they genuinely feel like family.
The audience is laughing so much, that it’s almost a shock when a nasty blizzard swallows up the town and traps them all inside.
The arrival of Krampus marks a major left turn into an atmospheric nightmare world that flips any idea of Christmas cheer and jolly Saint Nick on their heads. With every outdoor set built on the same sound stages that Peter Jackson uses for The Lord of the Rings franchise, Dougherty effectively creates a depth of isolation, accompanied by the eerie sounds of howling winds and Krampus’ clanging chains lurking nearby. Krampus isn’t meant to be your average horror movie. Instead, it feels like more of a dark fairytale in which our characters have been plucked out of their world and left somewhere truly sinister, something that Grandpa from Silent Night, Deadly Night might read to his kids on Christmas Eve to scare the ever-loving shit out of them.
“Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year,” after all.
Dougherty and his team have a wealth of resources in which to play, and they use every one to manifest eerie Christmas scenery that is alternatively chilling and oddly magical. It feels like a present Jack Skellington might leave you in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Especially when accompanied by Douglas Pipes’ score, built off “aggression and whimsy”, as he describes in the new interview, “A Winter Chorus”.
That’s a gift that Dougherty has. You can find the same thing in Trick ‘r Treat. He’s a kid in a winter horror-land, and for as scary as Krampus might be to some thumb-suckers out there, at its core the film is all about having fun. “While the humans are terrified, the monsters are having a blast,” says producer Todd Casey in the interview “Storm of the Centuries”. The best gateway horror such as this, Gremlins, Ghoulies, Critters…they all have the same thing in common. The monsters are having fun. And when the monsters are having fun, so are the kids who are potentially discovering the genre for the first time.
Speaking of monsters, part of what always blew my mind and attracted me to the genre as a brat were the slimy, toothy, practical creatures that inhabited the frame. Dougherty himself is a practical effects guy, and Krampus is a holiday horror monster mash for the ages. Krampus delivers all sorts of mischievous minions, including killer teddy bears, maniacal gingerbread cookies, and the most frightening Jack-in-the-box you’ve ever seen. “Pure nightmare fuel,” Dougherty calls it. Designed by WETA Workshop, the detail that goes into every monster, even ones that appear for mere seconds, is extraordinary. This is going to be some kid’s first horror movie, and they will forever be spoiled by how good the creature work is.
Krampus is a good scare for the whole family. The Naughty Cut, though? Depends on how often you earmuff your kids. Those of you hoping for more gory mayhem, sorry, not that kind of unrated cut outside of perhaps fractions of a second more of certain stabbings. Grandma is going to have a fit with the new cut’s language though, because it’s full of bits of extra foul dialogue. This is the spiked egg-nog version of Krampus, where all of the adults get a little less PG-13 and a lot more R. Oddly, the most noticeable additional footage is a heartwarming scene between Sarah and Linda with Collette and Tolman acting their hearts out. It’s beautiful. Other than that, there isn’t enough new that I’d recommend buying this Collector’s Edition for the Naughty Cut alone, but there’s no doubt that it’s the best version of the film available today.
If you’re an extras nerd like me though, then Krampus: The Naughty Cut is a must own, because this two-disc set has more gifts in it than Santa’s sack. “A Dash of Mischief” gives a fun look at Dougherty’s prankster side. “Lord of the Things” is a fascinating look at the creatures of Krampus and what inspired them. And David Koechner is just as hilariously crass as I expected him to be in his interview, “The Great Protector”. That’s not even mentioning all of the other fun new interviews. The running theme behind them all is the pure magic that was filming on this wonder of a movie. Everyone has nothing but praise for Dougherty and his gleeful approach to filmmaking, a delightful passion which flows through the icy veins of Krampus. Stuff the stockings with previously released features such as the five-part featurette “Krampus Comes Alive!”, Dougherty and Casey’s feature commentary, and so much more, and it would be naughty for any Krampus fan not to own Scream Factory’s Krampus: The Naughty Cut.
Consider this glowing recommendation my gift to you this holiday season. Don’t say I never gave you anything.
Krampus: The Naughty Cut is now available from Scream Factory. Check out the special features below!
DISC ONE (4K UHD):
DISC TWO (BLU-RAY):
By Matt Konopka