Ho ho ho and stuff! Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, and Yule! I hope y’all have been able to enjoy the season. If you haven’t, have some horror, on me.
I’m mega pumped because today I’m deconstructing Krampus [2015, directed by Michael Dougherty]. Before we dig into this delicious nugget, let’s understand exactly who Krampus is.
A brief history
Krampus is an ancient idea, older than even Santa Claus (or Saint Nicholas). The deepest origins of Krampus come from pagan practices (worshipping a horned god). By the 17th century, the Germanic tradition had tied Krampus to Saint Nicholas in an attempt to scare young children into behaving. Kind of like Grimm’s fairy tales. Those old-timey Germans liked their kids living in abject terror.
Krampus visited each year, whipping wicked kids with birch branches. Especially bad kids were kidnapped and taken back to his lair to be tortured, possibly eaten, or even thrown into hell. Parenting at its finest.
Read more about the adventures of Santa Claus and Krampus here.
Christmas is about family
I said it before – part of the horror of the holiday is being stuffed in tight quarters with people you would never normally be around. This movie does a great job of establishing the divide between these two branches of people who are on opposite sides of the wealth spectrum. Our main family lives in a huge gorgeous house with vaulted ceilings, subway tiles on their kitchen backsplash, and has decorated every inch of it with lights and greens. Their neighbors take holiday in the tropics. The familial bickering and unhappiness isn’t rooted in anything truly negative. This family’s only crime is that they are pretty awful to each other.
Part of this movie’s horror is actual truth: this holiday is not all holly jolly. Most of us are just trying to make it through. We’ve all done what Sarah does for the holiday: going way overboard, putting way too much effort into food prep (I mean, individual crème brulees and sparkling water? Really?), and standing in the corner practicing deep breathing saying, “It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas.”
Homage to the classics
Krampus pays homage to the Christmas classics:
- The credit typography is straight out of White Christmas.
- The music transitions from whimsical kid’s movie to old-timey tunes.
- Our main hero’s name is Max, like Max the dog from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, who is filled with holiday cheer in a home that is devoid of it.
- Omi’s flashback is done in a claymation style, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
- Max is held over a hell pit in the finale and dropped in before he wakes up in his own bed on Christmas morning (much like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol).
It’s all in the creepy details
This movie nails pacing. Reality breaks down quickly after the characters have been introduced and the cracks have been shown. The last bit of reality – the delivery man – dies almost immediately, letting us know that everything is different now.
Horror starts to reveal itself in small and large ways:
- The antique advent calendar has that creepy 1930’s cartoon vibe to it.
- Those snowmen that keep appearing outside look like they were built by a mental patient from the Great Depression. That is not normal.
- We get a slow reveal on each of Krampus’ minions, and Krampus himself.
- Krampus doesn’t appear until the last few minutes of the movie, but oh my dear Lord is he just completely terrifying. His horns come swinging out of the fireplace, hoofs stomping onto the hearth, smashing a porcelain Santa Claus, and then we see him full-view. The worst and most horrible part of his design is how human he looks. His face and hands are distinctly human, which makes his horns, swirling tongue, and soulless black eyes even worse to behold.
- The elves look like pagan revelers and even build a pagan spire in the ending scene.
Laughing and screaming
Horror comedies are the best! This one has a wicked sense of humor:
- There’s an ongoing joke that Howie wanted all boy children, and he named his daughters Stevie and Jordan. There’s also an unnamed baby who is a girl, like after he had his son he couldn’t be bothered to name his baby girl.
- The demon gingerbread men dangle a large hook from the fireplace and whistle a cartoonish “yoohoo” to catch Howie Jr. like a fish.
- An old timey “Up on the Rooftop” plays when Krampus finally lands on the family’s house.
- Lots of one-liners, like, “I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies, so I think I can handle it!” and “I don’t even know how to drive a stick – we have a hybrid!”
- Krampus uses a long curled claw to wipe away Max’s tear before laughing in his face and throwing him down into hell.
How good is your grandmother in a crisis?
Look, I might be made up of Scottish and Irish genes, but I want a badass German grandmother who knows how to deal with supernatural phenomenon. This woman bakes up a forest of holiday goodies, maintains a raging fire, and serves lots of hot chocolate. It’s only later that we realize that her aggressive holiday cheer is actually a weapon against Krampus. And when the blizzard hits, she switches from spatulas to knives.
You’re doing it WRONG.
As well equipped with weapons as this family is, they make constant terrible decisions. It really plays into the idea of the paranoid American, who has closets full of guns and an NRA membership. Would they really know what to do in a crisis? Let’s take a look:
- They let their daughter go out in a mysterious blizzard of near-biblical proportions.
- They aren’t alarmed that there was a surprise mysterious blizzard of near-biblical proportions.
- They’re pigging out on nothing but sugar during a blizzard. Get some protein in there! You never know what’s coming to your door! You think you can face it during a sugar crash?
- They run down the batteries in all of their devices on games and movies instead of trying to figure out what the fresh hell is going on.
- They light ALL of their candles and don’t save any for reserves. They also light them next to live greens. Sure, let’s burn down the house while we try to survive a blizzard and hellions.
- They don’t have an emergency radio. They haven’t seen anyone else in a day, and the army isn’t driving through with emergency supplies. They are not worried but should be very, extremely worried.
- No one stays awake to stand guard. There are 6 adults in that house. Someone can stay awake. Unless, you know, they all crashed from the sugar load they’ve been eating.
- The first time they see the snow plow, they leave it. They also don’t check it for supplies.
- I’ll say it for the second time this month – THEY DON’T BARACADE THE HOUSE OR DO A FULL SWEEP. Why is this so hard? They have guns, knives, and manpower. Go check the attic! And maybe throw out the mysterious old and creepy-looking boxes that showed up on the porch for no reason?
Christmas is built and destroyed by all of us
The main message here as shown in the plot and in the construction of this world is that we determine this holiday. Entirely. It’s a holiday that is not as old as Krampus. Think about how young our Christmas specials, songs, and traditions are. If this family kept up the bare minimum of holiday cheer, none of this would have happened. It shows how children pick up on adult stress and misery and harbor it for themselves. How they can call the beast with their bitterness when things seem dark.
We’re in a dark time right now, so let’s not share that with each other. We’ve got a few days off from work and the perfect excuse to file our fears away for a few days. Can you dig it?
Share warmth, cocoa, the hard drinks if you’re into that, and some cookies. Not too many cookies though, never know when Krampus will show up. Take care, have a wonderful holiday, and I’ll see you in the New Year.