Image: Spectacular Optical

Earlier this year, we told you about Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema Of Jean Rollin, a feminist perspective on the erotic horror of French director Jean Rollin from Spectacular Optical, the Canadian publisher specializing in all things psychotronic. Now Spectacular Optical is gearing up for its next book, which focuses on a subgenre close to this writer’s heart: Christmas-themed horror in films and on TV.

Called Yuletide Terror, the book covers everything from the many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol to the ultra-violent films of the New French Extremity, with stopovers at the BBC’s A Ghost Story For Christmas, Tales From The Crypt’s “And All Through The House,” the proto-slasher Black Christmas, and, of course, the controversial Silent Night, Deadly Night movies.

Yuletide Terror is currently running a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, where you can pre-order copies of the book on its own or packaged with other Spectacular Optical titles, Mondo’s Gremlins sweater, or various Xmas horror films featured in the book. The campaign also helps support a Christmas-themed horror short, We Always Find Ourselves In The Sea, which is being made especially to accompany the book.

Spectacular Optical has shared an exclusive excerpt from the book with The A.V. Club, and, in the Christmas spirit, we’re sharing it with you as well. You can read from Paul Corupe’s essay “Horns For The Holidays: The Krampus Conquers North American Horror Films” below, and read the whole thing in Yuletide Terror, which is now available for pre-order on Indiegogo. 

An Excerpt from:
HORNS FOR THE HOLIDAYS: THE KRAMPUS CONQUERS NORTH AMERICAN HORROR FILMS
By Paul Corupe

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Image: Spectacular Optical

Helping to cement Krampus’ 21st century popularity beyond the snowy Alpine mountains, Monty Beauchamp’s 2004 book The Devil in Design was the first English-language collection of Krampus postcards—or “Krampuskarten”—which featured more than 150 images of the Krampus along with a brief, one-page introduction to the mythological character. While a second volume, 2010’s Krampus: The Devil of Christmas, followed, Krampuskarten also gained additional exposure from collectors and historians, which ultimately led to the popular realization that some Alpine communities still held contemporary Krampus runs. Ridenour believes that, as a result of online photos of these runs, as well as lingering interest in Krampuskarten, the Krampus were “gleefully embraced as a sort of counter-cultural meme,” inspiring Krampus-themed events in North American cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto.

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That influence soon started to bleed into popular culture. Along with novels (2012’s heavily illustrated Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom), children’s books (Kyle Michel Sullivan’s Goodnight Krampus (2016)) and comic books (Image’s five-issue darkly satiric Krampus! (2013)), the Krampus’ likeness also graces action figures and plush toys, as well as holiday décor ranging from tree toppers and ornaments to stockings and knit sweaters. They have also popped up on television (including episodes of The Venture Bros., Supernatural, The League, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and UK series Inside No. 9), and appear in independent short films like Krampus (2012), Night of the Krampus (2013) and A Visit From Krampus (2015).

Image: Spectacular Optical

All of this cultural ephemera had an early hand in shaping how the Krampus legend has been transposed across the Atlantic. However, Michael Dougherty’s Hollywood studio-distributed 2015 feature Krampus has been the most influential by again reshaping the Krampus’ story for a contemporary audience. In modern cinematic retellings, the Krampus are almost always positioned as singular figure rather than one of many, a reigning lord of anti-Christmas sentiment best characterized as Santa’s evil counterpart rather than his wild but indentured companion. It’s Krampus, as well as other Christmas horror movies like A Christmas Horror Story (2015), Krampus: The Christmas Devil (2013) and Krampus: The Reckoning (2015) that, for better or worse, have shaped North American perceptions of the character. Filling in the gaps of the creature’s obscure origins with a mixture of familiar Christmas lore and common horror movie tropes, these cinematic reinterpretations have expanded popular perception of the punishment-dealing Christmas devil.

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The most significant influence on modern cinematic depictions of the Krampus is the Santa-starring Christmas slasher movie. As with the killer Kris Kringles in Santa’s Slay (2005), Christmas Evil (1980), Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984), Sint (2010) and, most notably, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), the North American Krampus primarily exist as counterpoints to Christmas cheer. In Silent Night, Deadly Night, for example, emotionally troubled orphan Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) snaps when he temporarily fills in for an absent toy store Santa, sending him on a deranged murder spree in which he disciplines “naughty” babysitters and sled-stealing teenage bullies. Similarly, in Santa’s Slay, it’s revealed that jolly old Saint Nick (Bill Goldberg) is really a spawn of Satan out for bloody revenge on townsfolk he was forced to be nice to as a divine punishment. Wearing dirty outfits and breaking into homes brandishing weapons instead of toys, these unsavoury Santas gleefully transgress feelings of goodwill and joy popularly associated with the season.

Despite their popularity, some protestors and parents took issue with the way films like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Sint subverted the popular holiday myth of Santa, a character most meaningful to children. This opposition is surely one reason that the Krampus have been quickly adopted by horror filmmakers liking to make a creepy Christmas classic, since it allows filmmakers to place the essential characteristics of the slasher Santa—disagreeable grinches more focused on violently punishing bad kids than rewarding good ones—into an existing character that already embodies a dark side of Christmas. In this way, these horror films, including Krampus, can express the same anti-Christmas sentiments as killer Santa movies, but without having to having to directly undermine popular Christmas iconography.