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.”
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.
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.
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.