Save the eye-rolls, I’m not yelling bahumbug during the holiday season. I genuinely think that Krampus, directed by Michael Dougherty – who is also the director of my favorite Halloween movie, Trick r’ Treat – is the best Christmas movie out there. As a horror movie, it is for the more mature in the audience, but the fact the main characters are mostly spoiled children and their even more spoiled parents makes the takeaway lesson a must for the holiday season.
If you haven’t seen the film, Krampus, is a dark horror comedy that has enough whimsical elements for the month of December. The film is centered around the Engel family, a dysfunctional family that has come together for Christmas, three-days before, but have completely lost sight of what family and the holiday season means. Our main character Max is the sole bastion of Christmas in a horrible family and intends to send a letter to Santa Claus.
But when his cousins mock him for his letter and the rest of his family is divided over petty squabbles, the Engel family loses all of their Christmas spirit. And when it’s gone, that’s when Krampus and his help come — including a murderous jack-in-the-box, gingerbread men with a bloodlust, and snow elves — to punish the Engels.
So why is this a great Christmas movie? It’s a campy horror movie that stars some great character actors like Adam Scott and David Koechner and even a now horror great Toni Collette. It shows some pretty creative kills and the visuals of Krampus are top-notch.
But what seals the deal for Krampus being the best Christmas movie is that the Christmas spirit is always at the center. When a creepy jack-in-the-box is eating a kid, or things in the snow are stealing your children, it’s all about the reason for the season, but in a way that can win over both camps of Christmas folks. In my opinion, whether you hate Christmas or love it, the movie has something for you, and it’s the same thing.
For those who hate Christmas
Right from the opening, Krampus shows you that it will be highlighting the worst pieces of the holiday spirit. Set to Christmas staple “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas,” we see a Black Friday doorbuster sale. Equipped with fighting parents, crying children, some trampling, and violent security guards, it’s a hilariously sets the tone for the movie. Slowed down, we’re introduced the youngest Engel child and our protagonist, Max, fighting another kid in the center of Mucho Mart while participating in the Nativity play.
As we meet the family, extended family, and witness fight after jealous fight, you start to think, Christmas really sucks. And for some of us, it does. For some of us, the season of giving has long been a season of taking that involves pretending to like a terrible part of your extended family because Santa Claus is coming to town.
But in this movie, it isn’t Santa, but Krampus who comes to Engel family and as a viewer who is just frustrated with the experience of the holidays, seeing this horrible family get their just desserts in Christmas-appropriate ways it’s cathartic.
Who wouldn’t want their awful cousin swallowed whole by a jack-in-the-box? How about the racist and homophobic aunt and uncle who are terrible parents? Like Max, we’ve all probably wished that something would happen to make our relatives just be nice for one day on Christmas. When Krampus answers the call and things go wrong, it’s up to the Engels to stay alive but as Max and his grandma show, it’s really about getting that Christmas spirit back.
For those who love Christmas
On the other side of the fence, we have the people who love Christmas. Some people love the foods, the family, the gift giving, the tree, the lights, everything about it! And for those people who are in filled with the Christmas spirit, Krampus stands as a testament that there is another side to the holiday.
The Engels are the way they are because they’ve let material items mean more to them than family. By the end of the movie we see the family as happy, Christmasy, and a complete 180-degrees away from where they began. If only the family had listened to Max from the beginning, they wouldn’t be trapped in a snow globe at the end. For the fans of the holiday that I speak to about this movie, they are almost always excited to tell me that the haters of Christmas cheer should listen to the merry friends.
At the end of the day, Krampus has something for everyone this holiday season. By pointing out the flaws of celebrating Christmas, it highlights the good things about the holidays that we take for granted or even avoid altogether. Even the well-meaning Engels get too wrapped up in their own lives and needs to remember what the season is about.
Now, I might not have changed your mind about your favorite Christmas movie, but Krampus is filled with the spirit of Christmas more so than holiday staples like A Christmas Story and of The Christmas [insert royalty descriptor]. Even if the Engels have lost that spirit they Krampus ensures that they never will again.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.