“Krampus” is the best holiday horror film in years..and yes, we mean that
A popular topic of conversation among people who don’t have children is just “how terrible the children are today.” Years ago, apparently, children were angels who did what their parents said all the time and consequently knew exactly how to behave around adults who have no interest in them. Having spent quite a bit of time working with children, the idea that they are in any way fundamentally different from their predecessors is untrue.
Children are, in broad terms, self-serving, narcissistic, argumentative and emotional. In other words, they act just like adults, but on a smaller scale. Poorly functioning grownups produce poorly functioning kids, which perpetuates the cycle of a poorly functioning society.
If this seems pessimistic, the new holiday film “Krampus” is probably not for you. “Krampus” offers a unique solution to the inane greed and dismay the holidays bring every year: punishment by a giant, horned, goat-footed abomination of Santa Claus. It’s the type of film that chills the heart and laughs bitterly in the face of a two-month-long holiday season of giving that is increasingly devoid of any goodness or redemption. In short, “Krampus” is a great way to fill an afternoon.
Most German-speaking cultures have a unique way of instilling discipline into their children. While Americans tend to go overboard on positive reinforcement, there is nothing quite as effective as scaring young people into compliance through tales of supernatural violence. Most Germanic folklore is downright frightening, filled with blood, gore and death—most of which happens to children. Kids are easily led, as innocence often begets ignorance, so telling children tales about monsters to keep them in line is more effective than not.
“Krampus” is one such tale, one that never quite made it into the mainstream American culture. Our tendency to take the best parts of any given situation while downplaying any potentially negative consequences has to be rooted somewhere in our founding documents. “The pursuit of happiness” lends itself to ignoring the reality of sadness. And thus, being bad during Christmastime results in a lump of coal, rather than being whisked away to the underworld in a sackful of weeping children by an ancient spirit.
It is the advent of the internet, in all its glory, that led to the discovery of the Krampus by American culture. Over the past few years, more and more references to this mystical beast have popped up in social media. Krampus-like creatures have begun appearing in various forms of popular culture, including basic cable television shows like “The League.”
We have been missing a good holiday horror film from Hollywood. Besides 1984’s “Gremlins,” in which Christmas was largely incidental, holiday horror pictures like “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and “Jack Frost” have been relegated to bargain bins and the backrooms of video stores (back when there were video stores). “Krampus” is a better film than both of these genre classics by a wide margin, although the PG-13 rating makes it much less gory than it might have been.
The film tells an age-old story: boy loves Christmas, boy hates relatives, boy gets angry and says he hates Christmas, boy gets family murdered by monstrous Christmas toys. You know, that old chestnut. The film is delightfully funny and as lighthearted as it can be while bloodlessly killing off the main characters. Director Michael Dougherty has very few features under his belt, but “Krampus” is effective and charming in the way a Christmas horror film ought to be.
It boasts an impressive number of practical effects, rather than relying on CGI, which gives the film a stronger, creepier atmosphere than the typical Hollywood horror. However, the film frequently lacks the bite that it should. The studio appears to have been insistent on its having a wide appeal. That being said, it has the potential to be a classic among a certain class of moviegoer.
While watching the film, I was reminded of “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” a Finnish film about an evil Santa Claus. “Krampus” is not as well executed, as Hollywood films have to make certain sacrifices to be marketable in the U.S., but it shares a similar tone.
There’s nothing like a good horror film with an underlying bit of humor. Americans need a little darkness in their celebrations—without that, our children don’t know just how good they have it.