Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? ‘Tis the season for tradition, kindness and cheer, why not bring in a little dark gift to balance things out this holiday season? I present to you director Michael Dougherty’s recontextualized Christmas tale, KRAMPUS. Hailing from Germanic folklore, the titular character arrives the night before companion St. Nick, swatting bad kids with a stick, gathering them up and dragging them to Hell. Pass that cocoa, please! Here, he comes a callin’ for a fractured family not terribly dissimilar to many of our own – including young Max (Emjay Anthony), mom Sarah (Toni Collette), dad Tommy (Adam Scott), Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman) and a slew of other family members.
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, the stars and their affable director let slip a few fun facts. They spoke about everything from doing scenes barefoot, to how the practical effects worked, to why you should think of this as a family film.
8. Allison Tolman didn’t know the Germanic folklore before signing on. She said, “I heard the title of the film and Googled it, cuz I was like, ‘That’s not a word!’ It turns out it is a word. I had no idea about Krampus before I signed onto the film.”
7. Krampus’ design materialized on a cocktail napkin. Dougherty has a strong background in animation so the creature’s look sprung from his imagination rather easily. “When I was working with my co-writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields, a lot of times we’d be bouncing ideas around and I’d be in the sketchbook drawing Krampus or the creatures. One of the first get togethers we had we went to a bar in Hollywood and that’s where the first sketch happened. Then it became an evolutionary chart from that rough cocktail napkin, to a 3-D model, to the final creature. I love doing visual development while writing. I think it’s really important.”
6. KRAMPUS has a surprisingly sweet sentiment at its core. The film posits that families are the worst, but also can stick together to become the best. It was that resonance that spoke to the cast. Scott stated, “It was a great little arc for my character of this guy who’s a bit disconnected from his family at the beginning of this movie and through a set of circumstances needs to figure out he needs to step up and protect his family.” Collette thought, “The ultimate message is for those who’ve lost their spirit, faith and connectedness at Christmas. This is a family uniting and learning to appreciate each other again – only when faced with the worst possible situation.” Tolman said, “One of the fun things about this movie is the common Christmas movie themes about the spirit of the season, the importance of family. It’s just that the bad guy in this is a monster. The struggles of the families having to get through the holidays are the same as any Christmas movie. And that really spoke to me and was a lot of fun to turn it on its head.” Dougherty stated, “This is a Christmas movie at its core. It was important to us to retain the Christmas spirit and have something to say about the state of the holiday. That meant examining Christmas movies as their own genre. A lot of them have families struggling to deal with each other and deal with Christmas. The idea of letting a horror movie invade that and forcing this family’s fears to really come to life in a complete different fashion was too tempting to resist.”
5. There’s a gorgeous animated segment in KRAMPUS. Dougherty confessed, “That was my dipping my toes back in the water. I think there’s something with stop-motion animation and Christmas that go hand in hand because we’ve been raised on all the Rankin/ Bass holiday specials as kids. That was done by Weta Digital. I told them, ‘Make it look like you found some old stop-motion animator who had done it in his garage or basement. We roughed up the edges of it. I kept telling them, ‘Make it imperfect.’ They really took the ball and ran with it. All of the animators at Weta have a love of stop-motion animation – that’s usually what inspired them to do what they’re doing. I thought it was a really great way to fill in that back story about Krampus – especially because it’s important that this movie is seen by kids. It’s meant to be a family horror movie, or dark fairy tale or whatever you want to call it. One of my fondest memories is seeing GREMLINS with my family. If we’re going to teach kids or families about Krampus, I felt like it should be told by a grandmother as if it was an old fairy tale. You’re paying tribute to the source material – that’s how the Krampus legend was told for centuries.”
4. KRAMPUS is a family film. Dougherty felt like he wanted to pay tribute to the kinds of films he grew up on watching. “It’s that Amblin era where you had GREMLINS and POLTERGEIST, DARK CRYSTAL – a great chunk of time where movies were willing to mix up genres and where they were, frankly, willing to scare kids. I think back then movies gave kids more credit than we do right now. They knew kids were braver. It’s okay to give kids a healthy dose of fear every now and then because you can teach them how to deal with anxiety, stress and fear.” Collette added, “It feels like a John Hughes film with this dysfunctional family and they’re really acerbic and then it fully swings into something else. I just love being shocked that way.” Tolman nailed it, saying, “This hits the sweet spot as first horror films go. When you want to introduce your kids to horror, this is the right kind of movie that strikes that right tone. And it is this movie about the family pulling together and the holiday spirit. It strikes all the right notes.
3. Barefoot in the “snow.” Because of the effects Weta Workshop used, the actors were forced to perform the scenes where they walk through the snow without any shoes on. Scott said, “We were in this fake snow up to our waist, trying to trudge through it. We were all barefoot in those snow scenes because this silicone material they used for the snow would suck your shoes right off of your feet. It was exhausting trying to get through the snow as fast as you can.” Collette mentioned, “That treacle silicone snow was literally suctioning onto us. It was like working out for three days straight.”
2. Toni Collette’s “angel bitch.” No, that’s not her new band name, but rather how she lovingly referred to the creature that assaults her in the attic. She elucidated, “There was no rehearsal. We talked about it. Mike wanted the element of surprise. He didn’t want us to see these characters before we were confronted by them in the story. That was fun to have a real, authentic response to them. Also, you can’t really rehearse being choked or strung up.”
1. Adam Scott was attacked by a tiny toy robot. Dougherty utilized loads of practical effects which meant that his actors would have to be attacked by a gaggle of possessed toys. Scott said, “There was no rehearsal really. The whole movie was made on stages in New Zealand. We’re indoors so we could control the environment and it made it much easier. That scene took awhile. I had a harness on under my clothes with the robot connected to it and there was someone controlling the robot to stab me in the back. The folks at Weta Workshop were really nice. The creatures they came up with were pretty amazing.”
KRAMPUS opens on December 4.