Michael Dougherty's sophomore film Krampus isn't just a great Christmas horror movie -- it's a great Christmas movie period, filled with a deep love and respect for the holiday and its symbols and jam packed full of signifiers designed to push all of our Christmas movie buttons, even when they've been tweaked to the point of becoming terrifying. It's a PG-13 horror movie that suffers nothing as a result of its rating. It has a great practical monster. It's the studio horror movie of the year.
But Dougherty isn't just cramming in a bunch of empty iconography. He's got something to say about Christmas and what it has come to mean to most people in contemporary society. There's nothing subtle about it -- he's got bratty kids and workaholic parents and fighting families and savagely greedy shoppers, who open the film in a slow-motion Black Friday sequence that announces Doughtery's thesis right up front. Krampus isn't just a horror movie cashing in on a time of year. It's the movie -- and the monster -- we deserve right now.
Despite its willingness to be dark and nasty, Krampus never feels mean-spirited because Doughterty knows how to keep the tone fun and light -- it owes way more to Gremlins and Poltergeist than to anything contemporary. Though the comedy can sometimes be a bit broad (particularly in the early going), every actor is able to infuse his or her character with just enough depth and dimension to become at least sympathetic enough for us to not want them to be killed off...even though we're still not all that upset when they are.