Directed by Mike Dougherty
What BAD SANTA did to Santa Claus, KRAMPUS does to Christmas in general. Although Krampus’ visits are traditionally on December 5, as far as this movie is concerned, it’s a Christmas Eve story. Which is fine, since we all know Christmas Eve is the best time for ghost and horror stories. Isn’t it?
This is a very, very wicked little parable, boys and girls, about what happens if you disbelieve in Christmas, or if you tear up your letter to Santa Claus. That’s what a little boy named Max does at the beginning of this film. Out the window goes the torn pieces. Into the house comes the Nightmare. And what had already seemed to Max as a very nasty Christmas Eve—what with the horrid relatives gathering and all that—turns really, REALLY bad. He hadn’t counted on the old Swiss folklore tale dating back to the 1600s of Krampus, the malevolent punisher of Those Who Disbelieve. Parenthetically, I already knew about KNECHT REPRECHT, who comes at Christmas to punish bad children, but this guy KRAMPUS, is a new one on me.
You can find out all about this tradition in the new issue of Rue Morgue (December 2015), one of the better zines out there devoted to the weird and the fantastic. Seems like the roots of the Krampus story are certainly –pre-Christian. The beast’s name is taken from the German word for claw (“Krampen”), who is said to be the son of Hel, a partially rotted Norse god who rules the Land of the Dead. Krampus’s beating stick is considered to be a pagan symbol symbol associated with witches. And perhaps the creature’s chains represent Christianity’s unsuccessful attempts to restrict and bind it.
So be it. As the boy watches in growing horror, the wind stirs up, the blizzard falls, the house’s power shuts off, and a gang of very strange Snowmen gathers outside. Inside, all the charming little Christmas toys—a jack-in-the-box, gingerbread men, other assorted cookies, tree ornaments, elves, clowns, etc.—all swell and enlarge and grow big teeth and fiery eyes and mount their attack. Worse, there’s Krampus himself, a yowling, throaty, horned-lump of a beast dragging lots of chains, who appears to preside over the deadly merriment.
One by one, the family members are picked off. Some are gobbled up. Some are hauled up the chimney on a big hook (hey, its not what comes DOWN the chimney, it’s what goes UP!). Some are dragged down into the snow by some creature burrowing under the snow, like a gigantic moie.
SPOILER ALERT. But the best is yet to come (depending on how you look at it!). After everybody is knocked off, and the boy falls to final defeat at the talons and jaws of Krampus—the boy wakes up. Whoops! I thought, we know that Scrooge woke up after his bad dream; that Jimmy Stewart woke up after his nightmare. . . but do we have to go through this again?? But hang on. The kid comes downstairs to find, to his relief, everything is back to normal—the family is restored, smiling, exchanging gifts, and eating the damned cookies. But when Max opens a small box given him by his German grandma, he finds an ornament with the name “Krampus” inscribed on it. The moment freezes. The smiles on everyone’s faces stiffen. The boy realizes Something Is Very Wrong. The camera pulls back, enlarges our view, withdraws through the windows, tracks backward through the snowy wastes. . . until we find ourselves in a gigantic sort of workshop, Krampus’ Workshop, where Christmas baubles are stacked on shelf after shelf, each globe trapping a family inside, each family just like Max’s.
Yes, the movie snatches Wicked Defeat from the jaws of Sentimental Christmas.
SLAY -bells, anyone?