When the cheesy classics of Christmas start feeling repetitive and bland, it's time to throw some horror in the mix. The best movie for this? Krampus (2015).
This film centres around a frightening depiction of the German Christmas legend Krampus, a demonic antithesis of Santa, who celebrates the yuletide season by punishing children. On a good day, this punishment consists of a birch-branch whipping (anyone who’s seen The Office remembers Dwight’s rendition of Belsnickel with a similar form of discipline). For those extra-naughty kids, however, Krampus traditionally opts to kidnap them, stuff them in a sack, and drag them to Hell to be devoured.
The plot of Krampus takes this legendary horror and makes it contemporary. The film follows a dysfunctional family holiday gathering where they inadvertently summon the dark being Krampus after losing their Christmas spirit. As a result, the family finds themselves encountering a series of increasingly supernatural and terrifying events.
This movie is a horror-comedy, with the humour setting in immediately. We start in the mall, which is also an embodiment of the horrors of the holiday season itself. The film presents us with a slo-mo montage of Christmas chaos: Frantic crowds, panic-shopping, crying children, perverted mall Santas and the commercialization of a religious and cultural celebration that is, in theory, supposed to be about love and family.
At this point, we barely need the ancient malevolent being, since this too-real reflection of North American Christmastime is scary enough — it reminds us of what we all truly are in the midst of the holiday season: Greedy little assholes.
The cast of this film sparkles with wit as they put new spins on classic character archetypes that are reminiscent of Christmas movies like Christmas with the Kranks and Home Alone — the warm-hearted, idealistic son Max (Emjay Anthony); the workaholic father (Adam Scott); the snarky teenage daughter (Stefania La Vie Owen) and the judgemental, alcoholic Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell).
My personal favourites were the tyrannical visiting cousins, and their gun-toting, republican patriarch, hilariously brought to life by David Koechner.
Though the slapstick comedy and the talented cast are highlights, this film’s real unique strength lies in its practical effects. Krampus is a total callback to 80s horror flicks like Gremlins (1984), Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988).
Krampus is populated by a collection of creepy little freaks: Terrifying practical puppets, animatronics and creatures made real with the use of silicone masks and makeup. These effects are aided by a sprinkling of CGI and animation, which only adds to the visceral tangibility of these monsters. This impressive array of practical effects was accomplished by the team at Weta Workshop, a special effects company based in New Zealand.
I’ll admit I have a fear of clowns, and seeing a massive, nightmarish “Jack-in-the-Box” beast with creepy, hollow doll eyes and a set of jagged teeth almost made me shit my pants. The fact that someone made not just one, but three different heads for this thing — which still exists somewhere in a warehouse — keeps me up at night.
The movie ends with a haunting twist and a parodied rendition of “Carol of the Bells,” which captures the essence of the film in a simple, catchy tune: “This will be a very scary Christmas.”
Other Christmas horror movies exist, and I’ve seen quite a few of them. The reason why Krampus reigns supreme is because it’s not just a horror film set at Christmas — it’s a movie where Christmas IS the horror.
It also carries a very important yuletide message: Appreciate your family, spread love and embrace the Christmas spirit, or you will be hunted, terrorized and punished by a petrifying ancient spirit of darkness. Merry Christmas!