Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Gruss Vom Krampusnacht

Illustration by James Bousema
Krampus is the goat-man demon that accompanies Santa Claus in Central European folklore to punish the bad children. What? Did you think Nicholas, that saint, would get his hands dirty? While the origins of such a figure remains a mystery, experts believe it predates Christianity and has been considered as troubling in many regions. In Austria, Krampus was labeled “evil” and prohibited early in the 20th century. True he carries birch branches to whip the children and a basket to collect them and take them to the underworld for dinner so its entirely reasonable to have qualms.

Nonetheless, celebrations persist from Krampus festivals to parades and bonfires where participants don horned masks and furry costumes to amuse and terrify onlookers. This culminates on December 5’s Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, which is the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas, which brings equivalent Christmas Day celebrations with gifts and food. Many regional variations exist but the message is always the same: be good or else you’re lunch meat for demons.

American awareness and celebration of Krampus is growing steadily. From books of vintage Krampus postcards (Krampuskarten featuring "Gruss Vom Krampus" or Greetings from Krampus), to novels, to a major motion picture (2015’s Krampus) the horned devil is taking hold. Columbia, SC, Portland, OR, Olmsted Falls, OH, Bloomington, IN, Philadelphia, PA, Rochester, NY, Los Angeles, CA, and of course New Orleans, LA all have notable Krampus celebrations. There was even a Krampus musical in Minneapolis, MN!

It’s clear that this yuletide demon is not for everyone, but why do so many people love it? It is counterculture rebellion at the most wonderful time of the year? Is our fascination with all things magical and fantastic beasts? Ahem, is it a refusal to let Halloween go? Maybe it's just kind of fun to see creatures stirring in the night. To learn more I recommend two books (both available on Amazon): The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas by Al Ridenour and Contemporary Krampus: A Modern Look at An Ancient Legend by Mike Drake.

Have a scary (and safe with all that fire) Krampusnacht!



Sunday, December 2, 2018

Terrified is One of the Year's Best Horrors

Terrified (Atterados) is an Argentinian horror film making it’s debut on the Shudder streaming service and it is one of the best and most terrifying movies of the year. (This film is not be confused with the film, Terrifier featuring one bad clown.)

Strange occurrences bring three investigators to a sleepy suburban neighborhood in Buenos Aires in search of paranormal evidence of a strange phenomena. The set up sounds mundane, I know, but the ensuing chaos multiples the dread, consistently delivers scares, and the horror it delivers veers well off into bizarre territory that evokes movies like Insidious, Event Horizon, and In the Mouth of Madness.

This is one efficient, tension-filled horror movie that hits the ground running from the very first scene and does not let you catch your breath. As the gruesome events mount, you never have a chance to consider all that is happening and like many unexplained mysteries much is left in the dark. The film is plot centric with very little character development and the story at best can be described as thin. You will need some imagination (it knows what scares you) to fill in the gaps. None of this however spoils the otherworldly atmosphere the movie creates, aided by the marvelous cinematography, unique sound design, and perfectly timed practical effects. I can only hope this is a first entry to a series of films. They seem to have so many sights to show us.

As a “Shudder Original” it’s tied to the streaming service and wonder if it has a chance to beget a cult following. For starters, it won the best horror feature at this year’s Fantastic Fest. and Bloody-Disgusting.com reported last week that Guillermo del Toro is producing an American remake of the film. Don’t let the Spanish language stop you from seeing Terrified now. No American film will ever recreate two particularly effective but disturbing scenes here – I can practically hear the pencils snapping in two at the MPAA.