It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or so they tell me. All I know is that for a lot of people, the holiday season and the pressures that come along with it can be downright terrifying. Krampus, a new holiday horror movie, is in theaters now and tells the story of Max, a young boy who is trying to survive Christmas alongside his distracted older sister, his bickering parents, and his unpleasant extended family in from out of town. After watching the film, it became very clear very quickly that Krampus is destined to become a cult Christmas classic.
Now sure, scary Christmas movies are their own sub-genre and Nerdist’s own Dan Casey recently ran down a list of the best ones on The Dan Cave. But a cult Christmas favorite is something a little different than just subverting the tropes we’ve all come to expect from this time of year.
I think what makes a cult Christmas classic is a film that you reach for alongside A Muppet Christmas Carol and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, because it’s a movie that’s still in the holiday spirit… just slightly askew. Krampus, much like The Night Before, also works as a “Christmas movie” and could easily be watched alongside Home Alone or if you’re really feeling naughty, back-to-back with Elf. This is because, Krampus surprisingly has a lot of heart to it, but it also has a lot of anger, which I think is actually a lot more honest than many of the typical so-called Christmas movies. This is another reason I like Richard Donner’s Scrooged so much, but that’s a different article… Anyway, Krampus addresses real situations that come along with the holiday, like disagreeing with family, that awkward phase of growing out of certain holiday traditions, commercialism taking over the Christmas spirit, and succumbing to the unrealistic pressure to make everything “perfect.”
Not every Christmas movie needs to be sugary sweet to prove it has heart; just look at arguably one of the first cult Christmas movies, It’s A Wonderful Life. Sure, now Frank Capra’s film is considered to be a holiday staple but at the time when it arrived in theaters it tanked hard. It’s A Wonderful Life didn’t become part of the American tradition until it fell into public domain and was shown for free on network television for many years. Plus, if you’ve watched the movie recently, you’ll notice that it’s not some kindhearted romp – many of the people who live in Bedford Falls are mean and characters almost die a lot. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why I like it so much?
To its Christmas movie credit, Krampus is a morality tale much like A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. The sets are picturesque and lavish, turning what first looks like a winter wonderland into a dangerous snow covered hellscape. It also features a wonderfully traditional holiday soundtrack (oh, how I love you, “Krampus Carol of the Bells!”) and a gorgeous and completely appropriate animation sequence. And while that sequence may look like the stop motion animation in 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the content is more The Nightmare Before Christmas.
In addition to the music and the animation, the creature designs in Krampus are gnarly and terrifying, and yet, at the same time, they have so much fun with preconceived iconography associated with the holidays. Of course Krampus himself is the “dark shadow” of Saint Nicolas and comes fully equipped with demon elves, but the gingerbread man cookie, the traditional Jack-In-The-Box toy, and the holiday teddy bear all get gotten makeovers, which made me squeal with holiday horror glee.
Finally, and most importantly, Krampus features a child at the center of the story. Max, sincerely and sensitively played by Emjay Anthony, is relatable to the child in all of us – you know, that thing that we’re always trying to find by the end of every Christmas movie ever? And I’d go as far to say that someone that a lot of kids will probably relate to. He’s portrayed as self-aware and filled with love, but he’s also being squashed by the cynical world around him. While Krampus could definitely be too scary for a lot of little ones out there, its PG-13 rating feels appropriate in the vein of another cult Christmas classic, Gremlins.
Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, Krampus is a darkly funny holiday treat for boys and girls looking for a much-deserved break from all of the holiday commotion. I must have been a good little girl last year because I can’t believe a mainstream movie like this actually exists. What a nice Christmas treat for me!
Krampus, written and directed by Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘R Treat), stars Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, and David Koechner, and is in theaters now.
Editor’s Note: Nerdist Industries is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.