REVIEW: Krampus (15) ***

PA Photo/Universal Pictures/Steve Unwin.
PA Photo/Universal Pictures/Steve Unwin.
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Michael Dougherty’s dark and twisted horror comedy concurs, with an impish grin.

Based on Alpine folklore that traces back centuries, Krampus immortalises a horned beast, who also makes house visits on Christmas Eve – to abduct disobedient children and spirit away their souls to the underworld.

While Saint Nicholas spreads laughter and joy with a merry ho ho ho, the titular ghoul brings mayhem and destruction.

Writer-director Dougherty and co-writer Todd Casey unleash this malevolent force on a suburban family with tongues wedged in cheek.

They pit bickering in-laws against an army of decidedly unfriendly and subversive holiday icons including frost-bitten snowmen, a cherub with razor-sharp claws and cackling gingerbread men.

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but inside the mood is spiteful.

And since we’ve no place to go, let blood flow, let blood flow, let blood flow!

Max Engel (Emjay Anthony) is a kind, sensitive 12-year-old boy, who cherishes the festive season.

So much so, he disrupts his school’s nativity play to punch a classmate who dares to suggest that Santa Claus is little more than a cheap marketing ploy to sell soft drink.

Max’s workaholic father David (Adam Scott) and long-suffering mother Sarah (Toni Collette), who cooks elaborate meals to mask tensions in her impeccably furnished home, are furious.

Thankfully, Max’s German grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) calms the situation.

Soon after, Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband Howard (David Koechner) and their annoying children - Stevie (Lolo Owen), Jordan (Queenie Samuel), Howie Jr (Maverick Flack) - join the festivities along with alcohol-swigging Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell).

When heated conversation over a fully laden dinner table culminates in a brawl, a tearful and angry Max tears up his letter addressed to the North Pole.

Storm clouds gather, a blizzard swirls and the cloven-hooved beast Krampus descends on the besieged family home to teach feuding generations a harsh lesson in self-sacrifice.

Krampus falls short of the darkly humorous delights of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and Bad Santa, but it’s an entertaining antidote to the sugary sentiment that sloshes over most festive films.

Anthony is an endearing pint-sized hero, whose act of frustration unwittingly sets in motion the carnage.

Koechner and Ferrell provide the majority of the comic relief, decking the blood-spattered halls with political incorrectness and barbed home truths.

Director Dougherty maintains a brisk pace, careening between each character’s hellish encounter with the eponymous demon and his hench-creatures, brought vividly to life using mechanical puppetry, animatronics and digital effects.

An animated flashback to Omi’s first encounter with Krampus is a neat diversion from the destruction.

Be good for goodness’ sake!