Why KRAMPUS Is The Christmas Hero We Deserve

Krampus pulls off something which nearly every other Christmas movie writes to Santa about: it creates an understanding for why this flawed season is crucial to society. As a piece horror, Krampus utilizes its genre’s strengths in order to avoid the pitfalls which commonly dominate typical holiday fare. There is a sect of the population up in arms (as if everyone isn’t up in arms about something everyday) that their seminal holiday is being treated with a disregard for humanity. There is another sect that brushes Krampus off as ancillary to the season, trying to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes portrayed on screen. The movie believes quite the opposite and is, in fact, the purest distillation of the Christmas spirit to grace our screens in quite some time.

At their very basest, horror movies serve as cathartic punishment; a representation of our personal and societal misgivings and the comeuppance that we deserve for our transgressions (see The Cabin in the Woods). We look in on the world of a horror film and are able to place ourselves as masks on the faces of the characters we most identify with. Sitting from a safe distance, we can advise our cinematic doppelgängers and execute this catharsis when punishment is doled out and still emerge from the other side. We have come to accept this corner of entertainment but largely only as part of a season, willing to ignore the pleasures and necessity of horror as part of our daily (ok, fine… weekly or monthly) ritual. The same works both ways: the Christmas spirit needn’t die out once December 26th hits, giving a full new year to be selfishly debaucherous. Krampus melds these different seasons and makes sense of them both as being necessary to the human experience.


Much has been made about the ending to the film* and the entirety of understanding the movie’s importance to Christmas rests upon this conclusion. Once Max’s (Emjay Anthony) entire family has been captured by Krampus and his band of evil elves and Christmas toys, he is left to fulfill the prophecy laid forth by his Omi (Krista Stadler) by being the only survivor after having forsaken his letter to Santa and therefore summoning the Anti-Claus. Max decides not to succumb to his grandmother’s childhood fate of accepting this fact but instead confronting Krampus and asking for his wish back. He has only wanted for Christmas to be “as it used to be” when everyone at least acted like they loved each other and never meant for this sort of horror to befall his family. His sentiment is in exactly the right place. Except, this isn’t It’s A Wonderful Life and Max isn’t the hero in this story.


Krampus is portrayed as being the ultimate protector of Christmas. When Max’s Grandmother, Omi, tells the family of her encounter with Krampus, it is a poignant view of her home country in total turmoil after a war that decimated the population. The people around Omi didn’t treat the season with the reverence she did as a child and thusly were cruel, taking instead of making the sacrifice to give. When Krampus visits Omi and leaves her in bed after viciously taking her family, he gives her a knowing wink, making it clear that he acknowledged her wishes in reinstating her holiday standards. Krampus protected the holiday as Omi saw it to be and she, although terrorized by the experience every year, created a beautiful family as a result.

When Krampus leaves Max at the end of the film, the audience is tricked into believing Max’s act of defiance is a heroic moment. It is, in fact, the most selfish move of the story. Although Max didn’t know his simple act of tearing up a letter to Santa would bring about such an awful event, it is the principle of forsaking one’s own beliefs that stands as deserving of punishment. I’ve heard many people groan at this notion but this isn’t something exclusive to the horror genre. Bad things happen to those who doubt their good instinct in all types of film genres. Horror is simply the genre in which the stakes are heightened to an absurd ceiling which typically means life or death.


Krampus plays with the tropes of the Christmas genre many times throughout the story and does so most effectively at the end, after Max is tossed down the “Hellhole” and wakes up to a snowy Christmas morning. He scrambles downstairs to find his once unbearable family warmly opening up Christmas presents in the early sunshine. It’s almost as if it were all a dream.

Of course the movie wants** you to believe that as each family member reawakens to the reality of the situation once Max’s Krampus bell is revealed from under the guise of a gift. Everything happened. For real. The camera pulls out to reveal Max’s family living within a snow globe kept by Krampus in the midst of hundreds of other snow globes, likely containing other, less-than-reverent families.

Adam Scott

I believe the ending of Krampus is punishment for those who forget what the holiday season truly means. The film opens with a Black Friday stampede, signifying that this is what Christmas has become. It is cannibalistic consumerism hiding behind the facade of love and good will. Max’s family is even at the forefront of this sensation as Max is seen fighting with other kids, needing his parents to intervene. Sure, he’s fighting on behalf of the Christmas he believes in but the director, Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat), seems to make clear his stance of going about good in the wrong ways.

Yeah, our own families might suck and we might really abhor the thought of being nice to those who we feel don’t deserve our empathy. But Dougherty also displays his meanest of tricks when presenting his characters as actual humans and not just traditional archetypes. When Max’s Santa letter is stolen by his cousins and read aloud at dinner, it causes the whole family to take a step back and realize how broken their situation really is. Instead of providing us a window to view these wretched people, Dougherty holds up a mirror and accuses us each as being the dimwitted uncle or the father and mother who has given up on love. We sit in our theaters of solitude and watch as turmoil unfolds, punishing those who are no less guilty than we are.

Krampus is a gorgeous film with the visual artistry of snow-fallen evil to the amazing puppetry of Krampus and his cohorts to the sinewy score weaving horrific strings and percussion in with orchestral Christmas classics. Some scoff at the idea of Christmas-horror and sometimes they may be right. When a movie is bad, a movie is bad. In this case, Krampus has its frost-bitten heart rooted firmly in the spirit of humanism and deserves to be held up as a treasure of multiple seasons, not as a pariah, stowed away in our basements for 11 months each year while we forget, then relearn how to be good people***.

*This article is drawn only upon the Krampus character as presented in the film, Krampus, and does not necessarily take into account the legend as it may be told traditionally.

**Though it’s never unfair in trying to fool you; the new hazy filter placed over the image immediately lets us know things aren’t as they’ve been portrayed throughout the film.

***Hey, Kirk Cameron, this is how you actually “save Christmas”.

Curtis Waugh
Curtis Waugh
Curtis is a Los Angeles transplant from a long lost land called Ohio. He aspires to transmute his experiences growing up a Monster Kid into something that will horrify normal people around the world. When he isn't bemoaning the loss of the latest Guillermo del Toro project, Curtis can be found every Thursday night at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, awaiting the next Dwayne Johnson movie.