Today, December 5, is Krampusnacht (aka Krampus Night), the night the Christmas demon known as Krampus roams the streets, ahead of the Feast of Saint Nicholas.
So what better day to revisit Krampus, Trick ‘r Treat director Michael Dougherty’s 2015 film that is, and likely will forever be, the be-all, end-all Krampus movie!
One of the most talked about aspects of Dougherty’s Krampus is of course the ending, which suggests that pretty much everything we saw throughout the movie did not really happen. After Krampus kills his whole family and tosses him into the fiery depths of what is presumably Hell, Max (whose loss of faith in the Christmas spirit invited Krampus into his home in the first place) wakes up in his own bed on Christmas morning. Downstairs, he finds his family opening up presents by the tree – happy and still very much alive.
A normal, happy family Christmas is exactly what Max had wanted most, and the film seems like it’s going to end on that uplifting note; all the bad stuff was nothing more than a nightmare. But then Dougherty hits us with another twist. The camera pulls back to reveal that Max and his family are in some sort of hellish snow globe, which Krampus sets down in his underworld lair. They’ve seemingly become part of his collection, suggesting that the film’s events weren’t a dream at all.
The assumption one might derive from the film’s final coda is that Max and his family are literally trapped in Hell for the rest of eternity, doomed to live out that particular Christmas morning on an endless loop; a sort of cruel reminder of what they *could’ve* had when they were alive… if only they appreciated what they had.
But is that what Michael Dougherty really intended to convey? Did he give us a happy ending and then immediately rip it away in favor of a super depressing one? It’s certainly a valid interpretation of the film, though my personal take-away from the ending, as I originally relayed on Halloween Love back in 2015, was that Dougherty was imparting genuine holiday cheer – and a message we could all stand to learn.
The way I viewed Krampus, the events of the film weren’t an extended nightmare sequence but rather a hellish vision that Krampus forced Max to see – think A Christmas Carol, which was obviously a huge influence on Dougherty. Since Max learned the lesson Krampus wanted him to learn, offering himself up to the Christmas demon in the end, that vision, in so many words, did not end up coming true. It would have, of course, if Max didn’t learn his holiday lesson – we know this because Max’s grandmother failed to reverse Krampus’ evil deeds when she was a child, resulting in the death of her parents.
It was immediately after Max lost his inner Christmas spirit that Krampus and his twisted pals arrived, and it was precisely because Max lost sight of the true meaning of the holiday that they came knocking. Max wished that his family would go away, and by taking him on a nightmarish journey, Krampus showed Max that what he thought he wanted wasn’t what he wanted at all. Max realized that, and so Krampus gave him the ultimate gift.
He gave Max his family back.
But how is it a happy ending if they’re all trapped in a snow globe? Well, they’re really not. The way I saw it, that was just Dougherty’s way of showing that those snow globes are Krampus’ portals to the real world. He has one for every family, and when they’re not respecting the spirit of the season, he strikes. He’s keeping tabs on every single family in the world, quite literally like an evil Santa Claus. He sees them when they’re sleeping. He knows when they’re awake. And he damn sure knows when they’ve been bad or good.
As for the bell that Max opens up on that happy Christmas morning, I viewed that as Krampus reminding Max that he’s watching, and letting him know that though none of those awful things actually happened to his family, it was all something more than a mere nightmare – even his family members seem to recognize the bell in some way, suggesting that they too experienced the same nightmare. Should Max lose sight of the Christmas spirit again, Krampus will return, as the family is forever under his watchful eye. The bell is merely a symbol – a reminder to never lose that Christmas spirit.
Though he may not be as cute or cuddly, it seems clear to me that Michael Dougherty views Krampus in much the same way he does Trick ‘r Treat‘s Sam; they’re both living, breathing cautionary tales for their respective holidays, existing for the primary purpose of teaching people to respect, appreciate, and uphold holiday traditions and values.
If you don’t, well, you know what’s going to happen to you…