Director: Michael Dougherty
Writer: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, Todd Casey
Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler
Seen on: 18.12.2015
The Engel family are preparing for Christmas which mostly means hating the stress and fearing the time they have to spend together with the extended family. Only Omi (Krista Stadler) – Austrian for granny – and Max (Emjay Anthony) really seem to like Christmas and be in the mood for it. But when the family fighting and the tension becomes too much for Max, he decides to take it out on Christmas itself and unwittingly summons Krampus, Santa’s evil helper who punishes all those who aren’t in the Christmas spirit.
When the first trailers for Krampus – an originally Austrian myth – dropped, puzzledpeaces’ reaction was that she now knew what cultural appropriation feels like (personally I’d say that the Sound of Music is the first major instance of USAmerican appropriation of Austrian culture but that’s neither here nor there). I can say that Krampus the film has literally nothing to do with Krampus as we know him here in Austria*. But that doesn’t make the film any less entertaining, quite to the contrary.
I imagine that I would react quite differently to having my culture thus misrepresented in films all the time. But when it happens once every 50 years, it is extremely entertaining to just lean back and enjoy the hilarity of it. Starting with the (absolutely great) opening shot of mayhem at the mall in slow motion that was just wonderful to watch I knew I was in for a wild ride. When they started playing the Krampus Karol of the Bells during the credits, I knew that I had been damn right about the impression.
Not only that Krampus stops by to kill the family who doesn’t believe in Christmas anymore (a conflation of being good and loving Christmas that is not further examined by the film at all), he doesn’t come alone. He brings little helpers in all shapes and sizes and most of them brought tears in my eyes from laughter, [SPOILER] in particular the gingerbread men [/SPOILER].
The film is also inhabited by some of the stupidest protagonists ever – which, considering horror history, is rather hard to pull off. But then again the film generally doesn’t make much sense [and they really didn’t get what actually makes Krampus horrible, at least in my opinion: the sanctioned violence. The harsh punishment that everybody accepts as absolutely normal without even flinching. That the horror he often provokes, at least in children, is seen as part of the educational process and even as fun by the adults supposed to protect them]. Stupid characters in a film that doesn’t make sense is at least fitting.
But the cast is great. They even got a bona fide Austrian in Krista Stadler to play Omi (she even did her own synchronization in the German version which was a nice touch). And the film brings the right amount of seriousness to the topic, which is none at all. I expected the film to be so bad it’s funny and I got actual hilarity with the added enhancement of watching it as an Austrian.
*If you really want to get into the Austrian mythology bit, we’ll have to start with the fact that Santa Clause, or Saint Nikolaus/Nikolo as we know him, doesn’t visit Austrian children on Christmas. There are two versions of how things go down, actually: One is that kids will leave their shoes in front of their doors on December 5th in the evening and in the morning on December 6th, they’ll find sweets in the shoes – if they’ve been good. If they’ve been bad, they’ll find coals which is the “gift” Krampus gives them. When I was a very small child, often you’d get your sweets mounted on a small branch, possibly to symbolize the Krampus’ ambility to birch you if you haven’t been good. That’s not really being done anymore. The other is that on the 6th of December, in the early evening, both Santa and Krampus will come to the house together in person (usually played by local teenagers who can earn a buck that way and/or, depending on the region, a schnaps in every house they visit). Santa will hand out gifts (usually sweets, traditionally peanuts, tangerines and dried fruit, now chocolate more often than not) and Krampus will either birch the bad kids or pack them in his sack and carry them off to parts unknown, but believed to be horrible and hellish. He is a devil after all.
Basically you can consider the visit of Nikolo and Krampus as the early warning system for Christmas itself when Christkind (literally Baby Jesus) flies from house to house to hand out presents: if you haven’t been good enough for Nikolo, you’re certainly not good enough for Christkind and it’s probably best if Krampus takes you away anyway.