Krampus (2015) Is One of the Most Underrated Christmas Movies Ever
Make sure to watch this one and not something like Krampus: Origins from 2018.
‘Twas a time before COVID-19, 2015 to be exact. Globally, people frequently theatres in droves, wanting to see the biggest blockbusters and the more intimate indies. Almost exactly five years ago–this article being off by one day–a movie titled Krampus premiered in the United States of America.
It was not of much interest to me, but I wanted to just see a movie–and believe me, the screening room that I found myself at was so desolate that it wouldn’t appear much different than screening rooms now. It was only meant to be a Christmas turd to abhor, a flick to condemn in a list of worst movies at the end of the year.
Then I delighted in it. Worse yet, my admiration for it has only increased in the years since. Reflection on it is not as uncommon as expected when I walked out of the theatre that day. It turns out that Krampus is great and, periodically, I still ponder it. This article has to contain one of the largest backhanded compliments I’ll ever commit to the internet. But first, you need to know exactly what it is.
Krampus is directed by Michael Dougherty–known for writing a bunch of flicks but also directing Trick ‘r Treat and, most recently, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It is based on the Austro-Bavarian folklore; more specifically a character named Krampus (who woulda thunk it?). If you don’t know, he’s the opposite of Santa Clause, punishing naughty people with more than just a lump of coal.
Krampus is described by National Geographic as “half-goat, half-demon.” In the portrayal of him in this film, he is described by Tyler Selig of Flickmetic.com as being a “bad dude.” The actual word I wanted to use, and have used before, has been censored because I keep it PG on this website; but you might hear it coming out of the mouth of Samuel L. Jackson.
The Engels are a dysfunctional family who don’t seem to believe that Christmas is special enough for them to put aside their differences and behave with jovial spirit. Unable to function normally, this causes Max Engel–a child who believes in Christmas–to erupt and announce that he hates the most beloved of holidays. This entices Krampus and believe me, Krampus shows up.
I love this scene.
It received mixed reviews on average upon release. I didn’t want to father an article that proclaimed it as a great underrated Christmas movie without knowing if it could be classified as such, so I took the liberty to find some of the reception on popular websites such as IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. This is not the final statement on quality but it’s something more credible than my personal anecdotes.
As you can see, the users on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes feel roughly the same on average (since the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is out of five, not ten). The critics fall in line as well. So then I wandered over to Metacritic, where the critics were not having it and–
–the 304 users who rated it like it more than on the other websites. Now, 304 people is not exactly an indication of your ordinary person handing out praise with largesse. But it’s refreshing to me. Then, as I was browsing Metacritic, I noticed something substantial and world altering.
Krampus is the people’s champ.
So now for the backhanded compliment that I presaged earlier. Billed as a horror comedy, it doesn’t succeed tremendously well as either a horror or a comedy. And yet it revels in being unabashedly fun to such a degree that it’s one of the better Christmas movies I’ve ever witnessed. It’s so much fun that I got lost in it and, in a sense, my mind flipped a switch and subconsciously approached it with the same expectation as I would an action movie.
The film opens with humans frantically shopping with the same unfortunate zest that any retail clerk fears. We see the calamity that is rampant Christmas consumerism as people shove and crush each other, vying for a chance to get, I don’t know, a television? Dougherty plays it for laughs, cutting the audio of the carnage and replacing it with the familiar–and soothing–ASMR fuel that is “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” by Bing Crosby.
It’s not original nor innovative to mock how people act at this time of the year in this manner, but it’s still expertly done. It garnered a chuckle from me upon my recent re-watch. More importantly, it sets the tone. Okay, so this is a tongue-in-cheek approach to a terrifying folklore legend.
Admittedly, tonal shifts are relatively abundant here. One of the more incessant criticisms is that it can’t handle bouncing back and forth between the two worlds. Possibly, I’m willing to entertain the argument even if it’s improbable that I’ll agree.
It embraced silliness and toys with it. It throws in a brief animated section at one point for no apparently reason. Perhaps it can’t always juggle its ambitions, but at the same time it’s so playful.
Since it partially inhabits the horror genre this could be seen as a failure, but as previously stated, this stopped being that to me. Look, I get it, even though it slaps humour into the proceedings one of the most fundamental and primary focuses should still be to terrify the viewer and this does not do that. There are certainly elements that are likely to cause nightmares, but yes, it’s not a real earnest attempt as a whole. Still didn’t care.
It’s not an incompetent film that requires the viewer to lower standards. If I’ve insinuated that then I’ve done a disservice. Dougherty actually showcased some visual flair, specifically in how snow was treated. Living in Canada, I know firsthand how snow is simultaneously beautiful and perfect fodder for intense dread, isolation and oppression. He also knew this from the looks of things. In all honesty, presenting snow in a nuanced yet impactful way is a shortcut to making me appreciate the aesthetic and atmosphere.
The creature designs were sufficiently ghastly, while not having to resort to being grotesque. They are realistic enough to be believable in this universe but off-putting enough to be deranged. The design for Krampus himself is a nice counterpoint to Kris Kringle while the “Krampus Helpers” are… well, creepy. Elves are creepy anyway. Screw elves.
According to The-Numbers.com, Krampus generated a profit, which is heartening. I’m not here to tell you that it’s one of the best films ever unleashed upon us–what I am saying is that it’s one of the best Christmas movies ever unleashed upon us. That’s seriously controversial and I’m aware that I’m revealing myself to the hounds, but I have an adulation for it that can’t be tamed.
In closing, I want to speak momentarily from the heart. In preparation for this dissertation about a film that has been thrown away by everybody else, I visited MRQE and observed some praise from critics. I had seen their scores aggregated, but not individually since I didn’t delve that deep into it prior. Upon careful research–a quick scroll–I was elated every time somebody awarded it a score such as 8/10.
It may be fewer than I would have liked, but those who adore Krampus at similar levels to myself exist in the wild. Like any good Christmas movie, it was then that the true meaning of the holiday spoke to me. We came together for a prevalent goal, and while we will never physically meet, we are unified for even a fleeting moment. But we are not solitary, and I love all of you who also love Krampus.
Also, skip ahead three years and Toni Collette–who is in this–deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance in Hereditary. That’s all I’ve really been trying to say here.
He is a bad boy all the time but Krampus avoids him.