I was on the fence about whether or not I would be seeing Michael Doughtry’s Krampus. One the one hand, his Halloween anthology, Trick R Treat, is one of my all-time favorite movies; on the other, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies. Knowing that comedy plays a huge role in Doughtry’s work tipped the scales in favor of a trip to the cinema.
The opening titles hadn’t finished rolling before I decided that Krampus was my new favorite movie of the Christmas season. Andy William’s infamous voice croons “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” while that swirly, pretty holiday font spells out the cast names and deal-hungry people maul each other and shove in traditional Black Friday madness. As someone who’s worked in retail for several years, I can honestly it was the most accurate portrayal of seasonal insanity I’ve seen, and I’ve never laughed so hard at a movie.
Krampus follows the Engle family as they prepare for yet another Christmas with in-laws they barely tolerate. Max (Emjay Anthony) is relentlessly teased by his cousins for writing a letter to Santa. All he wants is to spend time with his older sister, Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), for his parents to fall in love again, and for his aunt and uncle to have an easier year. So much Christmas joy in that little kid, until, in a fit of anger, he tears up his letter and throws it out the window, accidentally summoning a Christmas demon.
The legend of Krampus is based in Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore. Unlike Saint Nick, Krampus comes to punish the wicked children, usually beating them until they’re blind and deaf, or shoving them into a sack to snack on later. One of the great aspects about the film was the decision to incorporate the German grandmother, tying in the legend of Krampus to what otherwise could have been just another scary Christmas movie. I enjoyed the German dialogue and how they established cultural traditions, which they carried through the storyline.
Stylistically, there’s a perfect blend of CGI and animated elements with costume and makeup characters. Krampus is actually the first thing you see once the snowball gets rolling. Horror movies generally stick to the “never/rarely show the monster” rule, but he had a fair amount of presence. You don’t get to see his face until the end, but it’s clear that he’s a demon who loves what he does. Krampus has a darkly playful vibe to him through the whole film that I find at once enchanting and absolutely terrifying.
Like any good Christmas film, there are also elves, be-fanged teddy bears, and a man-eating Jack-in-the-box. Luckily, there’s no gore, so if you were on the fence about content, you’re safe.
My favorite moment was the unexpected stop-motion interlude where Omi (Krista Stadler) tells her family about her childhood encounter with Krampus. It’s beautiful. I giggled like a mad woman through the whole thing.
Krampus is probably the most adorably horrifying film I’ve seen.
Since it is a Christmas movie, there’s plenty of “family has to put aside their differences and come together to face the problem” and “turns out they’ve liked each other all along” moments, but with the added comedy of being attacked by evil gingerbread cookies and a cloven-footed goat-man bent on sending you to hell. Despite unusual circumstances, the Engle family rediscovers the true meaning of the season.
I honestly did leave the theatre feeling pretty good, and the rest of the audience had a great time, including the two-year-old who inexplicably sat through the whole thing without so much as a peep. KRAMPUS wasn’t blood and guts scary, but there was definitely some adult material in there. I wonder if he’ll have nightmares.
The ending can take you in one of two directions: either you’ll love it, and delight in the horrible holiday cheer, or you may be like that one guy who stood up and pretended to leave. I thought it was a fitting conclusion to what—for me—is a quintessential Christmas film.
Let me know (spoiler free, of course) what you thought if you went to see it! Keep the Christmas spirit alive and well!
Meghan Harker is a Horror writer for Girls in Capes. She’s currently working on her own Gothic novel and hosts the Courting Casualties podcast. When not writing, she’s either drawing, reading, hunting antiques, or lamenting that she wasn’t born in the 1800s. If you follow her on Twitter (@ExquisitelyOdd), you might get the chance to play Guess Who’s Dead!, her favorite post-mortem photography game (no one else likes to play.)