Season’s greetings! The holidays are here again, and that means shopping, gifting, eating, decorating, and a hundred more things. It also means sitting down and experiencing the same old holiday media all over again. However, there is an alternative. BEHIND THE TREE is dedicated to talking about the lesser known holiday fare from film to music to television.

Seeing RUDOLPH or FROSTY for the umpteenth time robs them of their Christmas spirit. This series works to reignite it with some new favorites. We begin with a nod to our last series (THE UNSEEN HORROR) and dive into a rarity, 2015’s Christmas horror film KRAMPUS.

The Plot

Max Engel’s family gathers for Christmas, a difficult affair due to the tension between members. Max wants to enjoy Christmas traditions, but family squabbles kill the mood. Max’s cousins humiliate him, and he angrily curses Christmas, even tearing up his letter to Santa.

That night, a blizzard kills the power and cuts the house off from the neighborhood. The family realizes something is in the snow. Max’s grandmother names it– Krampus, the dark twin of St. Nicholas, out to punish those who reject the Christmas spirit. The holiday season becomes a race for survival, as the family is forced to band together to survive.

The Norwegian Christmas Comics

The Myth

KRAMPUS is unique among horror films because it is based on a real legend. Germanic and Eastern European countries started the story of Krampus. Krampus in myth traveled with St. Nicholas, bringing ruten (bundles of birch branches) he uses to punish bad children. Other versions have him capturing bad children and transporting them via a crate on it’s back.

KRAMPUS
Germans have the greatest Christmas ever

Krampus is usually portrayed as a devil-like figure, with horns, dark fur, cloven feet, and a long tongue. Krampus enjoys great popularity in Europe, despite its dark nature. Many countries celebrate Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) on Dec. 6th; patrons dress as the creature and wander the streets, usually scaring children.

Devil In Film

KRAMPUS takes some liberties with the source material; the film depicts Krampus having servants based on twisted Christmas icons (cookies, elves, toys), and he now punishes those who reject Christmas. The film remains a good depiction of the Krampus myth though, as it gives the monster a purpose.

It does not kill with total abandon; it seeks to punish the uncaring Engels by making them stew in fear before turning the holiday against them. It’s a methodical approach that gives the film a tense mood, especially as the adults try to keep everyone calm.

The design of Krampus stands as another positive. The creature retains elements like the horns and cloven feet. It wears a dirty red Santa robe over its misshapen body and wears a Santa mask over its face. The creature looks terrifying and fits the idea of a twisted Santa perfectly.

KRAMPUS
…..I have to stoke the chimney fire…..

The Family That Slays Together…

The film makes mistakes with the human story, however. The Engels feel very thinly drawn. The two sides are broad drawings of conservative (we talk about guns and hate any food that isn’t hot dogs and mac and cheese) and liberal (we own too much stuff and cook rich food to show how worldly we are) stereotypes.

There’s no nuance to be had here, and it makes the family feel worn. Director Michael Doughtery (TRICK R TREAT) seems too eager to get to Krampus and ignores moments that could add depth. Max’s Christmas letter (where he asks Santa to help his family members be happy) addresses real issues, but the family never acknowledges it.

Despite the flaws, the performances are still solid. Toni Collette nails the mother stressed over making the perfect holiday. David Koechner acts his role of a gun-toting redneck with gusto, and Adam Scott shines as the disconnected dad who reemerges to shield his family. The child actors are fine, and Krista Stadler captures the essence of Grandma Omi (especially when she recounts how she knows Krampus). These actors know their roles and would have fixed the nuance issues if given more screen time.

However, when the horror elements begin, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the fun. There’s the insanity of the family fighting a vicious jack in the box, shooting gingerbread men, and even a Christmas angel. The movie moves quickly and keeps the tension high. However, the ending is another issue.

Without saying too much, the ending is open to debate as to whether or not the family is in Hell. I choose to believe that Krampus released them (as Max made a sacrifice) but is now watching them forever. It’s interesting to interpret, but a solid ending would have been nice.

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Final Thoughts On KRAMPUS

KRAMPUS works as an imperfect, but still an enjoyable film. The monster effects are excellent, and when the atmosphere changes, the film is at it’s best. The beginning and ending contain the most problems, but this is still a great film to transition from Halloween to Christmas. It’s also a good reminder to be nice to your family at the holidays.

Remember, he knows when you’re awake.

And what you do.

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