Dissecting Krampus as a Gothic Christmas Film with Social Commentary


If there is one thing that excites me year round, it is watching a horror movie that blatantly wants you to see the social commentary.  After all, horror is the venue for expressing our deepest fears (and what is scarier than a Christmas without Santa?), and presuming that most horror fans would choose Halloween as their favorite holiday, what could we love more than a film where two holidays come together?

NOTE:  A few spoilers follow…

Krampus (review), directed by Michael Dougherty, wants you to understand the following theme over and over again: Appreciate those around you, and not only around the holidays.  And while this point is thrown in the audience’s face multiple times near the ending, I think it is always important to look at why horror movies want to teach us lessons.  While this theme is not original, it is prominent in the world today, where social media controls (most of) our lives.

Dougherty knew what he was doing by including this type of theme in a Christmas movie, with the holidays being a major time when everyone wants to give back to one another.  However, it usually is very short-lived.  The beginning of Krampus highlights this with customers running into stores, knocking down each other, fighting over items—all to get materialistic items.  Flash-forward to the dysfunctional protagonist family during the holidays, fighting over the decorations put up and the dinner provided on the table—basically doing the opposite of everything we should do during the holidays.

Based off the legend, Krampus is a horned figure that punishes misbehaving children during Christmastime.  So naturally, Krampus comes looking for this family because the son (Max) ripped up a letter he wanted to send to Santa, summoning Krampus to their house.  Throughout the film Krampus and his cronies take out Max’s family one by one, until they finally meet Max and he has to make an important decision: allow his family to live by sacrificing himself or be the lone survivor.  The build-up to this scene was a bit cheesy—like any typical Christmas movie would be—as Max stood aside an opening into the earth (presumable Hell) and pleaded for Krampus to save his family.

Max becomes the hero as he “saves” Christmas for his family, and his family is able to appreciate each other by looking past all of their differences and issues.  This is the quintessential “family is more important than gifts” Christmas movie, right?  Well, just when the family thought they were safe, they were given a reminder that Krampus is always watching.

So has the family truly learned a lesson, or will they just do what is necessary to avoid all of that chaos becoming their reality?  To that, I am not sure.  We live in a world where Christmas looks like a beautiful holiday on the outside, but many people will openly voice their complaints about the stress of this holiday—from finding the perfect (read: probably unnecessary) gifts to dealing with a dysfunctional family.

I love that Krampus captures different emotions of the holidays (but obviously on a more dramatic level).  I also love some of the Gothic elements in the film, originating from the British Gothic in the 19th century, one such theme being that there is a monster/ghost/creature chasing people around.

Another Gothic theme seen throughout the film is the setting being mostly in a household.  While a house is supposed to represent love and comfort, for most of Krampus, the house represents hatred and fear (from the dysfunctional family to Krampus and his cronies).  In her novel The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology, Gothic literature scholar Kate Ferguson Ellis talks about the home in horror being a place of danger and imprisonment—and in this film, the home seems to be both… literally and figuratively.

Now, this film will never fall on my favorite holiday horror movies list, but I did appreciate the Gothic elements, the overarching theme, the relevant social commentary, and the unsettling ending.

Did you see Krampus? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below!

krampus poster 2.jpg?zoom=1 - Dissecting Krampus as a Gothic Christmas Film with Social Commentary