this review is overdue because i had thought i would wait to see who the official, undisputed president of the united states would be.

i get that this feels like a pretty flimsy excuse given it’s now the end of the month and i’m at the point now where i have put this off for so long that it’s ridiculous but it did seem like it was going to be a relevant fact in a movie that truly feels like it’s from an ancient age. to be upfront, i like krampus. it was pitched to me by a patreon donor, a frequent flyer (repeat offender?) who sends me bad movie suggestions that i pretty much have mostly loved. this is a rare one where i straight up said i wouldn’t add it to the bad movie book but would prefer to write a glowing review of it to celebrate what i loved about the deliberately hammy atmosphere of this movie that works in service of its stupid premise and execution.

and then i watched it. and my desire to write a glowing review dropped a few degrees. just a few.

it’s not the movie’s fault. that’s part of why this review has taken such a long time to do: i’ll have to actually think about how i’m going to address this movie’s themes that have since carbon dated it as from the Before Times. there is a balance i want to strike when i try to discuss this. if i’m too aggrandizing, i’ll come off as smug and patronizing. if i’m too blasé, i’ll look like the kind of person who swerves into animals on the road.

i think there’s a vital distinction to be made between something that is 80s inspired in the way that something like “stranger things” is and something that is 80s flavored the way that krampus is. it assumes we, the audience, have a few shreds of dignity lying around and want to maintain, so instead of pounding us over the head with fists whiles crying “remember this thing from the 80s?” so you can receive the nostalgia brain chemicals, it tries to evoke the aesthetics and tone of movies such as gremlins or child’s play indirectly. krampus pulls from the rarely drawn well of that sort of tongue-in-cheek, campy, self-aware horror that doesn’t sacrifice the soul at the core of it’s conception in pursuit of what it thinks might be a good joke.

in spite of the modern day setting almost no trace of modern tech exists in this movie. outside of a brief scene where the sister uses something skype-ish to talk to her boyfriend, this movie could have taken place at any point between 1980-2015 (and absolutely no later than that, because the right-wing people depicted in this movie no longer exist). it’s a movie that’s dated only in the hamfisted and stereotypical politics that seem quaint by today’s standards.

there are some odd dips and swerves in the ability to maintain the 1980s monster movie pastiche. the adherence to the form is admirable when it comes to the practical effects and the movie suffers drastically when stuck to wallow in the CGI swamps. the monsters the ransack the attic benefit enormously from the audience being able to perceive them as something tangible, something that has some fucking weight to it. most horror movies in the modern day are made or broken by whether or not the audience will be able to be convinced of the authenticity of the monster. they don’t need to be convinced that it is a 100% living and breathing (or…you know. just animate) creature, but that it is an organic and natural part of the world it occupies regardless of physical limitations.

uhh for example: e.t. is just a bunch of vulcanized rubber some puppeteers are wiggling around in ways that could be construed as lifelike, but its the way the world around them reacts to its physical presence that makes that little son of a bitch seem like an actual part of the world he is occupying instead of something that has been clumsily overlaid onto it. the aim is to maintain the illusion of seeming life-like, not necessarily “real”. 

in comparison, the cgi gingerbread feel weightless and cheap. they float through their scene ineffectively feeling like a bad phone filter or oddly specific ghosts. the sheer mass and volume of the previous monsters that caused them to feel as though they were overflowing or bursting wildly out of the screen is totally absent here in spite of the attempts to capture some manic giggling energy. it’s not the same!!

it’s a little odd that a movie about the physical manifestation of disproportionate retribution for a year’s worth of childhood mischief decided to take a staunch liberal political stance but it’s only odd in hindsight, i suppose. thinking back to when i saw this movie in 2015, i don’t remember blinking an eye at the spoon-feeding of what are essentially “the daily show” jokes that were left on the cutting room floor and given new life by being clumsily stitched into this script. max, the protagonist (who is 7 years old or maybe 15. it’s literally impossible to tell), comes from a family comprised of affluent, attractive, sensitive liberals while the visiting in-laws are poor, dumb, ugly rednecks. if you were expecting nuance and subtlety from krampus don’t hold your breath. its evoking the 1980s after all.

but if krampus had anything substantial to say with these jokes and character archetypes it more or less squandered them, although i have to be clear, i’m not really bothered about the inclusion of these characters in the sense that i think their depictions are harmful or too alluring (since it seems evident that the audience is intended to jeer and pity them as slaves of their ignorance). instead, i found myself roiled with a flurry of contrasting emotions when watching this movie in 2020: nostalgia, longing, weary resignation and the horror inherent in the gradual dawning realization that this movie is accidentally one of the last of a forgotten time. the attitudes present in this movie today were, as hard as it is to believe, once the mainstream. i wish people were this normal again. god take me back. we could fix it. take us back!! take us back!!!

given what we have collectively experienced over the past 4 years, i have no doubt that the smug liberal viewpoints coming from the primary protagonists and the fact that the moral of this story is “learn to co-exist with your vile republican side of the family” has the potential to get under people’s skin. consider this: we are living in a world bad enough where a movie from 5 years ago is now so politically irrelevant that we have to preface it with the warner brother’s problematic content warning lol. alright obviously nothing is even remotely that bad. all of the awkward dinner conversation and offensive shit talk is comparatively mild to literally anything that gets aired at 6am on the morning news now. but now it is legitimately fascinating to go back and look at krampus, this fucking christmas goat movie, as a accidental political piece because it incidentally captured the zeitgeist of a country on the tipping point of madness. 

see, now this is the paragraph where i would have compared and contrasted our future based on the election results that happened during the first week of this year, but i can’t do that because democracy has failed. it does seem like the gears are finally inching forward for biden. to be honest i wish i knew what this meant, but i don’t. if it were trump it would have meant more of the same: the violence, the terror, the waking up every day wondering if this is the one where you finally can’t take it anymore because you’re tired seeing a steady stream of misery in your eyeballs 24/7. with biden, my fears are the same but with one difference: the return of the smug intellectual superiority that permeates the extended family’s introduction clouding the senses of everyone who was seemingly radicalized to the left after realizing how broken the systems are for everyone and not just the tiny bubble they were entrenched in for decades.

anyway, the movie is good. it is a time capsule in layers, as both a love letter to the 80s and as an accidental snapshot of a time when the national political discourse was so radically different that it makes this movie feel like it fell out of a different dimension. in spite of my review here it is a light watch (VERY light, no blood at all and only 98 minutes) and has some of the best audio design in a movie i’ve heard in a while so if you can hear it on a good sound system you’ll be pleasantly surprised. throw it on mid-december and let it ride while you laze on the couch surfing on your phone and dreaming of a better world.

The public perception of the American Western is inexorably intertwined with a specific concept of masculinity that- no, stop, don’t click away you asshole. I’m making a point. I’m not here to blow smoke up your ass, but if we’re going to have an honest conversation about the media that the National Film Registry has determined comprises the cultural fabric of America we need to talk about how and why without mincing any fucking words. The western genre was made with a very specific image of men in mind and, we need to be honest here, was broadly made for a very specific audience of men. This is probably why for a large chunk of my life, I stupidly, ignorantly, wrote off the entire genre as a loss. 



The perception of the big swinging dick American male is diametrically at odds with both the protagonist, Dan Evans, and antagonist, Ben Wade. Neither is a grizzled, cigar-chomping Man-With-No-Name or a swaggering John Wayne-type. In lieu of that, there is a softness to both of them; distinct from one another but both of their edges have been sanded off to create men who do not conform to the mold I (and maybe you!) believed men of the wild west had to adhere to in order to survive. The starkest difference between the two is Ben Wade is not unwilling to kill when pushed to it, but he also does not go around murdering as he pleases with his little gang of ruffians. Ben Wade is, apparently, a gentlemen who chooses to be a lout. Dan Evans is a man who lives so rigidly within the confines of “the rules” that he is being strangled by himself and taking his family down with him. In all the ways that two men can be so seemingly diametrically opposed, the ways in which they are human and honorable in spite of the harshness of the world outside are more meaningful measures of their character.



The movie has a…look in…in 2020 the movie has a…a vibe. It has a…Hey, why do they keep Ben Wade locked in a bridal suite for like 40% of the movie with Dan? Why specifically a bridal suite? I’m certain at the time they were not intending for any homoerotic subtext but. I might have to make my big post about what “death of the author” actually is so I can explain why seeing this movie as a bisexual in 2020 is so drastically different than in 1957. It seems difficult not read into Ben Wade bouncing suggestively on the bed and wondering absentmindedly “how many brides…”? Ben Is flirtatious and flattering to everyone he meets, from the barmaid to Dan’s wife to Dan himself, preferring to solve his problems by oozing charm and greasing palms than firing shots.



Dan, conversely, is charmless but reliable. He is nothing if not true to his word and it’s evident by the end of the movie that Ben deeply admires his character when he saves Dan’s life. Poor Dan is a failure and he knows it; his ranch being on the verge of financial ruin is why he’s volunteered to escort Ben Wade in the first place. But Wade pushes all of Dan’s buttons and picks and pulls at all the threads keeping together the only thing he has left: his integrity. 

It’s a strange kind of bond that forms over the course of 24 hours that ends in one man willingly going to jail for the other even though he could have easily slipped away. But Ben Wade saw something he liked in Dan. Maybe his complete refusal to succumb to Ben’s temptations, like everyone else who crossed Wade’s path. In turn, Ben chooses to rise to Dan’s level. rather than Dan stoop to his. There is no bloodied shootout. And really, no justice. But an equilateral exchange and a torrent of hope as the train leaves the station.



I know for a fact there are plenty of the archetypal westerns on the list, making “3:10 to Yuma” unique in its execution. Shed your preconceived notions about what the genre should be and join me in exploring more of it. 

Assorted thoughts:

  • The first thing said in this movie is “Now see here, I’m Mister Butterfield!” which is the most western thing ever.
  • Though it must have been an ordeal to film on location in Arizona in 1957, the film’s setting makes the southwest look better than it does in reality (a shithole).
  • ITS BULLSHIT MOVIES DONE HAVE THEIR OWN SONGS ANYMORE…what was the last movie to do this? “wild wild west”?

One of the most persistent genres of children’s fiction is “oh no! I’m a little creature!” in which the protagonist of the work is suddenly chucked headfirst into a situation that requires their cunning and determination to work their way out of since they have been robbed of the advantage of their opposable thumbs and physical form. Typically these stories revolve around a lack of physical agency and loss of control over their understanding of their personhood (an unsurprisingly popular plot given that puberty is right around the corner) usually at the hands of an outside force or as some kind of cosmic punishment for child crimes (rudeness to parents, disobeying god, not washing hands, etc). These plots are the backbone of both pretty much every single Goosebumps book ever made (when the plot was not “I found a weird thing!”) and also the story of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”.

The 1990’s movie adaptation of “The Witches” offers a lighthearted horror story about escaping and defeating adults whose only goals are to hurt you (and people like you) and inflict bodily damage upon you for no reason other than inherent cruelty. In execution, the horror of the subject matter is a reasonable amount of terrifying instead of deeply scarring; it is terrifying to realize that there are people in the world, possibly near you or who claim to care for you, who take pleasure in causing you to suffer for something over which you have no control. But to know that you can conquer and work to repair the damage these people can attempt to drive into the world is the message that children suffering at their hands, whether briefly or daily, deserve to hear and take to heart. I love horror stories intended for children; they tap into some extremely primal part of our brains that can be understood by everyone no matter your personal experience. Horror for children is meant to be simple, uncomplicated and straightforward.

It’s been ages since I’ve read “The Witches”; I must have been in elementary school so I can’t attest to the accuracy of the movie to the classic Roald Dahl book outside of the fact that the ending is wildly different. In fact, I think the point of the ending has been warped so badly that it obliterates an incredible message (more on this later). At least I can say that the tale presented to you in this BLESSEDLY trim 91 minutes is pretty pleasant and shines with a cast of extremely british actors giving some extremely hammy (except for Rowan Atkinson, who is the straight man for whatever very mysterious reason) performances that rise to match the ridiculousness the roles of cackling child-hating witches calls for.

The kid actors are uh…well. I’m overly harsh on kid performances in general so my opinion needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Kid performances are very rarely good and usually fly all the way to “nails on chalkboard” levels of cloying faux-cuteness due to terrible directing and writing by people who haven’t interacted with kids for over 30 years, but in this case one of the actors is just kind of a dud. Jasen Fisher in the role of the protagonist is actually pretty great. The other kid, who is dressed like a 40 year old New Jersey mechanic but talks like a chimney sweep is pretty terrible.

The kid actors are doing the best they can and both of their voice acting is much better than the physical direction they were given. Speaking of which, the puppetry is, unsurprising given that it’s the Jim Henson Company (the last movie before Henson’s death), is fantastic. It’s hard to imagine what this movie would have looked like in less capable hands when it came to the practical effects or the directing. I’m actually not familiar with director Nicolas Roeg’s other work, but a quick glance at his filmography reveals this movie was a heck of a turn for him content wise. 

I’m pretty sure everyone who follows me is like me and a huge sucker for a great practical effect and my favorite in this movie is that dang ol’ mouse puppet. I cannot believe how CUTE the mouse is. The most jarring part of the movie is when it switches between using a real mouse and using the little cartoony but so very endearing little fucker. It should have stuck with the puppet the entire time and thrown out using live mice entirely. THIS is a puppet I love and want to succeed in life. This is a puppet I long to see thrive. 

There is one example of some seriously impressive editing where the head witch (Anjelica Huston, with maybe the intentionally worst french accent in history) appears to put her fake rubber face back on without an obvious cut (it’s hidden by a woman in the foreground briefly moving in front of the camera, but appears as one seamless action). The makeup work to transform Huston into the Grand High Witch looks like it must have been absolutely tedious to have been subject to, but creates a very memorable looking hideous visage to shock and stick in a younger audience’s head. However, the best effect hands down is when the Grand High Witch casts a spell which is visually represented by laser beams exploding out of her eyeballs to cause the offending member of her coven to erupt into flames.

Plot spoilers to follow, if you don’t want to be spoiled for a 30 year old children’s movie.

After being introduced to the concept of witches by his grandmother (who lost her childhood friend to a child-hating witch), the protagonist, a young boy named Luke, is turned into a mouse as part of an evil plot by the Grand High Witch to destroy all the children in England. The witches of England have gathered under the guise of attending a dinner for “The Royal Society for the Prevention Of Cruelty to Children” at the same time that Luke and his grandmother are attending the same hotel while on a vacation for the grandmother’s health. He and another boy, Bruno, are used to demonstrate a potion that transforms children into mice so that they will be killed by exterminators, predators or the children’s own parents. As mice, the boys work with the grandmother to steal the potion from the grand high witch’s room to pour into the soup they will eat at that night’s celebratory dinner. They succeed and all the witches of England are transformed into mice in a delightfully terrifying transformation sequence which causes the whole ballroom to fall into chaos.

The messaging of Dahl’s books have always been a bit muddled; they flit between modern Brother’s Grimm-esque morality tales where the protagonist is put through repeated trials to come out stronger in spite of the troubles they’ve traversed but hinge on lazy stereotypes that no longer hold up to scrutiny under the lens of the modern day reader/film watcher. There is always a hapless fat child who acts a foil to the good thin child, or in this case a cabal of evil, ugly childless women who cause a boy to distrust the entire gender. The movie has deliberately softened the blow of the sexist undercurrents (I believe it’s much more overt in the original book) by introducing, in the last 20 seconds of the movie, a witch who was slighted by the Grand High Witch who now uses her powers for good instead of evil. Does this fix the narrative’s central misogynistic problem? Not entirely, and what it might attempt to solve completely obliterates the most important line, and message, of the film. Please understand that this is a book (and really, an author) who I feel explicit cognitive dissonance toward. I like many aspects of this story, but dislike much of it as well. I find myself excusing the worst parts of the story to uplift the parts that speak the most to me. Because of that I am asking you to indulge me when I discuss the final scene of both the movie and the book and why the change, while understandable, does the message to children a disservice.

In this movie, Luke is turned back into a human by the aforementioned good witch (which kind of raises some questions about Luke and his grandmother’s future plans to kill every witch in America next; what if they’re decent or can become decent?). The movie is a simple adventure story where the protagonist overcomes a trial. It’s good fun and I can’t fault it for that. In fact I liked this movie a lot! It’s silly and scary! But… 

In the book, he remains a mouse. Luke is permanently changed by the experience and no matter what he cannot go back to the child he was before he was hurt. But by the end of the book he has embraced it and refused to let the experience change who he is as a person…er, mouse. Explicitly in the text of the book, Luke is likely only to live another few years because of his transformation, but he is comfortable with this fact, as he does not want to outlive his old grandmother.

A refusal to be defined by your suffering because you are buoyed by the love of someone who understands it is the bittersweet ending that this movie (understandably) lacks. And yet, “The Witches” is a totally pleasant movie that would be good for brave or horror seeking kids looking to dip their toes in the genre. In the end, at least, the best and most poignant line of the book is preserved:

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.”


Also, who doesn’t want to be that little mouse puppet. Come on.


Okay, there’s actually one more thing I need to address in this review but there’s no organic way to fit it into the above paragraphs but in the movie, when Luke is a mouse, he gets cut by a chef’s clever and a piece of his tail gets chopped off. How does this translate to when he gets turned back into a human?! Is it like a finger or is a piece of his butt missing?!? The fact that this was NOT addressed in any way has kept me up at night. This is really the greatest mystery of the whole movie.