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‘Krampus’ is available for purchase on all VOD platforms as well as physical Blu-Ray/DVD. For the best viewing experience, be sure to purchase Scream Factory’s latest 4K UHD upgrade, Krampus: The Naughty Cut; the perfect gift for the Krampus fanatics in your lives.

In 2015, writer/director Michael Doughtery (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) released his Yuletide horror film ‘Krampus’ to the masses. Receiving mostly positive reviews upon its release, this tale became an instant modern holiday horror classic amongst fans and myself. Riding the success of his previous holiday horror film Trick R’ Treat, the violence and gore for Krampus is tamer but the fright and silliness from his previous entry is still very present here. Presenting awe-inspiring visuals, impeccable creature designs, an enjoyable cast of characters, and Doughtery’s signature dark humor, it’s surprising we’ve yet to receive a sequel. With the holidays fast approaching and the bitter chill of winter coursing through the air, what better time to revisit this Christmas masterpiece?

Retail Killed the Christmas Star….

an image of Max and his family sitting on a couch. Looks of dread paint theirs faces as they recall the events of Christmas Eve. Max's father Tom is wrapped in a fleeced robe with pine green plaid pajama bottoms covers his legs. Protagonist max sits in a blue and white baseball tee cradling a rusted jingle bell gifted to him by Krampus. Max's mother Sarah is drapped in a grey cardigan and white sweat pants, her hands nervously resting on her legs. Beth is seen in the most colorful wardrobe of the family. A bright pink hoodie covers her torso, as her legs are warmed in festive purple, blue, pink and white printed leggings, tensely gripping her mug of hot liquid. Omi protectively hovers above her family, a look of sorrow washing over her as she stares at the bell in Max's hands. A purple floral scarf loosely rests on her neck and relax-fitted button shirt. The scene is lighted with an eerie  ominous glow.
left to right: Tom (Adam Scott), Umi (Krista Stadler), Max (Emjay Anthony), Sarah (Toni Collette), and Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen)

While most children’s letters to Santa consist of the a-typical toys and the latest tech and fashion trends; our protagonist Max (Emjay Anthony) has a more selfless request to share a nostalgic Christmas with his family reminiscent of years past. Shortly after his Uncle Howard (David Koechner from ‘Anchorman), Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), their infant Crissy (Sage Hunefeld) and remaining children Howard Jr. (Maverick Flack), sisters Jordan (Queenie Samuel) and Stevie (LoLo Owen) and Great Aunt Dorothy (late Conchata Ferrell remembered famously as Berta in CBS’ ‘Two and a Half Men) arrive after a long day’s travel, tensions soon ensue. Dorothy is constantly complaining on the quality of the food even though Max’s mother Sarah (lovingly portrayed by academy award nominee Toni Collette; ‘Hereditary‘ and ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’) had been slaving away all day in the kitchen prior to their arrival. Howard almost immediately begins showboating his superiority complex and toxic masculinity to Max’s father Tom (played by Adam Scott of ‘Parks and Recreation’ fame) from the moment he walks in the house. Additionally, Jordan and Stevie purposefully embarrass Max at dinner by reciting his private letter to Santa in front of everyone. This sparks an emotional scuffle amongst the kids, and in a fit of rage Max shreds his only wish and tosses the remaining bits of the torn letter out of his bedroom window. Unfortunately for Max and his family, these actions summon not jolly Saint Nicolas but rather, a more sinister shadow and counterpart to the big man dressed in red. In order for Max and his family to survive this unholy night of terror, it’s imperative they set aside their differences and come together, otherwise their souls will be dragged to hell, suffering eternal damnation.  

Visually, ‘Krampus’ is beautifully shot as Doughtery is able to capture the chaotic nature that falls on Christmas, but also, the magic bestowed upon it. The production design is flawless as festive decorations fill the screen with their blinking-colored lights, Christmas music blares from radio speakers, and pristine mounds of glistening snow cover the streets. Doughtery also takes lengths to showcase the insanity of holiday shopping in the films chaotic title sequence. Max and his family are clad in winter clothing, showing their slight enthusiasm for the approaching holiday. In grandiose fashion, Krampus christens his arrival into town with an unnatural blizzard, plaguing them in a dreary winter wonderland. You feel the intensity of the cold as our characters struggle bundling for warmth.   

Santa Claus ISN’T coming to town

Draped in large red and white robes akin to Saint Nicolas, large, pointed horns curling above his head, the clattering of his massive cloven black hooves booming on rooftops, his face adorned with a mockery of the children’s beloved holiday figure; Krampus has arrived. Time has certainly been kind to Krampus, as 7 years later the character design is still remarkable. Standing close to 7 feet tall, his presence is especially imposing due to his hulking size and rough exterior. For as colossal as Krampus is, it still surprises me just how agile his character is able to swiftly move about. His laugh echoes in twisted delight as his grotesque tongue whips about, echoing his unapologetic personality; for he is there to punish. Whenever on screen, he steals the show as his presence is awe-striking.

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After just consuming one of the children in a single swallow, Krampus' extra frightening jack-in-the-box sits with his massive maw agape. Rows of pointed teeth sit below a grimy white porcelain face; yellow stains oxidized around his black emotionless eyes. A smooth velvet red jester hat rests atop his head, fading black paint form his lashes and eyebrows, while white gloves smeared in dirt and dry blood cover his hands.
There’s a reason why I never enjoyed jack-in-the-box toys….

Thankfully, Krampus isn’t the only character with a fearsome appearance, as his evil elves and twisted animated toys receive ample care equivalent to their master. Drawing inspiration from pagan/folkloric background, these maniacal elves first appear disguised as snowmen mysteriously appearing in Max’s front yard Christmas Eve morning, inching closer to the house ever so slightly with each passing hour. Once their surprise attack springs into action, we see them fully cloaked in dark soot-stained furs with intricately detailed wooden masks and carrying makeshift tribal spears. Whereas Santa’s elves are merry helpers, Krampus’ are anything but, acting more as slaves. His “cheerful” toys are no exception. Consisting of ravaging teddy bears, ghastly noel angles, and buzzsaw wielding robots, each toy feels craftly designed, providing their own unique flare and deadly purpose. One toy that’s remained a favorite of mine in particular happens to be their unofficial mascot and Krampus’ own twisted transport; his hideously cute jack-in-the box. Masquerading first as an innocent child’s toy only to later reveal its gaping mouth and rows of gnashing teeth capable of swallowing multiple victims whole.    

Krampus’ lasting success can also be attributed to the characters Doughtery brings with his script, as well as the brilliant performances provided by each actor. Krista Stadler is wonderful as Omi, Max’s softhearted grandmother who’s experienced this holiday demon in her past. Scott and Collette’s’ Tom and Sarah exemplify what nurturing parents should be; comforting Max during times of weakness, while acting as the families selflessly fierce protectors. Emjay, however, really shines in this movie with his portrayal of Max. He’s able to convey the emotional stresses we see Max struggles with throughout. At first, Max seems hopeful this will be different than his past few have been. As the night unfolds, that hope quickly fades and shifts to anger. Anger then transcends to fear then guilt for the curse he’s mistakenly brought upon his family up until the final act in which Max finally confronts his demon head-on, accepting responsibility with fearless fervor.    

In one of Krampus more awe-striking shots, Max stands face to face with the Yuletide demon; his crooked branch gripped in hand at the ready. Krampus, draped in his festive robes, looms over his caller, as black and grey clouds painted with hues of red from the faint glow of flames envelop the night sky.
Max confronting Krampus in an emotional stand-off.

Checked Twice: The Naughty List

‘Krampus’ succeeds in many areas; however, it has its mild issues. For as much as I appreciate Doughtery’s dark humor, there are times where I feel it’s overused in this script taking away from the horror. In a scene paying homage to 1984’s ‘Gremlins, rather than fiendish green creatures, we instead see poorly animated CGI gingerbread men that are more of an annoying nuisance than actual threats. This is especially disappointing given the films primary use of practical effects. Koechner’s Uncle Howard and Ferrell’s Aunt Dorothy, though equally hilarious and provide a hand in protecting the family, ultimately feel as the film’s comedic reliefs to me. Max’s sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) feels as though she was only included to fill the role of disinterested snotty sister. Not to say actress Stefania’s performance is bad, it’s not, her character is simply under used which provides lack of development. Those expecting to unwrap a carnage candy cane for the holiday season may be disappointed due to the films more family-friendly PG-13 rating. With his use of meticulous camera placement and expertise with lighting and shadows, Doughtery trades in the gore for jump scares through tension building.   

A Beloved Demon of Christmas Past

Throughout the years since its release, ‘Krampus’ has been in my yearly Christmas film rotation for obvious reasons; relatable characters, time lasting practical effects, enthralling cinematography and an impactful surprise twist. At first glance, it may appear as if Doughtery has a disdain for Christmas but, with each revisit, it’s made clearer the respect he has for the holiday. Though a fun chaotic sleigh ride filled with horrific creatures, Krampus is a story told with love reminding its audience the true spirit of Christmas is not the lavish gifts but showing our loved ones the same care and cherishment. Doughtery further establishes his mastery of comedic horror with ‘Krampus‘, providing plenty of sacks of laughs and scary presents worthy of being a yearly tradition for any family. 

Image of the Krampus standing atop a snow-covered rooftop carrying his sack of killer toys; his sinister silhouette outlined in large glowing full moon. Strings of sparkling white Christmas lights etch the 2 windowpanes to the left and right of Krampus. The same lights can be found along the bottom of the roof accompanied with tapering icicles. Flakes of snow dust mixed shades of blues, bringing eerie gothic undertones.
‘Krampus’ 2015 movie poster (image courtesy of eclecticpop.com)

Be sure to check HauntedMTL all month long for more holiday horror related content, including our ’12 Nightmares of Christmas’. 12 spine-tingling holiday themed short horror stories written by us, including yours truly, dropping every day starting December 12th, leading to Christmas day. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Utah transplant TT Hallows now resides in Portland OR haunting the streets of PNW for the past 5 years with his spunky feline companion Gizmo. Horror and writing are his passions, taking special interests in sloshy grindhouse slashers, thought-provoking slow burns, and fright-filled creature flicks; Carnage Candy reigns supreme! When not binging excessive amounts of gratuitous gore, you can find TT Hallows shopping the local thrift and witchcraft shops (oh yes, he's a witch), expertly dancing (or so believes) to New Wave/Dark synth melodies or escaping the monotony of "walking amongst the living" with serene oceanic views and forested hikes. TT Hallows is an up-and-coming horror reviewer/writer for HauntedMTL. Step with me into the void...if you dare.

Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

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Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

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Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

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What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

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We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

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If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story

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We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.

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All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.

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More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.

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It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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