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Krampus: A Reminder of Winter

[1]1,780 words

Imagine this. It’s 3 in the afternoon. You’re lying in bed with your wife. You’re watching a Christmas movie. Suddenly you understand at the same time the purpose of family, the absurdity of reward without punishment and the naivety of European man who thought he could live as a goofy creature of materialism while shutting out from himself the darkness of existence. You think back to some boomer or tradcon or whatever bellyaching about how muh leftists are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas and make it ‘just some holiday about snow.’ You think about the Division Azul on the shores of Lake Ladoga. You think about what that’d feel like, for a hot-blooded son of the sun-kissed Mediterranean to suffer winter in the far north. You think about the bone-deep sadness of the Division Azul song [2]. You think about flowers, about cold, about that one time when you lost your shoe in the mountains. You think about reading Lovecraft and the claustrophobia that cold can induce. You think about your old hare-brained idea that the whole Spenglerian infinite space thing began as cold-induced escapism in the dead of winter. And then you realize, there’s a real good goddamn reason why Christmas is a holiday about snow.

Well, that’s how I spent my New Year’s Eve.

The movie in question was Michael Dougherty’s 2015 comedy horror Krampus. In a cinematographic rendering of the old German folk tale of Krampus, we are faced with something quite riveting, didactic, eerily and comically human, a sort of contrast of old and new, the world that is and the world that was, and the memory of our tribe. We are faced with our history, in a sense.

By we, I mean white people in general and Germanic people in particular. The movie is refreshingly devoid of nonwhite faces. I don’t know how the hell they pulled it off, but it’s there. Not even the delivery guy is black. God be praised, the teenage daughter’s stoner boyfriend isn’t black. And no, the invading mythical creatures are not black. I think. They behave like savage tribesmen, but they’re supposed to be elves or Fair Folk, so I doubt they wuz kangz.

I’m getting ahead of myself. The plot’s well-crafted. Note to the traveler, here be spoilers. A young preteen boy, Max, is desperately trying to hold on to the spirit of Christmas. His workaholic dad Tom is at loggerheads with his bitchy mom, Sarah, due to frequent business trips. His sister is a bratty teenage bowl of cynicism more interested in doing God knows what with her stoner boyfriend (thankfully, not black). His only ally is his Omi, his grandma, who speaks most of her lines in German and is played by the dignified and graceful Krista Stadler. [3] She, in her words, believes in St. Nicholas, equating him to the spirit of giving and sacrifice. This stands in stark contrast with the film’s opening scene which shows what I hope is a highly overwrought scene of Black Friday violent shopping. On the one hand, I cannot possibly believe that human beings could behave like that. On the other, the baron Evola had some choice words about Americans which I’m not going to repeat here.

Max’s parents are apprehensive about the arrival of Aunt Linda, the mom’s sister and her husband, Uncle Howard. The Mother speaks of them in dismissive tones. When the relatives arrive, they’re . . . well, they’re not exactly Obama voters. They have four children, first and foremost. The very butch Jordan and Stevie (who are female, believe it or not), the overweight and mute Howie Jr. and baby Chrissy. Uncle Howard is an inspiring physical presence who believes in man’s man things like protecting his family (with firearms), and he drives a hummer named Lucinda. Aunt Linda is the very image of a still-young matronly woman who’s given birth to four children. This causes no little amounts of tension between the folksy relatives and Max’s upmarket family. Aunt Linda and Uncle Howard tote with one Aunt Dorothy, who is a rather unpleasant fat spinster, the kind who is best friends with alcohol and hasn’t got a kind word for anyone, not even at Christmas. Unfortunately, you know her kind. Every family has one.

Jordan and Stevie steal Max’s letter to Santa and read it out during family dinner, airing out his concerns about the family’s lack of Christmas spirit. Max is, of course, so mortified by shame that he runs upstairs and hides in his room. His dad tries to comfort him, but Max pointedly asks what’s the point of having a family who’s bent on doing you ill. The father has no answer. When the father leaves, Max tears up his letter to Santa, and invokes a much darker spirit — the spirit of Krampus. Unlike his mythical counterpart, who puts misbehaving children in black sacks and beats them with reeds, this movie’s Krampus drags the entire town to the underworld to punish a single family for their lack of Christmas spirit.

Now, while much of the plot in set in motion by Max, and the action is centered around the adults, the way I saw the film, Grandma sits square in the center of the whole thing and what makes it a film about the way whites, especially Germans and Nordics go about Christmas, and why we have a holiday about snow, even though it’s not just about the snow. I see no point in counter-signaling Christianity. The globohomo hates Christianity, so I’m not going to join in their gayndeer games.

The choice of actress is very interesting. You can call Krista Stadler an old woman and old she indeed is. But she is also a woman who is clearly beautiful. There’s a beauty, unmarred, but rather enhanced by age. Her face has many lines and each tells a story, of a girl, of a maiden, of a wife, a mother and finally grandmother. Omi is complete, dignified and brings joy to Max as he gladdens her weary heart. Her clothing is modest and elegant. She is in many ways European. In the film, this is achieved by Stadler’s slender frame and understated acting, but there’s a sense that a woman so complete and dignified would not be less beautiful if heavier or more jovial. Contrast that to the blubbery and unpleasant Aunt Dorothy, who as I mentioned before, has no kind word for anyone. In times of hardship, when the electricity goes out, Omi makes hot chocolate over the fire and shares it with everyone, whereas Aunt Dorothy lets the children drink peppermint schnapps when entrusted with their care.

Omi knows how to deal with Krampus. Omi knows how to speak to children. Omi is very aware of the danger that is out there. Omi warns the family, repeatedly, not to mess with the creature on its own turf, but huddle near the fire and keep it going. Omi, in a sense, is a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge. Indeed, in pre-literate societies, the aged were walking libraries who carried within them the tribe’s memories. And cheerful, friendly Omi carries some dark memories indeed. Of cold and pain and the punishment of those who renounce St. Nicholas, the spirit of giving and sacrifice, and participate instead in greed and selfishness, or worse yet, as the family does at meal-time, in pettiness and mutual sabotage. Omi remembers the fate of those who forget that families cannot be taken for granted, that actions have consequences, that insults cut deep when spoken by blood. Above all, Omi can recall that horrible thing under the very thin veneer of civilization that will devour us should we forget what built this great house of ours.

No people but a people under constant siege, and nothing can siege quite as constantly as the winter cold, would have developed our mythology. Christianity papered over it, barely. Tall and bearded St. Nicholas, who historically was the generous and wise bishop of Myra, is in the mind of white, and particularly German man yet another avatar of Odin. Not for nothing is St. Nicholas, even when transmogrified by modern advertising into a Coca-Cola salesman, heavily associated with magic. Folk tales abound of him engaging in miraculous, magical acts. The Orthodox Church calls him St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker. Magic, as we know, is Odin’s preferred way of doing things. In the darkest night, we summon our all-father, under a new name, to warm us in his magical glow, bringing us the spirit of giving and sacrifice — gods above, sacrifice! — so that we may live through the cold, through the darkness, through the hunger, so that we may see the end of the ice giants. Jolly old St. Nick brings joy to good children, but totes with him Krampus to punish the bad. The wages of sin is death, sometimes literally. What our elders used to call sinful behavior wasn’t just normatively bad, as the left would have you believe, because of something something patriarchy. No — sinning meant death. Adultery meant death — pissing off your family is never a good idea when each winter you need them to survive. Pride, envy and wrath mean death for the same reasons. Gluttony, sloth, and greed mean death, for if you can’t control your flesh, you’ll starve or freeze or both.

And this is essentially the whole point of family. Like most modern people, I see little to like in my extended family. Even close to home, eh . . . but nobody else will hold my hand while I’m going through the various agonies of food poisoning. You need your family for tail events, for when you’re sick, for when you’re broke, for when shit hits the fan, and everything is wind except blood.

What I particularly like about the film is that the ending is ambiguous, and I interpret it as bad. It’s in many ways a film about the white and German experience of winter, but a bad ending reinforces the old Sicilian saying: “You fuck up once, you lose two teeth.” There’s no restarts and save-scumming in real life. If you turn your back on Odin, you give yourself to the ice giants. If you turn your back on God, you give yourself to the other guy.

Krampus is a film that tells that story in an action-packed and humorous, yet frightening package. It does so without poz, with good-looking actors, with a well-written script, good visuals and without an over-reliance on special effects. It somehow manages to be a good film while still hailing from the year 2015. Thank our old friend St. Nicholas under any of his names for this Christmas miracle.