Aki Vs. Evil: Krampus – The Unlikely Christmas Classic

If you have an interest in movies in general, you should see this movie. Sure, it’s easy to see as pop culture trash, but it’s also masterful in it’s execution. Just the sound alone is an excellent example of how you really need to take that part of the movie into account, as so much of the mood is just purely built on that.

Now, I am not a big fan of Christmas. In fact, I do try to avoid family gatherings in general, but the importance put on Christmas just feels so awkward and unnecessary.

(I’m not going to try to avoid spoilers here. I don’t think there are important ones, but you have been warned.)

While I am glad to have two weeks off during Christmas time, that’s the best thing about the Holidays. I like buying presents, but I would much rather buy people presents when I feel like it or I feel they need it than do it because of social pressure. And this is exactly what I do. According to Investopedia, the average American spends almost a thousand dollars on Christmas each year. Over half ($650) of that is just presents, which still leaves hundreds of dollars for food, decorations and probably travel in many cases. Do we really need these expenses? Say you have a kid and buy that kid a toy every month for $50 instead of that one big pile of gifts on one day, you would save $50 and this would probably entertain your child much more than that pile, most of which will be forgotten by the end of the day anyhow. This would be good for the environment, as there wouldn’t be wrapping (except that small kids generally enjoy the wrapping more anyhow). This would be good for your health, as you wouldn’t eat as much.

Actually, I would like to suggest something to you: Have your holiday celebration beginning of January. You’ll win in every way. Shops want to get rid of the extra stock they bought for Christmas, so you can have your very own celebration much cheaper, traveling is easier without the extra traffic and, best of all, you can pick and choose who you’ll inform of this.

You can see why Krampus appeals to me. Even the beginning of the movie depicts a society falling apart because of Christmas (with Christmas-y music underscoring the dichotomy between the fantasy and the reality). While it is somewhat comically exaggerated, it is in many ways reminiscent of scenes of chaos from Black Fridays over the years with just the added Holiday imagery of Santa Claus and everything that comes with it. This also sets up the rest of the movie nicely.

Max is a young kid, who just wants one of those wonderful movie Christmases you dream of (or more accurately, see on TV), but when his cousins make fun of his letter to Santa, in his frustration, he writes another, which (unknown to him) invites the titular Krampus to visit them with its friends. Two big themes here: First, these festivities never live up to the hype and, second, relatives suck.

I don’t exactly know the history of Christmas, but I do know it has a long and complicated past. It’s just various commercial interests, which have homogenized the traditions in the Christian world and is probably pushing them in other areas as well. But it is commercial. FOMO (fear of missing out) is the concept of the day. Is your house not correctly decorated? Well, what are your neighbors going to think? Is your Christmas going to be a real one, if your lights are not fancy enough? If you don’t have a lovely Christmas, it’s your fault. You didn’t put enough effort (and money) into it. Or that’s what commercial interests would like you to think.

Then there’s the relatives. If these are not the people you hang out during the rest of the year, why do you bother doing it during Christmas? I guess if distance is a problem for the rest of the year, it’s understandable, but otherwise.. why?

It’s not actually quite that simple. When Christmas itself turns against the two families, they do come together to solve the situation, but you should still remember that their situation is a direct result of them not being able to find common ground (and bullying culture prevalent in the US, but that’s another discussion). I’m not even siding with either of these families. They are clearly just sort of light-hearted versions of the stereotypical democratic and republican families. You can’t go too far with them, because they wouldn’t be able to co-exist. Nor are the republicans quite as messed up as the situation now, five years later, would suggest they would be. Can republicans and democrats even co-exist anymore? Gladly I live in a country where the Overton window is at least somewhat better situated.

But the movie is actually much more subversive than that. The whole concept is that if you don’t follow these arbitrary rules, you are going to be fucked. And while Max does invite doom for the two families, how was he supposed to know? So, we can’t really blame him except in the weird world of fiction… and religion… which is largely fiction anyhow. It’s conform or be punished severely. This is kind of common for horror movies. Premarital sex leads to being killed by Jason. Follow the norms or suffer. Be a good little consumer or you will be eternally locked away in a snow globe.

In fact, if you don’t play along, the whole holiday will turn against you. Krampus’ Little Helpers come in the form of toys, gingerbread and his version of elves. And that white Christmas you dream of? Sure, but it’s in the form of a blizzard. The fiction is also subverted. Learning your lesson doesn’t help either. There is no emotional reconciliation.

This was the director Michael Dougherty’s second movie. The first (which was released eight years earlier, the man really needs more opportunities to make these) was Trick ‘r Treat, which is (obviously) a Halloween movie. In that there’s a pretty similar theme of not breaking the rules, but it’s much more justified. These “victims” are bad people, who do something horrific and are punished for it by someone. But we’ll get to that in a later article.

The Krampus legend was actually alive pretty recently in Finland. At least in a way. My first memories of Christmas include a sort of Santa Claus, which was much more reminiscent of Yule Goat, which is what we actually still call Santa in Finland (or actually Joulupukki). The woman playing Santa Claus in this memory, had horns and was clothed in grey rather than red. Another character accompanied her and while we thought of that character as an elf, in hindsight that character was basically Krampus. I’m not sure when this happened, but it must have been early 80s.

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