The Real Legend of Krampus Is Actually Pretty Terrifying

In the darkest and coldest months of the year, I'm always looking for a thrill and a scare. Sure, there are plenty of scary books to curl up with, and a few more end-of-year horror movies looming, but we're about to give terror a holiday spin. That's right, it's time to talk about the Krampus. It's been a few years since the horror movie of the same name added itself holiday horror movie canon, but the ancient Christmas demon has been around for centuries. We're looking back and digging up the origins of the myths. What aspects were changed for 2015's Krampus, and what parts stick to the classic lore?

The Origins of Krampus

The Origins of Krampus

  • Appearance: According to the folklore, Krampus is a beast — half-goat, half-demon, kind of like a satyr or a faun. He has horns, hooves, black hair, fangs, and a long, pointed tongue. He carries with him chains and bells and wields a bundle of birch branches, with which he swats naughty children.
  • Heritage: In some stories, Krampus is believed to be the son of Hel, who is the ruler of the Norse underworld.
  • Added Accessories: Certain versions depict Krampus carrying a large sack, or sometimes even a full-on washtub. He'll stuff his victims in either one before he drags them away.
  • When He Comes: In German culture, St. Nicholas Day (or Nikolaustag) is celebrated on Dec. 6. In the preceding night, children leave out shoes and boots, and St. Nick fills them with gifts. The night before, however, is also known as Krampus Night (or Krampusnacht). Krampus finds and punishes the wicked children of the world. According to lore, he drags them to the underworld, where he tortures and possibly eats them.
How the Movie Changed the Story
Universal Pictures

How the Movie Changed the Story

  • Appearance: The demon in Krampus bears a striking resemblance to the one described in the folk tales. The only difference is that his face in the film looks like some kind of deranged, twisted, zombified Santa Claus. Don't worry, though. He's still got that tongue.
  • When He Comes: While the Krampus of yore comes every year no matter what, it seems the version in Krampus must be somehow summoned. When Grandma Omi tells her own tale, she summons Krampus by angrily throwing her stuffed Santa in a fire. Max summons him by tearing up his letter to Santa and scattering the fragments in the wind. As Omi puts it, Krampus comes when all hope is forgotten, when the true spirit of the Christmas season has been somehow lost.
  • What He Does: Much like the old tales, the demon in Krampus drags his victims to the underworld, but it's not just naughty children he's after. He takes every single member of Max's family.
  • His Little Helpers: The cinematic Krampus comes with backup. Little living gingerbread men wreak havoc on families in whatever way they can. There's also a whole crew of monsters disguised as children's toys: a jack-in-the-box with the mouth of a lamprey that swallows children whole. A rabid teddy bear with razor-sharp teeth. A rather violent robot. And some kind of malicious, bloodthirsty angel that looks like Chuckie from Child's Play. Oh, and this Krampus has elves. They wear horrifying masks, break in through windows, and help apprehend the demon's victims.
  • Added Accessories: Like the myth, this Krampus does have a sack. It's where he keeps all his demented toys. He also has some kind of messed-up sleigh. It's gnarled, and crude, and I'm pretty sure there's a crucified Santa Claus on the front.
  • The Final Touch: In the film, Krampus leaves his summoner behind as a reminder of what happens when hope is lost. He also bequeaths one of his twist jingle bells, emblazoned with the words, "Gruß vom Krampus," or, "Greetings from Krampus."