‘Twas the Night of the Krampus (Short Film)

10 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Santa Claus is a suicidal grouch who definitely isn’t feeling the Christmas spirit this year. One of his elves is a grump with a mechanical hand. His wife is transformed into a child-abducting monster called the Krampus, who has just kidnapped the President’s daughter. And both Santa and the elf fight the Krampus in an abandoned factory of sorts. Yes, all of these elements go together in the 10-minute UCA undergraduate thesis film, “’Twas the Night of the Krampus,” and surprisingly, they fit well together.

The short, written and directed by Donavon Thompson, is more in the spirit of the typical Buddy-Cop Action-Comedy, with some key differences. For one thing, the “buddies” are not “cops”; they’re depressed (but skilled) Santa Claus (or “Nick,” as he prefers to be called; short for “Saint Nicholas”) and reluctant, irritable Bill and Elf. Santa’s handgun looks like a candy-can pistol (white with red stripes). And in the midst of a driving techno music score, suddenly, we’re treated to its own version of “Carol of the Bells” in the middle of the action-filled climax. Oh, and need I also mention that as well as a candy-cane-striped gun, Santa’s other weapon of choice is a candy-cane-striped sword? Absolutely.

The film opens with some dark humor in a scene that recalls a similar moment in “Lethal Weapon,” as “Nick” (Johnnie Brannon) contemplates suicide in his study on Christmas Eve, holding a gun to his head before placing the barrel into his mouth and about to pull the trigger. At this point, I should mention what qualifies this as dark “humor” to me—the gun is white with red stripes, like a candy cane. (Ho-ho-ho.) One of his elves, Sam (Kandice Miller), unwittingly stops him to deliver him important news—the President’s daughter (Kwynn McEntire) has been kidnapped, and both Nick and Bill the Elf (Matt Mitchell) know who, or what, has her: the Krampus.

For those who aren’t familiar with the folklore that features the Krampus (and I’ll admit I wasn’t at first), the Krampus is a creature that punishes children during the Christmas season, thus presents itself in contrast with Saint Nicholas who of course rewards children. But knowing that doesn’t matter, as the contrast is never addressed. Here, the Krampus (Xander Udochi) is an unattractive meanie with a whip (and a distorted voice); a villain for our heroes to stand up against. But it’s also something more, as we learn early on that the Krampus can take the form of whomever it bites. (As Bill puts it, “Once you get bit by the Krampus, you become the Krampus.”) Since Nick has lost his wife, Mrs. Claus (Karen Q. Clark), to the Krampus and even appears at a crucial moment late in the film (…but is it really her?). This touch gives the story, as well as Nick’s character arc, a more psychological edge that’s actually kind of moving.

This Krampus is no scarier than the stories about it or even the pictures based on its appearance. (Hell, I’d even argue that it’s much more unnerving when it takes the form of Mrs. Claus; Karen Q. Clark, who starred in Johnnie Brannon’s 48-Hr short “La Grande Fete,” really sells a brief role with passive-aggressive tone of voice that makes the scene very unsettling.) But the film isn’t about the Krampus; it’s about Santa Claus coming to grips with his loss while it’s also a kick-ass action short that is very funny at times, a little moving other times, and entertaining overall.

The action climax is very well-executed, with gripping cinematography by Nikki Emerson (there are many great shots here) and tight editing by Thompson. It’s also aided by nicely-done music by Cody Harris; the addition of “Carol of the Bells” in the middle of the score is particularly wonderful. And of course, being in the tradition of the Action-Buddy Action-Comedy, there are quite a few badass one-liners for Nick and Bill to deliver, some of which include puns that actually aren’t painful.

Thanks to sharp direction and good writing by Thompson, “’Twas the Night of the Krampus” is a fun, amusing, entertaining 10-minute thrill ride with Santa Claus kicking some ass.

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