“Gruß vom Krampus,” loosely translates to English as “Greetings from the Krampus.” In case you don’t know what or who the Krampus is, I will preface this by saying that this is not exactly the warmest of greetings. I mean, do you want to be greeted by the antithesis of Santa? You might think, oh, that doesn’t sound so bad, but let me assure you that this mythical horned, cloven-hoofed being is not merely bringing coal; it’s out to switch naughty children with twigs … or worse.
It is unclear exactly when and where the Krampus myth originated. The only thing that scholars can agree on is that the half-goat, half-demon Santa-foil creature originated in Alpine Europe during pre-Christian times. Although it is certainly a fearsome figure, Krampus continues to be honored in European countries (Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, etc.) who celebrate through Krampuslauf (the Krampus run, where people in Krampus costumes compete in a race), honor Krampusnacht (Krampus Night, December 5, takes place before the Feast of St. Nicholas), and participate in Perchtenlauf (a seasonal play/procession event).
Krampus does not just live on in customary traditions, however. This chilling creature has also unsurprisingly made its way into popular culture. It’s become somewhat of a trendy entity in America (I’ll admit I do have a Krampus t-shirt) … a bit of the hipster Santa Claus, but the horror films featuring this beast provide a much-needed counter to the slew of cheesy family-friendly movies on every TV channel and streaming service this time of the year.
According to IMDB, there are ten Krampus movies — from the 1965 Krampus and Angelika and the 1969 Der Krampus, to shorts like Night of the Krampus (2013) and more recent feature-length films. Admittedly, I have not seen all of these, but I did thoroughly enjoy Krampus (2015). The film follows the dysfunctional Engel family as they all come together to celebrate Christmas. Max (Emjay Anthony), son of Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), is a devout Santa believer with a very detailed “Dear Santa” letter. When his cousins find the letter and read it out loud at the table, Max, mortified, rips it up. This action, combined with Grandma Omi’s (Krista Stadler) very German heritage and beliefs, invokes the Krampus. And the night moves from one rough family dinner to a long, violent battle for survival. A film that combines strong character development with B-movie material, beautifully balancing horror and dark humor, Krampus is well worth adding to your holiday movie queue.
Finally, don’t forget that Krampus is not of your milk-and-cookies variety. He’s here for the strong stuff; schnapps being the drink of choice, so leave out a generous glass of your best fruity brandy.