Tag Archives: Christmas

Creepy Christmas: A Review of Krampus

Content Warning: Blood and a dysfunctional family. I will be briefly mentioning these things in my review.

Krampus film poster. It shows the demon standing on the roof of the home the main characters live in. Krampus is a 2015 dark fantasy horror comedy film about a young boy named Max who has a disappointing Christmas with his argumentative, dysfunctional relatives and accidentally summons a festive demon to his home as a result of it.

In Central Europe, Krampus has been known historically as a  “half-goat, half-demon” creature who punishes naughty children at Christmas time. Some folklorists think he might have been invented long before Christianity existed!

He is generally described as a creature with cloven hooves, horns, fangs, and a thick pelt of black or brown hair covering his body. Think of him as a contrasting figure to Santa who rewards good children with presents, but stories about him probably existed in Central Europe long before Santa did.

I was vaguely aware of the legends surrounding this mythical figure before watching this film. It was fascinating to learn more about him both by watching it and doing some research about where this legend came from and how it has evolved over the years.

As always, my descriptions of the characters are written in the past tense to avoid giving away spoilers.

Characters

Emjay Anthony as Max Engel. He is licking an envelope in this scene.
Emjay Anthony as Max Engel

 

Max was the main character. He still believed in Santa when this film began, and he accidentally summoned the Krampus after having a fight with his cousins about the existence of Santa among other sensitive topics in this family.

 

Adam Scott as Tom Engel.
Adam Scott as Tom Engel

 

Tom was Max’s loving and devoted father.

Toni Collette as Sarah Engel
Toni Collette (left) as Sarah Engel

 

Sarah was Max’s perfectionistic mom. She wanted all of her relatives to have a nice time over the holidays and spent weeks preparing for Christmas to help this come true.

 

Stefania LaVie Owen as Beth Engel
Stefania LaVie Owen as Beth Engel

 

Beth was Max’s exasperated older sister who was dreading spending the holidays with her rowdy and uncouth relatives.

 

Krista Stadler as Omi Engel
Krista Stadler as Omi Engel

 

Omi Engel was Tom’s mother and Max’s grandmother. She only spoke German, but she did understand English. Several of her relatives were fluent in German and could translate for her. Much of her time was spent baking sweet treats and brewing hot chocolate for her family.

 

Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy
Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy

 

Aunt Dorothy was Beth and Linda’s passive aggressive, prejudiced, and mean-spirited aunt. No one wanted to invite her to Christmas festivities, but no one could bear to turn her away either.

 

Allison Tolman as Linda
Allison Tolman as Linda

 

Linda was Sarah’s sister. She and her husband were overwhelmed by their four unruly children.

 

David Koechner as Howard
David Koechner as Howard

 

Howard was Linda’s husband and Max’s uncle. He loved hunting and making off-colour jokes.

 

Thor as Rosie the Dog
Thor as Rosie the Dog

 

Rosie was the Engel family’s dog. She was a friendly pooch who was always in the market for a nibble of human food.

 

Luke Hawker as Krampus
Luke Hawker as Krampus

 

Krampus was the demon Max accidentally summoned.

My Review

Yes, this film is part of the horror genre, but with the exception of one brief scene it was not gory. There’s a lot a storyteller can do to freak out an audience without showing anything graphic. The people who worked on this project did a great job of finding the horror in anticipation instead of bloodshed.

The buildup to Krampus’ arrival was well done. I felt like I had plenty of time to get to know the characters before their lives were turned upside down. It was also nice to see the juxtaposition between the sentimental approach to the holiday season at the beginning of this film and the darker turn it took later on.

Krampus was a wonderfully scary villain. It was rare for the audience to see his face during the course of this story. Somehow, that made him even more frightening than he would have otherwise been. Hearing heavy boots clomping on the roof or seeing the quickest glimpse of his long, sharp fingernails put my imagination into overdrive. Picturing what he might look like was far  scarier than actually seeing him, and I’m saying that as someone who thought that the film makers did a great job of bringing this creepy legend to life.

I liked the way the character development was handled. The younger Engels had good reasons for dreading another visit with their relatives. While the extended family wasn’t abusive or anything like that, they did have some pretty unhealthy communication and behavioural issues. Spending time with Aunt Dorothy or the young cousins looked exhausting. Nothing satisfied them, and they seemed to change their minds about what they wanted from one moment to the next. It was pretty interesting to see how the Engels dealt with this and what happened when Max in particular reached his breaking point with them.

As mentioned in the content warning, there was one scene involving blood in the storyline. It happened quickly and was important to the plot development. The rest of the film relied on jump scares, psychological horror, and other non-gory means of frightening the audience.

There was a plot hole that was never resolved. It involved what one of the characters knew about the legend of this demon creature and what they did with that information. This was something so surprising that I was pretty surprised to see the plot brush over it so quickly. It sure would have been nice to explore this more in depth.

With that being said, I still had a good time watching Krampus. It was the first Christmas horror film I’ve ever seen, and I thought it did a nice job of combining imagery from both types of storytelling to come up with something unique.

If you’d like to try a Christmas movie that doesn’t have the slightest whiff of sentimentality to it, I’d recommend starting here.

Krampus is available on Apple TV.

A  True Selfless Act Always Sparks Another: A Review of Klaus

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its WallsA Dog’s Purpose, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Downsizing.

Film poster for Klaus. It shows santa with Jesper and a village child. Theyre surrounded by other characters who are looking at them with emotions ranging from adoration to annoyance. No content warning is necessary. I’d recommend this movie to viewers of all ages and backgrounds.

Klaus is a 2019 animated children’s film about a young, wealthy man named Jespen whose father sent him to a small, freezing cold town called Smeerensburg in order to establish a working postal office there.

I’ll leave it up to you to learn why his father decided to do this. It was something addressed in the opening scene, but it was so important to the plot that I’d rather not give away any hints about it.

Smeerensburg was a community filled with families who were feuding with each other. Their grudges were so enormous that none of the children were even sent to school lest they end up sitting next to the child of a family their parents hated. This meant that many of the young citizens of this town couldn’t read or write!

Needless to say, this wasn’t an easy assignment for Jespen. Luckily, his budding friendship with a toymaker named Klaus provided one bright spot in his new life.

 

Characters

Jason Schwartzman as Jesper
Jason Schwartzman as Jesper

Jesper was a postman who’d never actually finished postman school. He could be selfish at times, but he was also a creative and intelligent person.

J. K. Simmons as Klaus
J. K. Simmons (right) as Klaus

Klaus was the village carpenter who made toys that no one had ever played with. He was a deeply kind and generous man.

Rashida Jones as Alva
Rashida Jones as Alva

Alva was the town fishmonger who had originally trained to be a school teacher. Since it’s hard to teach an empty classroom, she’d been forced to change occupations and was not particularly happy about it. Her biggest wish at the beginning of this film was to move somewhere far away from Smeerensburg once she’d saved up enough money.

Needa Margrethe Labba
Needa Margrethe Labba as Márgu

Márgu was a Saami girl whose family lived on the outskirts of town. She did not speak English, but she did love visiting Jesper and playing with the other children.

 

My Review

I’m writing this review as someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas or enjoy the sentimentality of the holiday season, so what I’m about to say may come as a surprise: I loved this film!

Jesper was a wonderful protagonist. There was a lot of information about his backstory that I couldn’t include in this post for spoiler reasons, but he was a pretty well-rounded character…especially for something written for kids. I found it entertaining to see how he adjusted to life in dreary Smeerensburg. This wasn’t a cheerful place to live to say the least, and Jesper didn’t have a lot of experience in weathering unpleasant circumstances.

I also appreciated the lack of sentimentality (for the most part) in the story. Life in this community was hard for a lot of people, and the filmmakers showed as much of that as was appropriate for the age group they were marketing this towards. The fact that they managed to pull that off without including anything scary or too mature for kids to watch was impressive.

Honestly, some of the best scenes in this film were the ones that explained how the legend of Santa was formed.

For example, when and why did people first start believing that his sled was powered by flying reindeer? That question and many more were given funny, heartwarming answers that fit the tone of the plot perfectly. The photo near this paragraph gives a hint about another winter tradition that was explained in the plot, although that’s also something best left to each new viewer to discover for themselves.

A  true selfless act always sparks another.

Speaking of Santa, I’m guessing you can all guess which character he was in this tale. The storyline began long before he or anyone else knew what his destiny would be. There were so many lovely hints about who he was becoming along the way. I’ve never seen a story that focused on his origins before, so it was a ton of fun to check this one out.

The quote I shared above and in the title of this post came from this character. He had a lot of wise things to say, but this was my favourite line from him. It captured the essence of this film beautifully. Smeerensburg had so many problems that fed into each other that it was hard for the people who lived there to imagine how anything could change.

I really liked the idea of focusing on small things individuals could do to make the lives of others better without expecting anything in return. That’s the sort of philosophy that I think would make the world a better place if it were followed by everyone.

There were plenty of humorous moments as well. While the message itself was a serious one, the characters had no problem cracking jokes to suit every age group. I enjoyed that mixture of serious and silly content.

This was one of those children’s films that I’d recommend just as highly to adults. Watching it was a wonderful experience.

Klaus is available on Netflix.

What to Do on Christmas If You Don’t Celebrate It

Merry Christmas to everyone who will be celebrating it tomorrow! I hope it’s a joyful time for you and your loved ones.

As someone who doesn’t observe this holiday anymore, it’s always interesting to talk about what I do when everything is shut down and see what other people have come up to pass the time on the biggest holiday of the year in western society, too.

Obviously, the answer to this question is going to be different for everyone. People who live in tropical or Mediterranian climates are going to have a far different range of possibilities than those of us who live in chillier, snowier places. If your weather is nice enough for a hike or other outdoor activity, I envy you just a little bit today. That wouldn’t be a very pleasant thing to do here….although obviously not every Canadian is as averse to the cold as we are!

My hope is that this post will give you a few ideas of things to do when just about everything is closed. For readers who celebrate Christmas, I also hope it will give you a glimpse into what your friends and neighbours might be up while you’re celebrating today and tomorrow. There’s something to be said for learning about how other people live, in my opinion.

A typical “Christmas” is quiet for me and my spouse. Businesses and non-essential governmental buildings are closed here in Canada, just like they are in most other western countries. Many stores remain open on Christmas Eve, but they generally have reduced hours on that day and are packed uncomfortably full of people doing last-minute shopping. I avoid that scene as much as humanly possible.

Instead, I make non-traditional foods like chocolate chip cookies and tacos or fajitas, depending on what ingredients we have on hand. This tradition of sorts started when I first moved to Canada, realized my spouse and I would be alone on Christmas, and didn’t really feel like going all out for a holiday I was quickly losing interest in anyway.

We already had the ingredients for Mexican food and cookies on hand that first year, so that’s what we ate. Since then, we’ve done something similar to this when we could. There’s something nice about having a hot, simple meal that doesn’t take a lot of time to make and requires far fewer dishes than the average Christmas dinner. (Did I mention that I wash all of our dishes by hand? I don’t normally mind this chore, but it can be a little tricky to keep on top of them when we’re eating a multi-course meal).

If you love making fancy dinners, by all means make one. This is simply what works best for us.

The dress code is casual and generally involves wearing pants. Well, okay, sometimes it involves wearing pants. So much depends on what stage of the cooking process I’m in and how warm our apartment is. We have such efficient insulation in our building that sometimes it gets a little too warm to wear all of those layers when the oven is on and the sun is shining brightly through our windows.

At some point during the day, we’ll often turn on the latest science fiction or fantasy film that we’ve been meaning to rent or rewatch. There’s something relaxing about seeing Frodo once again attempt to return the One Ring to Mordor while delicious scents waft out of the kitchen. I also enjoy getting to know brand new characters instead if we’re in the mood for something we haven’t already watched.

The rest of the day is spent napping, relaxing, playing games (generally of the computer variety, although occasionally I’ve amused myself with board games and puzzles), or doing other quiet things that don’t require outdoor time. It’s nothing at all like the Christmases of my childhood, but I’ve come to look forward to this time quite a bit all the same.

I have heard of people going out for Chinese food on Christmas, as those restaurants tend to stay open. It’s not something I’ve tried yet myself, but maybe one year I will.

Do you celebrate Christmas? If not, what do you generally do on that day? Regardless of whether you personally observe it, what is this holiday like in your country in general? I know that not everyone who reads this blog comes from a culture where Christmas is well-known or even practiced at all.

5 Christmas Movies That Are Worth Rewatching

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Despite the fact that I don’t actually celebrate any major winter holidays, there are still a decent number of Christmas movies that I could watch every year and never grow tired of. I should warn you that some of the entries on this list are a little unorthodox. Sentimental films aren’t my cup of tea, so I did wandered around in a few different genres to compile this list.

If you haven’t seen any of these movies yet, go watch them now.

A Christmas Story (1983)

I was a kid the first time I saw this film. Ralphie’s wry explanations of what his family was like shocked me a little. My parents never washed my mouth out with soap, for example, and I was used to be surrounded by adults who paid closer attention to my emotional needs than what Ralphie experienced.

It took me a rewatch or two to realize that the narrator was exaggerating certain parts of his childhood for comedic effect, but I loved this tale even more once I figured that out.

 

 

Gremlins (1984)

Sometimes you find the perfect gift for the holidays. This isn’t about one of those times.

Fair warning: this is a horror movie. I loved the part of the plot had to do with the stress of finding the perfect gift. It was also interesting to see what happened when the characters ignored the clear warnings they received about getting gremlins wet or feeding them after midnight.

 

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

One of the things I love about the holiday season is it’s emphasis on caring for your community and including everyone in your festivities.

Despite his sharp claws and strange looks, Edward isn’t a villain and this isn’t a horror movie. He was technically created to be a monster, but his personality is completely wrong for that role. Edward is gentle and kind.

There’s lot of love and kindness in his story after he’s discovered and cared for by a kind stranger as well. The conflict between her and a few members of her community who hate and fear Edward kept me glued to the plot until I knew how it ended.

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

What do you get when you mix Halloween and Christmas together? After the leader of Halloween Town accidentally stumbled across Christmas Town, he studied it and eventually decided to take over that holiday altogether.

I can’t say much more about the plot without giving away spoilers, but I loved the creative twists along the way. The ending was quite satisfactory as well.

 

A Christmas Carol (1999)

This was actually one of the first Charles Dickens’ stories I ever read. While I’ve enjoyed all of the adaptations of it I’ve seen over the years, this version included a few scenes from the book that were generally left out of other versions of this classic tale. I loved seeing different groups of people sing Silent Night. It added something to the storyline that was missing.

The fact that Patrick Stewart was involved was another huge bonus. I’d watch him in just about anything!

I’d love to know what your favourite holiday movies are. Hop on over to Twitter to tell me all about them today. Regardless of what you’re celebrating or if you’re celebrating anything at all,  I hope the rest of 2017 is filled with happiness and tables full of delicious food for all of my readers.

Staying Mindful During the Holidays

santa-claus-christmas-beard-celebration-41963We’re quickly sliding into the busiest time of year for retailers and shoppers alike.

I’ve been spending some time watching strangers rush around at the mall lately. If you’re not struggling to find those last few presents, it can be a fascinating way to use up half an hour or so of your time.

There are people who seem to love the thrill of shopping and jumping from one event to the next, people who are unbelievably stressed by all of the things they’re expected to do and to attend, and people who barely give any outward indications of how they feel at all.

If I could gather them all in the same room and talk to them about remaining mindful during what is the busiest time of the year for many people, this is what I would tell them.

It’s Okay to Say No

Several years ago, I unintentionally overheard a woman talking about how tired she was of buying presents for so many different people. She had no idea what to get for any of them and didn’t enjoy the process of searching multiple stores to find something that they might not even end up needing or liking.

I wish someone could have told her that it’s okay to say no to gift exchanges, parties, reunions, and other events if they don’t bring anything positive to your life.

There’s a decent chance that at least one other person in that group feels the same way and is wishing they could find a way to simplify their life. Mentioning how you feel could be doing them a big favour!

Even if you turn out to be the only one who wants to stop or change how things are being done, being honest about what you’re feeling in this exact moment is still a good idea.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

I have a meditation app that prompts me  to stop and focus on my breathing for one minute twice a day.

reflection-water-canal-mirroring-70574Since I started using it, my average resting heart rate has gone down a little bit. I’ve also been feeling more peaceful than I was before I began this habit.

You don’t have to spend a great deal of time meditating in order to benefit from it. While I am definitely planning to get back into longer sessions in 2017, it’s nice to take these short breaks and focus on the moment regardless of where I am or what I’m doing.

I am not a big fan of the huge crowds that form at this time of year. Meditation helps me relax when I’m in a situation where I’m surrounded by them.

Ignore the Hype

One of the other things I dislike the most about this season is how hard advertisers push to convince us that buying stuff is the secret to happiness and family harmony.

While I understand that this is a critical time of year for their bottom lines, ignoring the hype is an important part of staying mindful during the holidays.

Since I don’t have cable, Youtube is where where I see most of the ads in my daily life. A while ago they started forcing viewers to watch at least a portion of them before you could watch certain videos. There are times during the year when I’m willing to watch them, but I’ve been trying to cut down on how much time I spend on that site because I really need a break from advertisements for a while.

The nice thing about reducing the number of ads you see is that it can also reduce your number of must-have items. For example,  I find myself wanting fewer electronic devices and specialty food items when I haven’t given companies a lot of opportunities to market them to me.

Sometimes what you tune out is as important as what you tune into.

May the holiday season be a peaceful and joyful one for all of you!