As part of its Hall H presentation at Comic-Con International, Legendary Pictures showcased “Krampus,” a horror-comedy about a dysfunctional family that incurs the wrath of a vengeful holiday spirit.
Director Michael Dougherty (“Trick ‘r Treat”) was joined on stage by stars Adam Scott and Toni Collette, and moderator Chris Hardwick.
The filmmaker explained that Krampus is a demonic character from European folklore that, in contrast with Santa Claus, punishes misbehaving children at Christmas. “Instead of bringing presents to good little boys and girls, he comes down the chimney, throws you in a bag, and beats you,” he said. “So … he’s very German.”
To Dougherty, Christmas is already creepy. “You have a supernatural entity who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, and as a child that gave me anxiety,” he said. “Between that, and getting placed on a stranger’s lap and abandoned by my mother,” the holiday can be traumatizing for a child.
Hardwick noted that “Krampus” feels similar in tone to a 1980s Amblin film, like “Gremlins” or “Poltergeist.”
“I wanted to make a scary Christmas movie,” Dougherty said. “There really aren’t that many of them. Most of them involve a guy in a Santa suit with an ax. My co-writers Zach [Shields] and Todd [Casey] and I wanted to make a scary Christmas movie that said, ‘What if all those Christmas wishes that you made as a child turned dark because you stopped believing in Christmas?’”
Following a screening of the film’s trailer, Scott and Collette joined Dougherty on stage.
Known for her roles in such films as “Muriel’s Wedding, “The Sixth Sense” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” Collette said she was impressed by how the script of “Krampus” blended many different genres.
“It looks like a very scary movie, and it is terrifying, but it is also very funny,” she said. “For the first half-hour it feels like a couple of dysfunctional families in a John Hughes comedy -- and you have no idea that the horror is about to descend. It’s just a wonderful combo of unexpected, intense stuff.”
Scott said he was glad he and Dougherty met and talked about the film for a long time before he read the script. Their discussion led the “Parks and Recreation” veteran to go home and watch “Poltergeist” for the first time in 20 years.
“I peed myself,” he recalled. “It brought it all back. I was so impressed by, yes, how scary it was, but also how character-driven it was and how funny it was. That’s what Mike was going for. Then I read the [‘Krampus’] script and was impressed by how he’s carrying the torch of those character-driven horror films from the ‘80s that everybody could enjoy.”
Dougherty said there are a lot of practical effects in the film, and that WETA designed the creatures. “I got to attack Toni with a puppet, and that was one of my favorite parts of the process,” he said, adding that there are some digital effects. “I do believe in the hybrid approach, but I wanted to build puppets that could attack the actors and [then digitally] erase the rods and wires and see a teddy bear spring to life. I wanted the actors to have something to react to. Plus, the slime is so much better when it’s real.”
Hardwick asked whether the Krampus is revealed at the beginning of the movie or is teased as the story unfolds. “I like to tease them,” the director replied. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to reveal your creature too much or too soon.”
Collette said there was a lot of improvisation in the comedy scenes between Scott and David Koechner (“The Office”). “A two-minute take would turn into a 20-minute take,” she said. “They were hysterical.”
“Mike just let us play around during these big family dinner scenes,” Scott added. “We also had a lot of kids in the house. It was this big suburban household, and we were in there for two months together, so by the time we finished we were a functioning dysfunctional family living in the house.”
Dougherty said at one time they had the entire cast, including babies, dogs, and eight puppets and puppeteers, crammed into a living room to film a scene.
He said that if he could tell the uninitiated one thing about “Krampus” it would that, “It’s the kind of movie that is very scary, but up until it gets scary it’s as if you are watching a ‘Vacation’ movie or ‘Parenthood.’ It’s a character-driven, fun, family dramedy and then all of this stuff starts happening to these people. It’s the type of movie that we haven’t seen in quite some time.”
“Krampus” opens Dec. 4.