Monday, December 5, 2016

"Krampus" (2015)

My favorite film of all time is a Christmas movie. And I have several other Christmas films in a steady rotation each holiday season. Then there are the non-Christmas flics that make it onto a lot of people’s annual traditions. Movies like “While You Were Sleeping” or “Die Hard.” Well, I may have stumbled onto a genuine Christmas gem that will be out of bounds for some because it is a horror movie. (Albeit a horror comedy.) The movie in question is last year’s “Krampus.”

For those who don’t know, Krampus is a traditional Christmas creature in the Alpine areas of Europe. Even people in Germany who don’t live near the Alps don’t generally know who he is. On December 6th, when St. Nicholas goes around rewarding good children for their good behavior, in the Alpine areas he is accompanied by one or more devil-looking creatures. These Krampus snatch the bad kids in a sack or a basket, or in more forgiving areas they simply beat the bad kids with a stick.

“Krampus” takes this concept, mixes it with healthy doses of Christmas family comedy a la “Christmas Vacation,” eighties lighthearted horror a la “Gremlins,” and a strong hint of the preachiness of “A Christmas Carol.”

Things open with a shot that could have started any number of zombie movies from the past several years. A crowd storms a building, knocking over guards and trampling anyone in their way. People are fighting and yelling at each other. But this is not a zombie apocalypse or even a riot. It is simply people doing their Christmas shopping. Scenes are interspersed with parents coaching kids into the perfect smile for perfect Santa pictures, and money being methodically paid out for all amounts of material junk. All the while “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” plays on the soundtrack.

After this we see the Engel family arriving home from this chaos. The Austrian grandmother, Omi, makes cookies with “A Christmas Carol” on the television in the corner. Max, the son, has been in a fight with a classmate who was telling younger ids that Santa isn’t real. He tries to get the family to join him in traditional holiday fun, but they are all self-involved and anyway… the cousins are about to show up.

When the cousins do arrive, they discover Max’s letter to Santa and embarrass him by reading it aloud at the dinner table. His wish list is simply for things to be like they used to be, when the family loved each other and everyone enjoyed the special holiday traditions. Later in his room, he tears up the letter and tosses it out the window. That night a blizzard rolls in and renders the entire town powerless.

It seems that Max was the last person in town holding on to the true meaning of Christmas. When he gave up, that opened the door to Krampus. Omi will later explain that Krampus is Santa’s darker side, and when people forget the true message of Christmas, LOVE and SACRIFICE, Krampus shows up not to reward and give, but to punish and take. The first evidences of the change (aside from the power outage) are a creepy snowman in the yard and a bag of unaddressed presents on the stoop.

A particularly important conversation occurs later once things have come to light. One of the cousins asks if they can fix things by being good and honoring some traditions. Omi tells her: “It isn’t about what you do, but rather about what you believe; about what you’ve given up in [your heart.]”

One by one the family is picked off by Krampus or one of his toy-minions, until Max is the only one left. When his grandmother experienced this tragedy as a child, she was left as a lone survivor and reminder of what forgetting the meaning of Christmas will do to a community. Max refuses to face the same tragic fate. He chases Krampus down and demands that things be set right. He offers himself in trade for his family; to be a sacrifice.

Krampus seems to consider this, and then laughs. He tosses Max into the underworld along with his family, but then Max wakes up and it is Christmas morning! He goes downstairs and finds the entire family waiting on him to open presents. Things are different, and better. As the presents are passed out, Max opens one and it is a Krampus bell. As everyone sees it, they pause and remember. It wasn’t a dream at all. They have been given a second chance. The camera pans out the window and then out from a snow globe where we see Krampus is keeping watch on the family. Credits roll as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” begins to play…

You better watch out.
You better not cry.
You better not pout.
I’m telling you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

It doesn’t quite get the real meaning of Christmas, for sure. But it does a good job of indicting what we currently celebrate for the many shortcomings that have crept into its place.

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