Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December to Dismember: KRAMPUS UNLEASHED (2016)

It seems like only yesterday when the old-world legends of the anti-Santa, Krampus, were almost completely unknown to Americans. If ever there was a great idea for a horror movie, it's a big, horned beast that punishes people for being bad, or in the case of the movies, just being alive, during the Christmas holiday. If this sudden burst of interest had happened 30 years ago we would have had movies crammed into the newly minted multiplexes by major studios and indy production companies with some reasonably big low budgets. Now, in the days of studio domination, the tent-pole obsession, and reports of $100,000,000 in weekend box office receipts being deemed a "flop", all we get is some schmuck who talked some townies into throwing in some cash on his shot-on-video, direct to DVD, horror flick that desperately tries to be a drama with some horror thrown in, or desperately tries to be a nod-and-wink movie that attempts to cover up their incompetence by making an intentionally "stupid" movie. Grim days indeed.

A couple years ago we covered a couple of Krampus "films" and shockingly one of them, KRAMPUS (2015), actually made it into American cinemas, the others, not so much (for a rundown of the history of Krampus, check out our review of KRAMPUS: THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL [2015]). One of the movies that didn't make the cut was KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING (2015). It was so awful that I couldn't even bring myself to talk about it. Not only was it just gruelingly dull, but it was lazy, with the title creature rendered in clunky, cheap CGI. Written, produced, directed, etc., by Philly native Robert Conway, who has been plugging away at poverty-stricken SOV horror films since 2004. You'd think after 11 years he would have got something right. Knowing this, I put on my game face and steeled myself for his latest effort, KRAMPUS UNLEASHED.

Opening in 1898 (we know it's the wild west because everybody has a Texas accent), a group of surprisingly well groomed cowboy types are on the hunt for the legendary outlaw Erik Klaus' cursed treasure stash. Apparently they have narrowed their search to the top of a hill and after digging a hole they find a very small box containing a rather large black stone. Unfortunately for them, the stone has something to do with summoning Krampus and everyone is quickly dispatched by a large, shambling - hey, wait, is that practical effects I see?! While I'm not sure why Krampus has a blue face and the box art blatantly lies like a dog, Conway immediately garners my good will by not only offering a real dude in a rubber Krampus suit, but disemboweling and a few other assorted acts of mayhem in legit latex and kayro glory! See? I'm not so hard to please.

Cut to present day, in the middle of the Arizona highway, after credits that include an astonishingly awful rendition of "Let it Snow", that I'm pretty sure was done by the same kind of guy who thinks he's pretty awesome whistling "Jingle Bells" in the freezer section of the local supermarket. On the road, we have a family of annoying people, headed up by dad Will (Tim Sauer), who talk about how much they don't like their relatives driving out to a ranch house in the middle of nowhere for Christmas dinner. Great, so already we know that this is going to get irritating really quick. Also on the road is an even more annoying family, headed up by David (Daniel Link), who stop for gas and run into a couple of local yokels who are on the hunt for Bigfoot. This is much to the amusement of David's obnoxious son Troy (Taylor Buckley), who records them with his cell phone and exclaims that it's going to "go viral". Oh man, not even 19 minutes in and already I can feel my good-will fading fast.

Once everybody gathers at the ranch house, we get a bunch of annoying people, being annoying during Christmas. Seriously, one of the reasons I watch movies during the holidays is so that I don't have to think about annoying family get-togethers. One of the exciting things they decide to do is go panning for gold in the local creek, as one is want to do over the holidays, and Will's son Tommy (Bryson Holl) finds no gold, but does find a large black rock - the Krampus stone! Meanwhile local cop Dan (Dujhan Brown) is checking up on ex-girlfriend Bonnie (Amelia Brantley) and generally being a creep in the nicest possible way. Oh, and Troy leaves a cigarette next to the Krampus stone, so that apparently summons him. Well, not like he appears right next to the rock, but sort of within several miles of the general vicinity. Ok, we are 30 minutes in and I've lost all of my tidings of joy.

I think the subplot involving the rednecks hunting Bigfoot is supposed to be the comic relief with lines like "Darwin was like a thousand years ago!" and an exchange that I still don't understand in which one says "I guess you are right" and the other replies "no man, I am right!" Uhhh, what? Fortunately for everyone involved, Krampus shows up out of nowhere and kills them.

Not content with just the yokels, Krampus then stops by Bonnie's place and literally tears her boyfriend in half, leaving both halves of the body on the ground loosely connected by random bits of entrails. My interest is suddenly revived. Bonnie unloads a shotgun into Krampus and seeing it has no effect, runs over to the ranch house where she tells everyone that her boyfriend has been attacked and killed! To which Grandma Henderson says "Bonnie, why are you dressed in your bathrobe?" Ah, a relic of the old days, back when you were expected to dress respectably before running over to the neighbor's house to report the grisly murder of your significant other.

With IQs like this swimming in the family gene pool, it's no wonder that the men folk decide that upon hearing this news, they should... do what? Bolt all the doors and windows to keep the families safe? Nope! They decide the best plan of action on hearing that there is a bestial killer on the loose is to "go out and take a look"! Naturally they find what they are looking for and Krampus tears them limb from limb with blood and body parts flying everywhere. David manages to run back to the house and tell everyone that Will and Dale are dead but with the same gene pool in effect, Nana and Will's pregnant wife Alice (Linda Cushma) decide to take 11 year old Tommy out to go look for the guys! "Hey, everyone has been ripped apart! Ok, grab the kid, let's take a look." Makes perfect sense. Of course this leads to Nana and Alice being slaughtered by Krampus while Tommy runs back to the house in a state of high perturbedness.

The remaining family decide to take it to the road and run into a grey-haired retiree named Coop (Kerry Keepers), who just so happens to be one of the men in the prologue. A (20-something year old) man who according to the movie was about 15, which would make him about 134 years old! C'mon people, it's fucking basic math! But I digress. Of course, ol' Coop knows everything about Krampus and comes up with a way to kill it. As expected, since we are in hillbilly country, this involves dynamite.

While I haven't seen Robert Conway's other movies leading up to this, aside from KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING, I expect this is probably the pinnacle of his career. I can't really say that this is a movie worth watching, but after KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING and both KRAMPUS: THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL movies, I will say that you could definitely do worse. Sure, the directing is flat, the acting is on the level of a community playhouse and the plot is sloppy and unfocused after a promising, if budget starved, opening, but it does deliver genuine latex splatter the likes of which I haven't seen in a low-rent DTV flick in a long time. This is something that the aforementioned movies couldn't be bothered to do, and I guess that's as much of recommendation as you are going to get.

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