KRAMPUS. 2015, USA. Directed by Michael Dougherty. Written by Dougherty, Todd Casey and Zach Shields. Starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, and Krista Stadler. When I watch a movie, there are two of me sitting in the same seat. There’s that regular movie-going guy who likes blood and boobs, stuff that explodes, monsters, axe-maniacs, and the occasional light saber, rarely stopping to deeply consider what he’s seeing. We call the kind of movies that guy likes POPCORN MOVIES. But there’s another fellow who tends to tag along with him, usually uninvited. This guy likes some of the same things as his friend, but he is a seeker and connoisseur of SERIOUS CINEMA. He tends to prefer foreign movies and has an eye for cinematography, thematic motifs, and character development. This guy doesn’t just want to see a movie, he wants it to change his life. Here’s what happens when these guys experience the new holiday release KRAMPUS. CINEMA: For nearly every well-known mythological personality, religious figure, or even superhero, there is another who acts as a counterpart, adversary, shadow, or sometimes companion. For the Christian God, there is the Devil. For Superman, there is Lex Luthor. POPCORN: For Laverne, there is Shirley. CINEMA: This counterpart serves to break up the duality often found in the original personification, separating the harsher elements of a particular character from their more easily accepted aspects as they gain mainstream popularity. POPCORN: For Ren, Stimpy. CINEMA: Santa Claus, for example, arose from various sources, the prime one being Saint Nicholas. I believe we spoke about him last week. POPCORN: Beavis, Butt-head. CINEMA: As originally known to the Europeans, he wasn’t the jolly, gift-giving machine that we think of today. The early illustrations of Nicholas depict him as a symbol of discipline and punishment, not so much of merriment, holding a birch rod that would be used on those kids who hadn’t been so good. POPCORN: Me . . . CINEMA: However, as Saint Nick became more popularly accepted, these crueler parts of his identity took on a life of their own, ultimately making it necessary for them to become a separate individual that wasn’t nearly as beloved. POPCORN: You. CINEMA: One of Saint Nick’s reputed companions was Le Père Fouettard, noted as an innkeeper in some accounts, a butcher in others. In the early twelfth century, he and his wife captured three boys from a wealthy family. The intent was to rob them, but Fouettard and his wife are said to have drugged the children, slit their throats, and cut them into little pieces, packing them into a barrel. When Nicholas discovered the slaughter that had taken place, he resurrected the children – POPCORN: Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick. CINEMA: – and forced Fouettard to become his assistant. Fouettard was known in France as The Whipping Father, and Nicholas used him as a kind of fear factor to help keep the local kids in line. POPCORN: Damn, Nick was a gangsta. CINEMA: But Fouettard wasn’t even the worse variation of the companion character. In the German-influenced portion of northern France, there was an individual known as Hans Trapp, based on a real-life nobleman who’d supposedly made a pact with the Devil. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and shunned by the locals, forced to live as an exile in the wilderness. Descending into madness, he soon began to dream of eating human flesh. POPCORN: Dude, snap into a Slim Jim. For real. CINEMA: He gathered sticks and hay, disguising himself as a scarecrow, lying in wait for the perfect victim. Soon there was a young shepherd boy, about ten years old. As Hans stared at the boy, he started to drool, imagining the tender flesh he was about to taste. He pounced on the shepherd boy and ran him through with a sharpened stick. POPCORN: I seriously wonder if all that library time is good for you. CINEMA: Hans dragged the dying child back to his shack in the woods, where he cut him into bite-sized bits and roasted him over an open fire. But, just as he licked his lips, preparing to taste human flesh for the first time, he was struck by a bolt of lightning. POPCORN: Kapow! Then Santa put Hannibal on the payroll too? CINEMA: According to legend. He still visits children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, his sleeves stuffed with straw, drooling greedily over their tender flesh. He acts as Saint Nick’s companion, much like Fouettard, scaring children into being good. POPCORN: Except for pyro kids. CINEMA: But the sidekick, or counterpart, most commonly associated with Saint Nick is the one we just saw tonight – POPCORN: “A much darker, ancient spirit. His name is Krampus. He and his helpers did not come to give, but to take. He is the shadow of Saint Nicholas.” CINEMA: If Americans treat Santa Clause as a kind of secular god, then Krampus would be the Devil. Dating back to pre-Germanic paganism, his name comes from “krampen”, which translates loosely as “claw”. Tradition states that he is the son of Hel, the Norse goddess of the underworld. He also shares characteristics with creatures from Greek mythology, including satyrs and fauns, standing on two hooves and possessing a set of large horns spiraling from his skull. In many images, a long tongue lolls from his mouth. POPCORN: “I’m the Devil, now kindly undo these straps.” CINEMA: Precisely. During the 12th century, the Catholic Church attempted to banish traditional Krampus celebrations due to his devilish resemblance. As with anything the Church tries to ban, he became more popular. Similar celebrations have begun to gain popularity in the United States, such as the Krampuslauf in Philadelphia, a procession of average, otherwise normal suburbanites who like to dress up like a huge Christmas demon and march through the streets with necklaces of bones around their necks and noisemakers in their mouths. POPCORN: Like Wal-Mart on Black Friday. CINEMA: It’s not that they are against Christmas, so much as they’re tired of the saccharine, commercialized version of a day that once meant something more. POPCORN: I can dig it, dude. So does he bust out the demonic toys like he did in the movie? CINEMA: He could, I suppose. POPCORN: . . . and go all Fulci with the gates of hell out in the snow? CINEMA: Well, this was a movie, my friend. Not a documentary. However, Krampus appears in numerous variations, depending on geographic tendencies. In some of these versions, he has a washtub strapped to his back, which he uses to carry naughty children off to Hell – POPCORN: Like in the movie. CINEMA: Sure. In most of his incarnations, he also beats naughty children with the branch of a birch tree. The birch has likely connections to the initiation rites of certain witch covens, related to binding as a form of mock-death . . . rebirth, that kind of thing. The chains he was dragging, as you saw in the movie, are undoubtedly there as a Christian attempt to bind the Devil . . . POPCORN: Yeah, yeah, nobody cares. So, anyway, this family is gettin’ together for the holidays. Big fancy neighborhood with lots of trees and no potholes in the yard. CINEMA: No black people, no Mexicans. Donald Trump would love it. POPCORN: The mom is all uptight, wanting Christmas to look like Derriere and Ives, or whatever. Definitely got a thing against mac ‘n cheese with hotdogs. So her sister’s family shows up like Randy Quaid in VACATION, and the aunt nobody likes is with them. And then Max – that’s pretty much the main dude, fancy-lady’s kid – he gets all pissed and rips up his letter to Santa. CINEMA: Which, apparently, invokes the spirit of the anti-Claus. POPCORN: Maybe, dude. But when the shit all goes down, it looks like the big fella already hit the rest of the neighborhood. Power goes out. Pure snow everywhere. Big sack waiting on the front porch. Max looks outside and there’s already a snowman out there, all creepy, like, who the hell made a snowman in a blizzard? Just watchin’ the house. It’s like Krampus was just saving this bunch of sorry bastards for last. CINEMA: But why them? POPCORN: I dunno, dude. It’s a movie. Why does grandma – what’d they call her? CINEMA: Omi. POPCORN: Yeah, Omi – why can she speak English just long enough to tell that story about when she was a little girl? Don’t really care, she just does. Then it goes all anime on us for a couple minutes – CINEMA: Admittedly, that was creative. I suspect that this sequence was intended as a live flashback sequence at one point, but the budget wouldn’t allow it. The director, Michael Dougherty, began his cinematic career as an animator. He made a short piece called ‘Season’s Greetings’ with Sam, the little pumpkin-headed boy, that lead to 2007’s TRICK ‘R TREAT – POPCORN: Kick-ass flick. CINEMA: It was, and maybe that’s why I just expected more from this. POPCORN: More of what? Dude, this was sweet. Don’t tell me you weren’t hyped when the girl was out in the storm and that thing was bouncing from roof to roof? Those Junior Mints were just flyin’ in your mouth. You were psyched. CINEMA: Initially, yes. To be honest, I loved it that first time. But then we saw it again, and the inconsistencies started to become more apparent. POPCORN: Not for me, dude. I was waitin’ for my favorite parts to come back around. When the house is boarded up and Omi says they gotta keep the fire burning. The brother-in-law’s all like, ‘shepherd’s gotta watch his flock’. Next thing you see, dude’s passed out. Fire’s cold. And here comes trouble . . . CINEMA: And here comes a tonal shift in the movie. I was fine with everything until that point, even upon a second viewing. Then the Muppets From Hell showed up . . . POPCORN: Those guys rocked, man. CINEMA: I don’t know. It’s being touted as a Christmas horror classic, like GREMLINS, but it doesn’t feel that cohesive for me. The title character’s name isn’t even mentioned until the Bass & Rankin Christmas Special where Omi reveals her Krampus story. POPCORN: So? CINEMA: So, it felt like the big reveal in SAW, where the mad genius orchestrating the whole thing is this random patient in a hospital bed. If Jigsaw had been given so much as one line of dialogue before the end of the movie, it might not have felt like such a cheat to me. Had there been some mention of another holiday spirit besides Santa in the first quarter of this movie – just a moment of “and, in addition to Santa, there are darker legends” – maybe . . . POPCORN: You’re one hard son-of-a-bitch to please. CINEMA: The biggest failure, for me, is that the movie doesn’t really make clear what the hell is happening. What rules have been broken to invoke Krampus, and what’s really happened to those who are taken by him? Because it looks like they’ve gone to hell. POPCORN: Isn’t that what he does? CINEMA: In some of the legends, but these legends were never spoken of in the film. Not even once. It’s like, just give Jigsaw a damn line before you tell me he’s the Devil and then I’ll shut the hell up. POPCORN: Dude, you need a hug? CINEMA: No, you keep away from me. It’s just . . . POPCORN: Disappointed. CINEMA: Well, TRICK ‘R TREAT was so good. When I heard that the same guy was doing this . . . and it was good, but . . . I didn’t want . . . Muppets, I mean . . . and the holidays . . . POPCORN: Dude, man, you still got the holiday blues. CINEMA: Maybe. POPCORN: I’m gonna do you a favor, man. Gonna lay some wisdom on your ass. CINEMA: You? POPCORN: A little early visit from Santa. I’m gonna tell you the secret to life, then I’m gonna make you laugh. CINEMA: Oh. POPCORN: Here it is, bro. Ain’t nothing ever as good as it should be. No movie, no meal, no chick. Why, you ask? ‘Cuz you expect too much from that shit. This is the thing right here . . . nothing ever disappoints you when you lower your expectations, dude. Expect nothin’ but shit, and you might find a rose in that shit. CINEMA: Huh. POPCORN: Oh, and why was Krampus mad when he got a sweater for Christmas? CINEMA: I don’t know, why? POPCORN: ‘Cuz he wanted a moaner or a screamer. CINEMA: No . . . heh. POPCORN: Why does Krampus land on the roof? Dude, he likes it on top. CINEMA: Heh – heh. POPCORN: Why doesn’t Santa have any kids? CINEMA: Heh-heh. Because he only comes once a year – POPCORN: And it’s down a chimney. CINEMA: And he wraps his package! POPCORN: Gotta be honest, dude. There was one thing about that movie that didn’t seem real. CINEMA: What’s that? POPCORN: Everybody in that family was a good shot. The brother-in-law with all the guns, sure. Dude’s wife, sure, that makes sense. But Mom and Dad and even old Aunt Dorothy . . . come on, man. Every one of those fools, dead accurate. How much are we supposed to believe? CINEMA: Really? That’s what didn’t seem real to you? Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.