Extra, Extra: KRAMPUS

The delightful holiday horror flick hits Blu-ray with plenty of extras in its stocking.

A few years ago, I fell asleep watching Christmas Vacation and was informed later that I was literally saying the lines in my sleep, which is the sort of thing that's likely to happen after nearly 25 years of annual viewings (and often not just *one* viewing, especially during the period in the '90s where I worked at a video store and would see (well, hear) it 1-2x a day for a month). It was at this point that I decided I should rotate my Christmas movies; if I watch something one year I won't watch it the next, possibly even not the one after that either. There isn't enough time to watch all of my favorites every year anymore anyway, so I figure it's best to put them on a rotation so that Christmas Vacation remains the only one that actually sitting down to watch it seems almost arbitrary.

But if there's anything I might make an exception for, at least when my son is old enough to watch it with me, it's Krampus. I was downright cackling through several of its humorous bits during my initial viewing last December, and liked it so much I made it one of the very (very) rare films I paid to see a second time - this time on Christmas Eve itself, when my holiday movie-watching spirit was at its peak*. And now that it's on Blu-ray, I watched it again and found myself just as enthralled - I figure I got several viewings left before I get tired of it (and if my kid is into it then that will make up for any malaise anyway). The pacing in the second act could be tightened and they don't use enough of the house, but these are minor issues - the movie as a whole works like gangbusters for me. As with Trick 'r Treat, I think Michael Dougherty just happens to be on my wavelength when it comes to this sort of thing, where we love and respect the traditions and iconography of these holidays, but also have a sick sense of humor and know that a few jokes at those things' expense isn't going to ruin anything. So when Krampus starts off with some Black Friday-esque mobbing at a department store, I don't start thinking that Dougherty hates Christmas - he just finds this ridiculous element part of the charm in its own weird way.  

And he also loves horror, though unlike his previous film he doesn't want to tip his hat too soon - there's almost nothing supernatural or even horror-tinged for the first half hour or so, so if you didn't see the trailer you'd just assume it was another dysfunctional family holiday comedy. The dynamic is (funnily enough) almost identical to the Christmas Vacation one - there's the family unit of the working dad (Adam Scott), the perfect housewife (Toni Collette), the older bratty sister and the young brother, and then their redneck-y family members, with their weird kids and David Koechner in the Cousin Eddie role. And, I guess as Aunt Catherine, the great Allison Tolman (Fargo) as Collette's sister, who scores the movie's best passive aggressive line and wears a sweater that will likely be recreated by Fright Rags or Mondo down the line. But the Griswolds never got attacked by evil cookies, a pissed off tree angel, or one seriously creepy-ass Jack-in-the-Box, so that's where the movies become a lot less alike.

If you haven't seen it yet, I don't know if April is the best time - not that Christmas movies only work in December, but this is a movie that's practically designed to be watched with hot cocoa and your tree lights glowing in the background - it won't feel right with your air conditioner blowing (if you live in LA that is; I've already turned mine on a few times). And besides, if you didn't listen to us in December, why would you listen now in the off-season? No, for those folks I will come back and make my case at the end of the year most likely - this article's for the folks who saw it already and aren't sure if the disc is worth the purchase. The whole reason I started this particular column is because so many discs nowadays are bare-bones or offer bonus features that are in no way worth owning, and with streaming/VOD options taking over physical media I want to spotlight the releases that put the effort into the discs as if it were still the early '00s. Luckily, Krampus is one such release. The commentary alone would be worth the purchase (or at least the Redbox rental if you had the time), but Universal has offered a wealth of behind the scenes and deleted material, plus art and other goodies. It will take you close to three hours to go through everything (not counting the movie itself), which is a far cry from last year's "other" family horror flick with creepy toys. The trailer is inexplicably not included, but otherwise this offers pretty much everything you could hope for if you were a fan of the film.

As mentioned, the commentary is pretty great. Dougherty is joined by his co-writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields, which is the ideal setup for a track in my opinion - writers are always good to have on these things as they can talk about the story, things that changed, etc - and the director can add production trivia with the others there to keep him from droning on about lights or whatever. Maybe an actor would be even sweeter (I imagine either Scott or Koechner could have added to the fun considerably), but the three men obviously have great affinity for one another and bust each others' balls (there is half-serious talk about the film's Campbell-ian structure that had me chuckling every time it came up) while also offering plenty of legitimate insight. Early versions of the story that were more drawn out (with townsfolk being mysteriously offed over the course of a week or so) are discussed, as are the actors and other interesting trivia, like the (kind of sad) reveal that Dougherty's own dog died the day they shot the scene where the dog is killed by one of Krampus' minions.  

But the highlight - at least for me - was the lengthy discussion about the ratings board, and how strange a process it is and how they were able to secure the PG-13 rating with relatively few concessions. This leads into a talk about PG-13 vs. R when it comes to horror, how some folks have a rather narrow-minded opposition to the idea of PG-13 horror movies when all it really means is blood and gore, for the most part. They wanted a PG-13 for the film (one of them points out how bummed he would be if a 13-year-old couldn't see it) and thus didn't make it gory or overly violent, keeping such things on a Gremlins-level of intensity (a perfect point of reference not just for the holiday, but because that film got a PG while also being one of the films to inspire the PG-13 rating in the first place). Of course, as we know by now, the MPAA doesn't bother with anything as silly as a "precedent" or "clear set of rules", making such an endeavor tricky, but it's worth it when a. they got their PG-13 in the end and b. it elevated an already interesting and enjoyable track.

They don't spend too much time talking about the FX or any of that, which is fine as that stuff is covered rather extensively on the bonus features - at least on the Blu-ray. DVD owners will miss out on "Krampus Comes Alive!", a collection of featurettes that run about a half hour all together. The first covers Dougherty's ideas for the film and how he approached it as a writer and a director (as well as some quick background info on the real Krampus legend), but the others pretty much stick to the FX and production design. The geniuses at WETA were behind the monsters, and as is often the case with terrific FX in modern genre films, they employed a careful blend of practical and CGI to pull them off - with emphasis on the practical side of things. The whole movie was shot on a stage, so the bulk of the film's computer-driven FX are the invisible ones (set extensions, skylines, the snow) as opposed to its monstrous attractions - I think the gingerbread cookies were the only ones that went the CGI route (after stop-motion proved to be unfeasible). Krampus and the rest of his minions are all plastic flesh and Karo blood creations, so you get to watch the puppeteers and designers do their thing, behind the scenes footage of the actors actually wrestling with these creatures (as opposed to pretending against a tennis ball), etc. The footage itself isn't anything particularly revealing (I would hope like hell no one would be shocked to learn that these weren't all CGI beasts), but what I loved about it - and the accompanying piece (also Blu exclusive) that focuses specifically on WETA - is how much these folks love what they're doing. I've seen a number of behind the scenes pieces about CGI work where the designers don't really seem excited about their creations - they go on and on about how every hair on the CGI werewolf needs to be rendered separately or whatever the hell, but it's cold and technical. These guys seem like they were being given a present when Dougherty asked them to create these monsters for his film, and it must have been super infectious for the rest of the crew.

The obligatory deleted scenes and alternate ending kick off the non-exclusive (meaning: you DVD owners get thrown a bone - but really, upgrade already!) features, though I wouldn't get too excited about the alternate ending - it's more or less the same, with the kid getting the Krampus ornament as his first gift, except the rest of the family doesn't "catch on" as they do in the theatrical (plus it's unfinished, so the pullback to the snow globe isn't there - just some red dots to guide the CGI wizards). On the commentary, Dougherty explains the two readings of the ending (one that they're in some form of hell forever, the other being that Krampus is just keeping an eye on them) and says he'll never reveal which one is the truth, and this alternate version doesn't lean toward one or the other - it's too small a change to really come down hard on an answer. The deleted scenes are worth a look; most are just a little extra bit of dialogue in an existing scene, and a few perhaps probably could have been left in - the extended talk at the tree between Collette and Tolman is lovely, and I will never understand why they cut Conchata Ferrell's best line (she's the witchy aunt, so going further back from Christmas to the first Vacation - she's more Aunt Edna than Aunt Bethany). Dougherty isn't on hand to explain why any of them were cut; we can assume pacing for the most part, but that one line was wicked and delightful and couldn't have slowed the movie down at all. I demand an extended cut that puts this line back in!

There's also a gag reel. I rarely find much use for these things - though Adam Scott curiously doesn't seem to find it very funny when he blows a line like his co-stars do. There's some cute stuff in the attic when the four adult leads can't seem to get through their lines without screwing up, but otherwise I guess this piece's worthiness depends on your tolerance for such things. On the other hand, I usually find still galleries and the like to be the most extraneous bonus feature on a disc, but that's not the case here - you get older designs for some of the creatures (including one that should make TrT fans happy), Dougherty's own sketches, some of his darkly humorous Christmas cards, and even a few notes - I loved the monster design with the added note on the side "More fucked up teeth?" A brief featurette on the cast is also included for some reason - it's the only behind the scenes type one that's not exclusive to the Blu - if they wanted just one, why not the one on Dougherty or WETA? At any rate, it's an enjoyable enough piece, particularly the bits with Koechner goofing off as he was clearly loving his role; there are some fun outtakes with him and Scott at the dinner table, some of which are funnier than the takes they went with for the final edit.

Needless to say, if you enjoyed the film and want to add it to your collection, Universal has justified the price tag. An actor commentary might have been fun, but with so few discs offering them nowadays I'm happy to have one at all, and it's not really the sort of movie where you need to feed on its production like the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars discs - it's got everything you really need if you're curious about how it all came together, but won't exhaust a casual fan to go through it all. And if nothing else, it informed me that fake movie snow is made out of the same stuff that lines diapers, so now I know what to do with the ones that we have leftover when my son grows to the next size. More decor for the house when it's Kramp- er, Christmas time again!

*Around the same time I stopped annual viewings of Christmas Vacation, I began a Christmas Eve tradition I dubbed the "Watch And Build-A-Thon", where I buy myself an expensive Lego kit and put it together while watching Christmas movies/specials all day. My kid has slowed the tradition down some (I get smaller sets now), but the idea is when he's 4 or 5 he can just join me instead of being told "no touch!" the whole time. And no, I didn't bring Lego into the theater while watching Krampus - I just got a later start after the matinee viewing.