“Hey guys, have you heard of this whacky and obscure German Christmas Myth called Krampus!?!?” Said no one, in the last five years. Yes, like all things once nerdy and obscure, Krampus has taken its place along fantasy novels, wizards, zombies, and Batman in the pop culture zeitgeist. No longer is it the property of Hot Topic teens who also ironically thank Satan before Thanksgiving dinner. I personally learned of Krampus about a decade ago when I was going through a similar phase, but then again I also learned about that weird smiling poop log and they haven’t made a movie about that (yet).
As much as I snidely furrow my brow and take a sip from my cup of holier-than-thou when I hear about another quirky pop-trend being turned into a film, I found the Krampus movie to be great. I mean, I wouldn’t watch it ritualistically like some people do Gremlins or Die Hard, but I’d be happy to whip it out for a group of friends that hadn’t seen it yet. It proudly and prominently sits on my shelf, ready and willing for people to run out of ideas for typical Christmas movies and start reaching.
But hey, ‘tis the season for tradition. Chestnuts and open fires, Jack Frost and noses, mistletoe and disappointment, etc… And what tradition is more enduring than shameless horror movie knockoffs!? I tend to avoid this world of imitation cash grabs designed almost exclusively to confuse drunk people and the elderly. But it’s also the season for miracles. So this year, I decided the best way to celebrate the holidays was to give each of these Krampus films a shot.
Originally, the plan was to watch them one a night in a silly, Dread Central version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I assembled my list of twelve, set the dates, and promptly forgot about it until three nights ago. Deadline approaching, I was faced with the decision to either miss my deadline and let down my adorably upbeat and cheerful editor, or watch over twelve hours of straight-to-DVD Krampus in a night.
So I sat down, fired up my coffee maker, cracked open the tequila, and did my job. As an unexpected result, this list will also document my descent into absolute insanity. Therefore, each movie will be reviewed as such:
Quality of Film: Despite everything else going on in my brain, how watchable is this film? This is how I would normally review a movie for Dread Central, like a goddamn professional.
Quality as Krampus Film: This is how I would normally review a movie for Dread Central, but in the context of all the Krampus movies. So if I give something a 3/5, take it with a dump truck of salt.
Quality of Krampus: Other than that silly goat drawing with the Gene Simmons tongue, there’s no real standard of what a Krampus HAS to look like. So how much did I like this particular movie’s incarnation of Bizzaro Kris Kringle?
Mood/Mental State: I took the opportunity to write down how I was feeling after each film. By the end, it was not good. This will document how I got from point A to point Z.
So without further ado, I present you, Naughty to Nice: The Twelve Films of Krampus!
In hindsight, I really should have put this somewhere in the middle as a mental break. But considering this is basically ”Krampus Prime”, it’s the best place to start. This movie was great two years ago, and is great now. A solid horror flick suitable for teenagers and still satisfying for adults, the great cast and terrifying puppets make Krampus a superlative mix of giggles and spooks. Particularly memorable is the slug-clown, and the believable take on classic fairy tale lore.
Quality of Film: I actually have an existing review of Krampus on Dread Central. Go read that.
Quality as Krampus Film: Krampus Prime. 5/5, the best there is.
Quality of Krampus: If this were a rating of all the various monsters and meanies in the film, it would easily be a 6/5. But this is just about Big Papa Punishment himself. The visual and audio design of Krampus are spot on. He’s similar to the xenomorph of Alien fame, possessing an expanding arsenal of unexpected yet believable powers. The way he slithers through snow like a Tremors Graboid with a mission makes snowbanks menacing in a way never before imagined. The only complaint I have is that we didn’t quite get to see him enough. Still, 5/5.
Mood/Mental State: Excited! Man, I’m glad this movie holds up as much as I remember it. I always worry that I’m going to rewatch a movie and sink into a pit of despair as I realize there was so many layers of crap I inexplicably missed, but in this case I might have been too hard in my initial review. Watched this with a few friends, and they loved it.
The first of the many, many cash grabs I watched tonight, Krampus: The Reckoning is kind of notorious for its terrible CGI monster. Watching it, I was surprised to find that the Krampus was the least of the film’s problems. If anything, it was vastly underused. A little more goofy Krampus melty-murders would have been preferable to the pointless investigative drama. Funny side note, I was actually drinking at the bar featured in the movie the night before. Phoenix pride!
Quality of Film: This film is a mess, but surprisingly it isn’t the biggest mess. The shots are mostly passable, and I don’t remember the audio cutting awkwardly more than once. It’s a low bar, but this film is kinda watchable. I liked the cop character despite him starting every sentence with a manly growl. The monster is kind of stupid, but the biggest problem is that the plot is inconsequential. Not that things don’t happen, but the conclusion and ultimate twist just has little to do with the rest of the movie. 2/5
Quality as a Krampus Film: Looking back, this might be the best of the knockoffs. Definitely top two. Jumping ahead a bit, I don’t consider every movie on this list a knockoff, so don’t think I’m saying it was best of the night. This isn’t a movie I’d ever consider showing to friends, unless the friend specifically asked me, “Hey Ted, which Krampus knockoff doesn’t make you want to remove the memories with a shotgun lobotomy?” Unfortunately, when taken in context of the other films that weren’t knockoffs, it doesn’t raise past just watchable. 2.5/5
Quality of Krampus: It looks like the imp from Doom. There is nothing that says to me, “Krampus,” rather than just, “generic demon.” He scores some points for punishing the wicked, but he does it by turning them into novelty burning skeletons. I get it, they didn’t have the budget to make it fight realistically. And yet somehow it’s better than some of the other Krampuses on this list. 2/5
Mood/Mental State: Guardedly Optimistic Honestly, that wasn’t really so bad. I was expecting way worse. Hell, I’ve sat through and reviewed way, way worse. As long as they stay this level of just below mediocre, I might make it through this without the tequila.
Wow, now this one is going to take a bit of explaining. I compiled this list first by researching movies about Krampus. When that failed to turn up the necessary twelve results, I resorted to hopping between various streaming services and just typing in “Krampus.” Amazon Prime turned out to be the winner here, with the widest assortment of Krampus videos. As a result I ended up seeing some weird shit. Krampus Night is a three minute music video by Super Klaus Santa, and mostly involves him repeatedly chanting, “ KRAAAAAAAAAAMPUS NIGHT” like a guy in a high school rock band competition. Visuals include footage from a Krampus festival in Germany, and windows movie maker superposition and mirroring of the singer/a dancing Krampus.
Quality of Film: Disqualified This isn’t a movie. Honestly, it should be grateful I decided to just give it a neutral N/A rating. If I were to judge this as something worth judging, it would not be having a very happy holiday.
Quality as Krampus Film: This was honest to God not the most terrible thing I watched tonight. Plus it managed to get the song stuck in my head. I can confirm it is chantable while drunk. 1.5/5
Quality of Krampus: The Krampus in this video is mostly a real life dude dressed up like Krampus going about a festival and Kramping it up. He’s not particularly frightening, but he is a real life Krampus. So… 3/5… I guess?
Mood/Mental State: Confused The shit was that? Why does Amazon have these? I know they have always gone for the scattershot approach to filling their video libraries, but someone somewhere should have seen this and deleted it.
Christmas miracles do happen! This was the surprise hit of the night. It starts off a little rough, with some real bad visual editing and shoddy video quality. Then a talking skeleton in a backpack started complaining that he wanted a cellphone. Characters started talking about interdimensional rifts, and I had to pause. Okay… what the hell is going on. Is this a joke? I looked it up, and NIght of the Krampus turns out to be the sequel to a feature length indie micro-budget horror/comedy The Night Shift. I’d never heard of it, but if you’re a fan you’ll be happy to know there is a short film sequel.
Quality of Film: The budget definitely gets in the way, but I’ll be damned if Night of the Krampus isn’t charming as hell. The jokes are all hammy, but I was chortling through the whole thing. Once my eyes readjusted, I honestly forgot the budget in service of the characters and adorable banter. This is an above average short film even with the obvious lack of funds. I really want to see The Night Shift now. 3.5/5
Quality as Krampus Film: Compared to the other crap on this list, I want to give Night of the Krampus a perfect score. Still, I have to deduct points for the film not actually being scary. There’s a giant disparity between the good and bad films on this list, and filling the trough between is a lot of grey area. But this still sits firmly on the side of good. 4/5
Quality of Krampus: This is where the film’s budget hurts it the most. The krampus is just a goat dude, and they don’t even have the money to make its tracks look right. It’s most generously described as serviceable. 2.5/5
Mood/Mental State: Pleasantly Surprised Wow, that was actually kind of great. Not in a, “Message all my friends and tell them they have to watch it,” way. But good nonetheless. I kinda want to drop everything and go watch The Night Shift. Hopefully there are a few other surprises in the mix.
Remember when I said Amazon Prime has some weird shit in their video library? This might take the cake. The release date says 2015, but this looks like a Flash video from 2004. It feels like a 12 year old made it, with the humor to boot. I mean I guess it’s cute if you look at it from that perspective, but why is this on Amazon and not attached to a family email showing everyone what Peter made during his intro to animation summer camp?
Quality of Film I’m tempted to just disqualify it, but I do consider short films to be films, no matter the medium. It’s downright unwatchable. I just felt bad the whole time. If this was just some kid, his first blunders are being immortalized more than many of us could ever dream.0/5
Quality as Krampus Film: And yet, it still isn’t the worst thing I watched tonight. Mercifully only 7 min long. .5/5
Quality of Krampus: He’s just the devil. 0/5
Mood/Mental State: Uncomfortably Confused Okay, what the shit did I just watch. Why is this a thing? When I said I hoped for more surprises, this is not what I meant. I wish I could have the last seven minutes of my life back. At least I reached the bottom of the barrel.
6) Santa Krampus
You’ll notice the conspicuous lack of a release date up in the corner there. Aside from it currently existing on Amazon and the memory it seared into my brain, I cannot find any other evidence of this movie existing. Which is unfortunate, because I could not figure out what this movie is. It started out with an intro from some weird dude in makeup explaining something about Krampus and large breasted women from Jupiter. Cut to two dudes sitting on a couch smoking a novelty blunt. Is this some kind of talk show? A primitive podcast? I don’t think so. As far as I can tell this motionless face forward style was just how they decided to shoot their film. I can’t wrap my head around this one.
Quality of Film: This is the worst film I’ve ever watched. And I’ve watched some real shit in my tenure at Dread Central. I’d feel bad about shitting on what are clearly amateur creators making some shit for their own fun, but the movie is an unforgivable 22 minutes long. At that point, you know what you’re doing to people. 0/5
Quality as Krampus Film: No. 0/5
Quality of Krampus: It’s a guy in a werewolf mask from Party City. 0/5
Mood/Mental State: Disgusted/Confused Wow, so this is how my night is going to go, huh? Jesus, and I had such high hopes just 30 minutes ago. Let it be known that this movie is where I started drinking.
At this point, I really needed a break. I had heard that this movie was pretty good, so I was saving it for a moment I needed a pick-me-up. And boy did it ever do so. After a string of movies that tested even my tempered patience, Rare Exports was fantastic. It plays it straight, presenting the ridiculous situation of a killer animal Santa Clause and running with it. It’s a great film that I’d easily recommend to anyone looking for something a little different. What it isn’t, is a Krampus film.
Quality of Film: If I were the kind of guy that made traditions out of watching holiday movies, Rare Exports would easily make the cut. It’s incredibly fun, and proves itself a solid movie even outside of its ridiculous premise. The characters draw you in, and the threat doesn’t feel stupid. 4/5
Quality as Krampus Film: Disqualified You might argue with me on this one, but never in the movie do they even mention that the horned monster trapped in ice is Krampus. It could just as likely be the devil. Or as the movie itself says, Santa just looks like that. It’s unfortunate, because that would have been a really cool Krampus. Unfortunately, I just can’t count it.
Mood/Mental State: Too Hurt to Love Again I really wish I had watched this movie some other time. Some time where I didn’t experience it so pre-pissed off. As is, it served its purpose. Like a pint of ice cream and bottle of wine after a breakup, you aren’t really tasting it. It’s just serving a purpose.
Fun Fact: Turns out that Krampus Unleashed is actually a follow-up to the 2015 hit, Krampus: The Reckoning. I’m probably the only person in the universe that recognized this, but during the scene where the family is all seated around the TV to watch a Christmas special, they’re actually all watching the opening of Krampus: The Reckoning. Dear God, what have I done to myself. It wasn’t exactly crack detective work, as it’s the same director and production company for both movies. Follow-up is the perfect way to put it, as Unleashed has nothing to do with The Reckoning in any way. It seems like they actually learned from what people didn’t like about the first film. Practical effects instead of CGI monsters, more blood, some character banter, and a more focused plot. If only they could have made it not crap…
Quality of Film: If this weren’t Krampus night, I wouldn’t have ever given any thought to watching Krampus Unleashed. It’s a more competent movie than Krampus: The Reckoning, but it’s also entirely uninteresting. There was a decent bit at the start where it was basically cowboys vs Krampus (a movie I would have much rather watched), but overall it’s just too bland to be memorable. There’s some fun you can have with it, but not much. 2/5
Quality as Krampus Film: Even as the blandest of films, this still puts it close to the top of shitty Krampus knockoffs. It’s really a toss-up between this and Krampus: The Reckoning for top dog among Krampus films I’d never be caught dead watching again. 2.5/5
Quality of Krampus: This is where the film flounders the most. While it does use practical effects this time, they are pretty bad. Nowhere near the worst of any movie on this list, but not at all believable. There’s also nothing to really set this apart as a “Krampus” and not just a wendigo. So while the Krampus in Krampus: The Reckoning at least acted like a Krampus, the Krampus in Krampus Unleashed looked more like a Krampus but didn’t act like one. Once again, toss-up. 2/5
Mood/Mental State: Cynically Content Good, back to what I was expecting. Good ol’ predictably bland and shitty knockoff. It’s crazy to say that something so bad is an oasis of sanity, but it’s just so impossible to conjure up any emotions at all. It wasn’t good enough to want to love, and wasn’t shit enough to make me hate it. It was moving images that danced across my eyes for 80 minutes. This is what the tequila wants.
I want to tell the amateur videographers of the world something very, very important right now. So please, if you’re thinking about heading out into the woods with your buddies and cranking out a straight to DVD/VOD horror knockoff this weekend, please listen. Just because you own a camcorder does not mean you need to make a movie. Really, it’s true. Owning a camera does not give you any obligation to use it to make a feature length film that will oneday torture a hapless horror critic. You can really just leave it in the box and only take it out for embarrassing family videos, even more embarrassing wedding documentaries, and far more embarrassing homemade sex tapes.
Quality of Film: Holy hot garbage. The windows movie maker effects. The terrible video quality. The popping in ADR dialogue. The terrible costume. I can actually see Krampus’s stupid goat boots when he’s stomping on a guy. At one point there’s a naked lady tied up in Krampus’s dungeon, and I just felt so bad for her. Krampus seduces her with some force lightning, and she does her best to look like she’s enjoying herself, but the only emotion she can conjure is the blatant discomfort of a booth babe being manhandled into a selfie by a dude dressed up as “fat Deadpool.” Two things I liked about this movie. First was Santa, who turns out is kind of a dick. That was funny. Second was the psychopath played by Bill Oberst Jr. It was delightfully bizarre, compelling, and completely out of place in the script. 1/5
Quality as Krampus Film: There’s a certain amount of respect that I have to have for Krampus: The Christmas devil. Sure, it’s a terrible film, but it does do some interesting stuff. It shows Krampus and Santa working together, with Krampus not being his adversary but more of Santa’s legbreaker. Santa gives the orders, Krampus does the dirty work. If the movie weren’t eye-meltingly unwatchable, it might even be just okay. 1.5/5
Quality of Krampus: I can’t believe I’m doing this, but the Krampus in Krampus: The Christmas Devil is probably the best of the knockoffs. I mean he looks like they just shoved a bunch of monster prosthetics in a Santa coat, but when you get past how he looks it’s probably the most faithful Krampus outside of Krampus. He A) punishes naughty children, B) right before christmas time, C) with sticks and stuff, D) by taking them away in a sack, and E) while looking like a goat person. Weird sex laser aside, the Krampus itself is definitely a Krampus. 3.5/5
Mood/Mental State: Why am I not drinking faster? I’ve tried to be professional. I’ve tried to stay sober. But why? If these movies aren’t going to try, then why should I? When the title screen started to roll and and the color saturation slider just started going wild to make shit all blurry and “hardcore,” my eyes rolled back in my skull as my limbs went slack. Is this what it takes to kill me? After all the booze, partying, late nights, and hangovers? Is it Krampus: The Christmas Devil that finally ends me? We’ll find out soon, because the sequel is up next.
You know, when I said my favorite part of Krampus: The Christmas Devil was the asshole Santa, that didn’t mean I wanted him to go full psychopath. The slight little hints that Santa was behind it all as some kind of moral arbiter was cool, giving a different take on the Kris Kringle myth. When Santa starts screaming in a kid’s faces, calling him, “little motherfucker” while watching Krampus beat him to death with a stick, it becomes too much. At one point Santa (not Krampus, Santa) forces the lead to have sex with his own kidnapped daughter and get her pregnant. Merry Christmas!
Quality of Film: You remember that random psychopath subplot of Krampus: The Christmas Devil? That forms the foundation for 70% of this movie. It’s 30% Krampus and Santa torturing kids, 70% biker gang revenge story. As a framing device for a bunch of people with guns having to face off against Krampus, it could have been fine. But it wasn’t. Overall it’s much better shot and more coherent than the first, but it’s just so fucking sleezy that it’s impossible to like. 1.5/5
Quality as Krampus Film: In context of everything else I watched tonight, it’s one of the more interesting films. It’s held back significantly by the overall lack of quality, but at least it does something different. It sticks solidly with the Krampus theme, and then just takes it to the most extreme conclusion possible. If you’re looking for something wildly different and don’t mind some poor quality filmmaking, it’s an okay pick. 2.5/5
Quality of Krampus: They change the costume up from the first movie, with a more demonic looking Krampus. Also, he talks this time around, though only in a comical whisper repeating back what Santa said to him. “Yes… yes… punish children… yesssss…” Unfortunately, I have to rate it lower, as Santa actually takes center stage and pushes Krampus to the sidelines. 2.5/5
Mood/Mental State: Delerium You know, I have no idea when the sun went down. What time did I start? When did darkness engulf the living room, my only illumination being the warm glow of Krampus as he tortures children on my television. I just did the math, and if my numbers aren’t wrong, I’ve now watched Krampus for 27 straight hours. There isn’t enough booze left to get me through this. I fear for the worst.
Mother Krampus puts a fresh spin on the Krampus myth by A) making it a woman, and B) having it have nothing to do with Krampus. Originally titled 12 Deaths of Christmas, the renaming is a blatant attempt to cash in on the “popularity” of Krampus. It’s actually about a totally different German Christmas myth, Frau Perchta, who likewise steals children around Christmas time. Or maybe she just herds goats. These old German tales are kind of all over the place. Anyways, Mother Krampus is more of a ghost/slasher film.
Quality of Movie: Actually not that bad. It’s not great, but the acting is solid and characters well developed. There’s a decent twist, and the main characters actually look and act like real people. It’s light on the scares, but there are some pretty shocking kills. This is pretty much the definition of a movie that was better than expected, but not great. 2.5/5
Quality as Krampus Movie: I want to disqualify it, but seeing as how Krampus is right in the title I can’t. It’s significantly better than the knockoffs, but doesn’t rise to the level of the actually good movies. If you’re having a bad movie marathon, it’ll be too good to laugh at. If you’re having a good movie marathon, it’ll be too bad to like. But I don’t see anyone really hating this movie. It’s got some good creepy stuff in it, even though it never downright scared me. 3/5
Quality of Krampus: Not a Krampus. Disqualified
Mood/Mental State: Krampus Night KRAMPUS NIGHT! KRAMPUS NIGHT! KRAAAAAAAAMPUS NIIIIIGHT! I found more booze. Looks like I’ll make it.
I wanted to end the night on something I knew would be good, but unfortunately my brain had melted out of my ears at this point. Luckily, I had already seen A Christmas Horror Story before, so I didn’t have to pay too much attention. What sets A Christmas Horror Story apart from other anthology films (aside from being good) is that all four stories play out simultaneously. It gives each story time to develop without feeling rushed. Each story is distinct, and none stand out as being weak.
Quality of Film: This is a really solid movie to watch around the holidays. It’s got some great twists—especially in the Santa sequence—and each story is its own fun little trip. It shifts tones pretty hard, but that’s fine given the space between the scenarios. Everyone should find something they like in this overall solid flick. 4/5
Quality as Krampus Film: Holy shit is this a cut above the rest of the pack. Maybe that’s because it’s not a, “Krampus movies,” as much as it’s a, “movie with Krampus in it.” He isn’t the star, but he plays a prominent role in two of the segments. Even if he just popped in for a few seconds to wave and wiggle his tight little goat bum, it would still make this way better than most films on the list. Falls short only to Krampus Prime. 4.5/5
Quality of Krampus: Here’s an idea. Instead of tossing together parts of a goat costume and maybe throwing on a Santa hat, why not just find the biggest dude you can, paint him blue, and throw on some horns. A Christmas Horror Story had this idea, so their Krampus is Rob Archer, a man so jacked that he might actually be a mythical beast in disguise. Unfortunately, they don’t really have anything about him punishing children in this movie. Just a jacked Krampus swinging a chain like a beast. 4/5
Mood/Mental State: Dead I have now watched over 12 actual hours of Krampus films. This is why I’m alone. The booze is gone. The replacement booze is gone. All that is left is my limp, near lifeless body as I type the last few thoughts as I slip into unconsciousness. As far as holiday traditions go, it’s pretty par for the course. 5/5, would shotgun Twelve Krampus movies again.
And there you have it. I have watched the Krampus films, and I have survived. I’d like to thank Amazon Prime, Netflix, Redbox, Dread Central, and Sauza tequila for making this all possible. Looking back, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. There were a couple gems in there, but overall I feel like my standards just sunk straight into the bottom of a roadside snowbank. I honestly can’t say I recommend replicating my experiment. Take my experience, and check out Night of the Krampus. It’s only about 30 minutes long, and really charming. You might also get some kicks out of Mother Krampus if desperately starved for new horror. And if you want to watch Santa force a man to have sex with his daughter in an Eyes Wide Shut fever dream, then check out Krampus 2: The Devil Returns, you sick fuck.