Saturday, December 1, 2018

December to Dismember: KRAMPUS ORIGINS (2018)

Over the past few years we historically-challenged Americans have suddenly rediscovered Krampus, an old-world mythological anti-Santa who punishes the kids who didn't make Santa's Nice list. He does this with a whip and a sack to throw the kids in, so that they may be carted off to be drowned, eaten or simply delivered to hell. But who cares? This movie doesn't.

Brought to you by Uncork'd Entertainment, the company that brought you all those other poverty row videos with cool painted covers that you forgot all about five minutes after you watched them, KRAMPUS ORIGINS is the third in their string of Krampus movies from writer-director Robert Conway. Starting with the abysmally dull KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING (2015), and the not-good-but-vastly-improved KRAMPUS: UNLEASHED (2016), it took two years to finally follow that up with an origins story that amazingly cannot be bothered to tell an origins story.

The year is 1918 and the optimistically named War to End All Wars is reaching its final days. December 2nd, to be exact. Sadly the time is not mentioned. A half squad of doughboys have infiltrated what appears to be somebody's unfinished basement, and after killing a couple of krauts (who say things like "copy that"), they find a some wing-nut reciting out of a book and waving around an amulet. Sensibly, they kill him and take his stuff, only to find out that the book is in some sort of weird language that is definitely not German. Remember that. Definitely not German. The squad leader Patrick McNamara (Owen Conway, son of Robert) stashes the book in his pack to be promptly forgotten about.

Flash forward a couple of weeks to Arizona (for no apparent reason) where Mrs. Josephine McNamara (Katie Peabody) is arriving to work for a Catholic orphanage as a history teacher. The orphanage is home to our favorite clerical archetypes; drunk priest, strict nun, well-meaning-but-not-too-bright nun, way-too-forward-for-1918 black handyman, a cleaning woman who is into herbal magic and the unfortunate kids who have to put up with these idiots. Amazingly, although the orphanage is catholic, there are no crucifixes, Marys or Jesusi hanging on the walls, just the one cross in the chapel. The plot (such as it is) wobbles to a start when a young teenage girl, Adelia (Anna Harr) gets in dutch with Sister Rafus (Maria Olsen) after being caught with a book of alchemy given to her by the cleaning woman Lena (Shannyn Hall). This, as any fool can plainly see (I can plainly see that!), is foreshadowing events to come. Later. Much, much later.

Meanwhile we get scenes of Father Timothy (Michael Harrelson) and the handyman Jimmy (Miloh England) getting amicably drunk, two obnoxious boys peeking in on Josephine while she's getting slightly undressed, the same obnoxious boys bullying the somewhat stuttering boy Bram (Luke Waxman), and so on. In one riveting scene we find Josephine being woken up early by a nun so that she can attend morning mass. As if that wasn't captivating enough, we transition to that very same mass. Seriously, maybe this is interesting to someone, but I've been to enough masses, I really don't need to watch the local community playhouse version. Isn't this supposed to be a movie about Krampus? Or at the very least, a horror movie?

One thing that I believe has ruined low-budget horror movies is the fact that every kid on the block fancies himself a horror movie fan and the ones that do end up making horror films often make stuff that is either a blatant rip-off of other movies, an intentionally campy look-how-dumb-we-are movie, or a we-just-don't-give-a-shit movie. Or all three. I have a working theory that people who aren't fanboy types make the best horror movies. This theory may be a little out of date, as this movie goes way too far in the opposite direction, and like Conway's other KRAMPUS films, spends the bulk of its running time focusing on interpersonal drama. This time around it's even more obvious that Conway really, really doesn't want to write a horror movie.

While teaching class, Josephine is informed of her husband's death in battle, his personal effects are left on her desk. Naturally one of the kids, Ida (Grace Lopez), discovers the strange book and, being the sharpest knife in a drawer full of spoons, realizes that it is a spellbook and translates the bizarre language using a separate book that is conveniently located in the orphanage library. After translating the page that summons Krampus, the poop hits the proverbial fan and bodies start piling up and... oh, wait, no, that doesn't happen. We get a couple of kids looking sorta scared in Kramp-o-Vision (a watery, red video effect) and, in one of my most hated modern horror movie cliches, Ida is dragged backwards from the ground-level camera, clawing at the floor. This is finally going to kick things into gear, right?

Aaaaand, we are right back to the drama. And when I say "drama" what I mean is people reading books. I'm not kidding, I've never seen so many people read books in a movie before. It beats the hell out of kids looking at cell phones, but it really just made me want to stop the movie and go read a book. Guy N. Smith would never try to dupe me into reading a listless drama with a cover promising monstrous horrors. Can I get an "amen" my brothers and sisters?

After a gripping scene of Lena making a special tea for Josephine and joining Father Timothy to express condolences, we get some scenes of everybody in the freaking house saying "where is Ida?" Yes, we get it. Ida is missing. We fucking saw that! Suddenly a new kid shows up. Nicholas (Chandler Mantione) is a quiet, brooding type who doesn't like to answer questions and gives Lena the stinkeye, causing her to collapse into unconsciousness. In an attempt to find a remedy for her malaise, Adelia steals back the previously confiscated alchemy book. To hell with Lena, does it have a remedy for acute boredom? Meanwhile (again), Jimmy is sent off to look for Ida, bullies pick on Nicholas (with apparently bad results that we never see), the girls continue to try to help Lena and some more book reading takes place. Oh, and we have a lengthy dream sequence in which Josephine is visited by Jack who tells her that evil is coming, save the kids, the amulet will protect you, blah, blah, blah.

I'll give them credit for taking the story seriously, having it reasonably well shot for a budget-starved VOD filler flick, and for taking the effort to rent reasonably accurate period costumes (The Asylum sits in shame). On the other hand, it is literally one solid hour into the movie before the screenplay becomes anything other than a paper-thin drama about an orphanage. And not even a passable drama at that. Perhaps if there were some character intricacies and some engaging subplots, it would be acceptable to wait until the last 15 minutes for something horror, but even then, it better be a seriously kick-ass 15 minutes.

This all finally leads up to Krampus' appearance. Or rather not so much Krampus, as what appears to be the younger brother of Jay Woelfel's DEMONICUS (2001). Now, let the carnage begin! Err, no. Well, unless you consider Josephine discovering the nuns, priest and Jimmy dead with light abrasions to the head and neck carnage. Josephine also witnesses Nicholas (badly) morphing into what for the sake of argument we will call "Krampus", but then, instead of being scared shitless by the sudden appearance of a demonic figure with a +2 Staff of Flaming Graphicalness, engages him in a lengthy existential discussion of his motivation. The reason the conversation is lengthy is because Krampus taaaaaallkkkssssss veeeeeeerrrryy slooooooooowllyyyyyy. Listening to him wheeze out a single line is like listening to a 45 recording of an asthmatic 13 year old trying to sound like a badass being played at 33 rpm.

In addition to phlegming up, he also uses his staff to blast cheap CGI fire bolts at the kids. Josephine suddenly recognizes the language in the demonic book as "old German" and easily translates it in her head because... she's a history teacher. Sure, whatever, at this point I am not going to argue. This leads to Krampus' cheap CGI banishment and the return of all of the kids that he previously zapped (off camera). The end? Nope! This brings the running time to a mere 75 minutes, so we need an extra five minutes of epilogue in which Josephine says some nice stuff over the graves of the orphanage staff members and a leisurely bit with the returned bullies who decide to be like really nice and stuff, apologizing for beating up on the now non-stuttering Bram. When asked what happened to his stutter, Bram replies "I don't know". Seriously, that's it. People are buying new cars with that level of writing. Add in about another 5 minutes of credits and boom! We have a feature! I feel so used.

First off, I should say that I was actually kind of pulling for this one when it started out. I mean, of course, after the typo in the opening exposition text. Conway handed over the directorial reigns to second time director Joseph Mbah, which may have been a solid plan for success, except that Conway still wrote the script. If there is one problem with Uncork'd's Krampus movies, it's the gawdawful writing. For low-rent digital photography, this outing is well shot and competently acted, and like I said before, they actually make an effort to make it look at least somewhat period accurate. Most low-renters, like Jason Hull's KRAMPUS: THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL (2013), wouldn't even entertain that notion during the spitball session that took place over a couple fifths of Jack at 2am. Maybe that's the reason Hull can't even manage to keep his movie in focus. On the other hand, the fact that nothing remotely horror-ish happens until the very end of the movie is disappointing at best, but the fact that it's not even going to give us some sort of Krampus rampage is totally and completely unforgivable. I'm not even going to get into the fact that the Krampus depicted in the movie bears no resemblance to the Krampus on the box art. That is the least of this movie's sins.

Even so, there is definitely some areas of opportunity here. For the life of me, I can't figure out why Nicholas wasn't allowed to take over the second half of the movie (he comes in at the 40 minute mark) and create a little bit of OMEN-lite suspense and havoc. It wouldn't require much extra effort or expenditure, except a few decent prosthetic effects. They could have still had their incredibly dull "Krampus talks for a while and is promptly banished" ending, if they must, but at least something would be driving the movie forward. I also can't figure out why they felt this movie needed to be something that would barely qualify for a PG-13 rating, particularly since the previous outing, KRAMPUS: UNLEASHED, threw down some surprisingly good gore effects in the middle of its tedious tale of family drama. Perhaps Conway wanted to make a Krampus movie that he could watch with his mother. That's my best guess.

It appears, yet again, I have failed to make Santa's Nice list as Krampus continues to punish me with yuletide cinematic trips to hell. Maybe the next one will be better? Don't laugh! It could happen! What? It's MOTHER KRAMPUS 2? Oh for fuck sake...

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