Christmas horror movies have long been one of the best parts of the festive season, and over the past decade interest in the festive beastie known as the Krampus has been on the rise.
But who is the devilish creature? And which of the eleven feature films (of vastly varying quality) that have taken their name from the Krampus mythology are most similar to the actual ancient folklore that inspired them?
2020 has been a year of horrors so it seems only fitting to do a deep dive investigation into this most important of Christmas horror queries so you can celebrate this year’s Krampusnacht in style and accuracy!
The Origins of the Krampus
So the creepy European tale of the Krampus goes a little something like this: Krampus accompanies St. Nick (that’s right, Santa Claus) on his gift giving rounds, but instead of offering rewards for good kids he punishes bad ones. It adds an enticing little bit of nastiness to the classic Christmas traditions which makes it all the more understandable that it’s become such a large part of the cultural consciousness over the years.
So what is the actual history of the Krampus and where did it first spring from? Encyclopedia Britannica gets into deeper detail, explaining that Krampus “was thought to have been part of pagan rituals for the winter solstice. According to legend, he is the son of Hel, the Norse god of the underworld. With the spread of Christianity, Krampus became associated with Christmas–despite efforts by the Catholic church to ban him. The creature and St. Nicholas are said to arrive on the evening of December 5 (Krampusnacht; “Krampus Night”). While St. Nicholas rewards nice children by leaving presents, Krampus beats those who are naughty with branches and sticks. In some cases, he is said to eat them or take them to hell.”
Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride A.K.A. Lady Krampus (2018)
Though it’s titled as if it’s a sequel to our next entry–which is also not about Krampus–there is little to no connection between these movies. This film has no Krampus accuracy as it is not in any way, shape, or form about Krampus.
What it is about is a group of women who are about to finish their community service but have one last task: to visit an elderly woman and check in on her before Christmas. Turns out that she’s not the weak old lady they were expecting and instead is a slasher who loves terrorizing families and young women. Like I said, there’s no Krampus here and it’s also not a supernatural film. It is exceedingly strange, though, and features an OAP slasher suspect, which is rare. So even without the mythical creature this micro-budget murder movie might bring you some enjoyable Christmas horror chuckles during the festive season.
Mother Krampus (2017)
The reason that this movie is close to the very bottom of our rankings is simple. Mother Krampus isn’t actually based on the lore of Krampus at all and is instead inspired by another creepy Germainic folkloric figure known as Frau Perchta. Seeing as the Krampus is more well known, the filmmakers decided to misleadingly name this movie Mother Krampus.
But the two creatures do share some similarities, hence why the simple but comedic OAP slasher Mother Krampus 2 takes the “prize” as our least accurate title. Frau Perchta is also not too fond of children and in the ancient myths surrounding her it’s said that “she flies through the night sky attended by an army of lost souls, including the demonic-looking Perchten, her army of servants who are visually nearly indistinguishable from Krampus. The only way to know for sure is context; Krampus rides abroad at St. Nicholas Eve while the Perchten tend more toward Epiphany, and the last three Thursdays before Christmas, also known as Berchtl nights or Knocking nights.”
This non-Krampus movie is at least a sort-of accurate version of the Frau Perchta legend and sees a town terrorized by a curse that was put on them by a woman (maybe) wrongly accused of stealing missing children. Now 25 years later, it seems like the Christmas witch, Frau Perchta, is upon them and is planning on stealing 12 children over the 12 days of Christmas. Scary stuff.
Krampus 2: The Devil Returns (2016)
This incredibly low-budget sequel to Krampus: The Christmas Devil (more on this in a minute) centers on–like so many bad straight-to-streaming horror sequels–some useless cops. They’re searching for missing children who it seems have been stolen by Krampus, so this at least gets one point for a classic Krampus trope.
There is a naughty list in this film too, although it’s actually held onto by the grimy mall Santa who plays a truly horrible role in this movie that is utterly unpleasant to watch. Generally this movie has little to no Krampus accuracy with most of the plot following the useless cops as they struggle to battle a gang of low level violent criminals including the grimy Santa Claus.
That gross Santa actually poses one of the biggest issues to the Krampus accuracy as the movie is more concerned with making a bleak festive crime flick ala Silent Night Deadly Night–but nowhere near as good–rather than making a movie about a scary folkloric figure. That’s why this one ends up near the bottom of our accuracy list, not just because it’s really not about Krampus at all but also because it’s gross, exploitative, and is more concerned with lazy “shock twists” than the story of Krampus.
Krampus Origins (2018)
Seeing as this movie begins in WWII with Nazis trying to summon Krampus and American soldiers stealing the Krampus summoning machine, this is surely the least accurate… but shockingly, no.
The film follows the young inhabitants of an orphanage who end up with the Krampus box. From this viewer’s perspective it’s definitely a movie that probably began life as a non-Krampus film and had the folkloric figure hamfistedly added at a later date because Krampus barely makes an appearance. Also, does this title imply that these are the origins of the Krampus? Because that doesn’t make any sense, seeing as the box summons him from his ancient world, so he clearly already had origins there that are not explored here at all!
Despite the fact this is mostly a not very entertaining film about ye olde depressed kids in an even more depressing orphanage, like most of our other entries the 2018 film does stick to two key Krampus lore points: the Krampus (briefly) featured here does love to hunt kids and has big scary horns. His arrival is also heralded by an enigmatic child called Nicholas, which seems like it’s a reference to Krampus’ connection to St. Nicholas, but maybe we’re being too generous.
Krampus Unleashed (2016)
Apparently the idea of the Krampus just appearing each Krampusnacht and terrorizing local kiddies is a bit too much for filmmakers to stomach as this is the second movie in our list that includes a very specific plot line about Krampus being trapped in the past and then freed by Americans. Here, though, he’s freed by a group of prospectors who at the open are looking for the mythical treasure of Eric Klaus. They come to a very gnarly end at the claws of the old Krampus who is looking very much like a goat-man here which is a step up from the usual red horned devil representations we’ve gotten in some of the other Krampus movies.
Alas, this is otherwise pretty light on Krampus-accurate lore as we spend most of the runtime with a family having some Hallmark-esque Christmas gathering in a desert ranch. For most of the movie the Krampus seems to be controlled / represented by a magical orange shiny rock which doesn’t appear in any lore we’ve seen but is a smart way to keep the budget low.
Krampus: The Christmas Devil (2013)
A voiceover gives us a slightly confusing rundown of Krampus history as we venture into this micro-budget movie. Apparently in this world Krampus is St. Nicholas’ brother which is definitely not the case in any Krampus lore we read about. But we do get to see Krampus putting a naughty kid into a sack and then trying to drown them which is both brutal but also pretty accurate for Krampus lore. The creature also has some solid claws and has a naughty list which he uses to find the bad girls and boys that he has to kill. Krampus: The Christmas Devil is also the only movie in our list that specifies that Krampus has just one night to do his terrible deeds.
In this film’s defense, it does have more Krampus action in its opening than some of the films on this list do in their entire runtime, and it makes use of some good weird out-of-license Krampus art during the opening and credits.
But after the first few minutes we get sucked into a boring crime story about (you guessed it!) useless cops trying to find kids that the Krampus has apparently stolen. When Krampus does pop up in brief moments throughout the film, he’s killing anyone who gets in his way, losing the spirit of the Krampus Christmas. Plus, the original folklore doesn’t have any mention of cops let alone an entire Krampus duology of low-budget movies centered on them.
Krampus: The Reckoning (2015)
This one begins with a solid retelling of the Krampus legend which makes it one of the most Krampus-heavy offerings in our list. According to this flick, Krampus is as old as time itself and as the grandma warns her child “as Santa rewards good children, Krampus punishes the bad.” Which is all very true! Congrats creepy, horror grandma!
Interestingly, this film adds in a weird Krampus voodoo doll which is created by a young girl so she can wield the power of the monster against those who do her wrong. In a non-lore but still entertaining twist, the Krampus here is essentially a Jason Voorhees-style killer who just murders everyone including beginning with an abusive couple who’ve been having some pre-marital sex. On the naughty list you go!
The big change from the legend is that Krampus is controlled and summoned by a little girl who uses the monster to exact revenge on adults who harm children. So ironically this one would have been better under the title Krampus: The Avenger. Revenge movies are fun, but even though there’s some good “what is Krampus” wiki moments, that big twist means this one slides down the Krampus accuracy rating pretty quickly.
A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
This freaky and festive anthology is a whole lot of fun and includes an interesting visual representation of Krampus. To really get into this entry would be to ruin its secrets, but on the surface it’s about Santa Claus as he battles his elves and Mrs. Claus who have been turned into nightmarish zombies. During the finale, Santa battles the Krampus who is definitely one of the best and most interesting versions that we’ve seen on screen: a true representation of the half-goat half-man creature that we’re all desperate to see.
This is a really cool Christmas anthology that utilizes the Krampus in an interesting way that adds to the story, even if when all’s said and done we can’t say that this is a wholly accurate Krampus movie.
Krampus: The Avenger A.K.A. Krampus vs. Vikings (2019)
This historical horror entry is at moments surprisingly “accurate” (well, at least as far as Krampus movies go).
Set in England during 820, the film centers around a Viking troupe trying to take over the castle of the British king. But their plans are waylaid by a demonic horned beast who lives in the forest and comes each “Yule Day” to kill families. This isn’t technically correct as Krampusnacht is usually on December 5th, the night before St. Nicholas Day on December 6th, plus Krampus is usually most interested in stealing/harming children rather than whole families. But early on in the movie we see Krampus talking about the naughty list, which gains the movie another accuracy point, and visually the practical effects heavy Krampus looks relatively like the creature we all know and fear, although it’s arguably more like a standard devil than a half-goat half-man beast.
Just like the majority of this list, Krampus the Avenger is a super low budget movie that is mostly concerned with the easy to shoot action of the Vikings and the royal family and less so with the Krampus. In fact, I would go so far to say this likely could have been a random Game of Thrones style knock-off that added a few Krampus reshoot moments… but that’s just a guess. Either way, the miniscule but present Krampus storyline is more accurate to the lore than usual until it gets lost in a strange wishing / vengeance / murder twist which makes little to no sense.
A modern Christmas horror classic, Krampus is truly a joy to watch. With an all-star cast featuring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, and Allison Tolman, this dark comedy is all about that titular creature even if it strays a little from the classical lore.
When a family gathers for Christmas, their stress, tension, and bitterness around the season begins to seep into their celebrations which comes to a head when the young son tears up his letter to Santa and throws it outside. It’s a mistake that will change all their lives forever as it summons the Krampus, a huge blizzard, and a nightmarish evening they’ll never forget.
This Krampus looks just how you’d expect the beast too, with huge horns and ghoulish goat hooves. But a big change in his motivations means that this Krampus is sent out to punish those who have lost the Christmas spirit, which is very different from dragging bad kids to hell or whipping them with sticks. Saying that, the entire family is objectively very badly behaved and really deserves the punishment the Krampus gives them. The final twist also strays from Krampus lore but is really creepy and overall this is a magnificent example of a Krampus tale.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Ironically, the film that feels closest to the origins of the Krampus doesn’t use the word Krampus once. It’s also one of the best films on our list, so if you haven’t seen this cult horror hit now is the perfect time. Rare Exports does feature a horned beast but here he’s known only as Santa Claus and is only ever seen frozen in a block of ice, which to be honest makes him even scarier. Directed by Jalmari Helander, this creepy classic begins when the local people of a small Finnish province which is thought to be home to the original Santa Claus, Joulupukki (which translates as Yule Goat), discover something incredibly strange. Their entire town was built on an ancient burial ground used to trap a strange ancient horned creature…
The legends of Joulupukki and Krampus are incredibly similar, though the most interesting difference–which the film plays on–is that rather than being St. Nick’s helper, Joulupukki is the original Santa Claus. While we don’t get too deep into Krampus lore here, there is an evil horned beast, kids in peril, multiple evil Santa-type figures, and some good chilly Christmas horror. If you want something that lives up to the creepiness of the Krampus, and adds lore and depth to the story you already know, then Rare Exports is the ultimate Krampus movie pick.