Krampus Unleashed Written & Directed by Robert Conway
Starring Amelia Brantley, Bryson Holl, Caroline Lassetter, Taylor Buckley, Tim Sauer, Emily Aiken, Eric Lettman, Owen Conway, Dujhan Brown, Kerry Keepers
Uncork’d Entertainment | FunHouse Features
Released date: 11/1/2016 VOD; 12/13/2016 DVD
I’m a sucker for Krampus, the horned and hoofed anti-Santa of Alpine folklore who’s been cropping up a lot in Christmas horror movies for the past few years. In Robert Conway‘s new indie feature Krampus Unleashed, the yuletide demon is awoken on Christmas Eve in the American Southwest, where he’ll quench his bloodlust on an unsuspecting family’s holiday reunion.
The film opens with a text prologue that explains that in 1898 after terrorizing the American Southwest for most of the decade, a German-born outlaw by the name of Eric Klaus finally had the law on his heels. Before disappearing, Klaus buried his loot in the desert, leaving with it a warning to those who would follow his trail, heeding them to stay clear of what he’s hidden, for the person who disturbs it will unleash a hell on earth for themselves.
That’s a serious warning!
Less than a century later, a group of fortune hunters are following Klaus’ desert trail, hungry to get their hands on what they believe is valuable treasure. Just as they start to think they might be on a fool’s errand, they discover the spot where Klaus buried his loot, but instead of gold or jewels, there’s just a smooth black rock. On it is a message, which one of the men can read, realizing that they likely have released a great evil. And guess what? They have, because here comes Krampus, and he’s thirsty for blood!
Flash to modern-day. The film’s opening credits are accompanied by the sounds of an off-key version of “Let It Snow,” as a family in an SUV travels down a scenic desert highway on Christmas Eve in what I thought might turn into National Lampoon’s Vacation. The kids — young Tommy (Bryson Holl) and his older teen sister Fiona (Caroline Lassetter) — complain to parents Amber (Emily Lynne Aiken) and Will (Tim Sauer) about how weird it is to have Christmas in Arizona where there’s no snow. Now, I can totally relate to this situation. I’m a native New Yorker who’s family relocated to Arizona 20 years ago, so I remember the first time I went to visit them for the holidays, and instead of sitting by the fire and watching the snowflakes fall outside, I looked out at cacti while the air conditioner was on. Definitely a different experience! (And the movie was filmed in Mesa, an area I’ve been too many times while visiting my family, who lives not far from there.)
Back to the story: Amber and her brother David grew up in Arizona, and are now returning with their respective families to visit their parents, Dale (Michael Harrelson) and Alice (Linda Cushma), for the holidays. There’s bickering amongst the cousins — thanks to pervy asshole cousin Troy (Taylor Buckley) — and David (Daniel Link) is kind of a douche, making for a less than stellar atmosphere. To kill some time before dinner, David, Will, Troy, and Tommy go out to the stream to pan for gold, while the women of course slave away in the kitchen (just like real life!). Instead of gold, guess what they find? A smooth black rock. Looks like Krampus is coming for dinner!
While the family Christmas is happening, there’s a few side stories: Officer Dan (Dujhan Brown), who’s stuck on patrol duty on Christmas Eve, chats with 911 dispatcher Fran (Juliet Rose Serrato) about how his girlfriend left him, and then he hangs around his ex’s house hoping to get back in her good graces. His girlfriend is Dale and Alice’s neighbor Bonnie (Amelia Brantley), who has a new love, James, who she entertains in her outdoor hot tub (cue the gratuitous boob shots). Meanwhile, nearby, two locals named Rodger (Eric Lettman) and Terry (Owen Conway) are on the hunt for Bigfoot, and they think they’ve found him (umm…. no, guys, that’s not Bigfoot!).
Oh, and all of this is occurring during an “evil” moon, we learn from a quirky old neighbor named Coop (Kerry Keepers), who thankfully has all the answers to everything — in a situation like this, you have to have someone around who actually knows what’s going on, otherwise, it’s just a violent bloodbath without meaning. Throughout Krampus Unleashed, the full Moon acts as another character — actually, I really loved seeing the Moon as a subtle backdrop in several scenes before we learn its significance.
Then there’s Krampus himself, played by Travis Amery in an actual full monster costume. To say that Krampus steals every scene he’s in is an understatement. Some of the deaths are quite graphic, such as disembowelments and beheadings, a few of which are preceded by amputations, but others just made me laugh, depending on their executions and who the victim was. I’m a fan of horror, but I don’t enjoy torture porn; rather, I prefer the occasional possibly unintentional humorous kill, which is what you get at times in Krampus Unleashed. On the flipside, there was one scene where I actually jumped when the Krampus appeared, which I didn’t think would happen.
I’ll point out here that at no time does Krampus Unleashed turn into National Lampoon’s Vacation. This is a horror movie, and while some of the acting is a bit stiff, the violence and gore once Krampus shows up is serious. The three child actors turn out the best performances, as they appear to be more comfortable with their dialogue, as does Amelia Brantley, who’s Bonnie plays a significant part in the latter half of the story.
I didn’t expect this at all, but the Terry and Rodger side story turned out to be pretty fun, and I wouldn’t mind getting a spin-off product with these two characters. Their portion of the film seemed very natural, which could be because Terry is played by the director’s brother and frequent collaborator Owen Conway. (Owen had co-wrote with his brother 2015’s unrelated feature Krampus: The Reckoning, which was directed by Robert Conway).
The opening text about Klaus immediately drew me in, even though I felt it flashed by too quickly, and I was pleased to find out that the fortune hunters portion was just another prologue of sorts, because I didn’t want to see a treasure-hunter movie. But I’ll be honest, the early scenes with the family made me suspect, “This is a bad movie, isn’t it?” But once everyone got into their groove, I felt like there was something substantial there. I enjoyed Conway’s directing style, and for an indie film, Krampus Unleashed has great scenery, multiple sets, and a frightening monster who looks like the creature of legend. But this Krampus doesn’t seem to want to steal and eat children, as the myth claims; instead, this monster enjoys feasting on adults, particularly the ones who are the most annoying. Resolution seems to come a bit too easily at the end, but there is a twist that I promise no one will see coming (and I’m not even sure I know what the hell it means, but it did make me kind of laugh).
While it’s not reasonable to expect blockbuster filmmaking from Krampus Unleashed, Conway and company do a nice job with what they have to work with. If this is what Conway can do on an indie level, I think he could churn out something really amazing if given a big budget.
Some things are better left buried. In pursuit of a lost treasure, a group of fortune hunters mistakenly unearth an ancient demonic summoning stone that holds a terrible curse and awakens a timeless evil, the Krampus. After centuries of slumber, Krampus, the Christmas Devil, has awoken with a thirst that only blood will quench. He knows if you’ve been naughty!