Krampus is a half goat demon who, on Christmas, penalizes children who have been bad all year. In several countries, he is depicted as a companion to Saint Nicholas and doles out his punishments while Santa gives presents. While the Krampus legend has been told in the Alpine region for centuries, it is only somewhat recently that stories involving the child kidnapping demon have gained traction in pop culture the world over. Several books have been written featuring Krampus, with esteemed artist and fantastical author Brom having published Krampus: The Yule Lord, a few years ago. Movie-wise, Michael Dougherty’s Krampus opened successfully in 2015 to decent reviews.
Though it’s the most well-known (and arguably the best) film to star Krampus, it was not the first. 2013 saw the direct-to-video release of Krampus: The Christmas Devil, which got a sequel in 2016. There have been a handful of releases since then that are about the Christmas ruining creature, all of varying quality. Krampus Origins, the latest independently produced movie starring the horned evil, written by Robert Conway and directed by Joseph Mbah.
In December of 1918, during World War I, a squad of US soldiers is on a reconnaissance mission deep behind enemy lines. Their goal is to search and destroy a hidden German installation. They successfully infiltrate it and get the intended intel; along the way, one soldier, Patrick (Owen Conway), finds a book of ancient spells. He does not give the book to his commanding officers, instead he leafs through it on his own time.
“…the monster is stealing children, and it is up to the new teacher…to figure out a way to banish him…”
Meanwhile, Patrick’s wife, Josephine (Katie Peabody), is a new teacher at an orphanage run by nuns. While the head nun, Sister Rafus (Maria Olsen), can be distant at times, Josephine is excited to start. She gets to know everyone, including handyman Jimmy (Miloh England) and perpetually drunk Father Timothy (Michael Harrelson), and of course, the children.
There’s strong-willed Adelia (Anna Harr), who has taken a shine to spells and potions; which she discovered via Lena (Shannyn Hall), who works at the orphanage in some capacity (I think; more on this later). Rooming with her is the sweet Henrietta (Amelia Haberman), who is also interested in such things, but is far more cautious. Then there’s socially awkward, stammering Bram (Luke Waxman), who has a large heart, despite the bullying he endures.
Soon after starting as the teacher, Josephine receives word that her husband was killed in action. She receives her husband’s effects, including the book. Lena takes the book to learn more spells and accidentally unleashes the Krampus. Now, the monster is stealing children, and it is up to the new teacher, who is protected by a magical amulet, to figure out a way to banish him back to the underworld.
The most noteworthy aspect of Krampus Origins is the acting. A lot of lower budget horror films tend to have one, maybe two actors, who show great promise, a few that are mediocre, and a handful that is painfully awkward to watch. Screenwriter Robert Conway’s Krampus Unleashed suffers immeasurably from such a fate. But here, across the board, the acting is well above average. This fact not only helps the film stand out from the crowd, but it also makes the characters far more relatable than they are on paper.
“No forced drama or inept comedy to be found, making for a reasonably tight script.”
That is because Conway’s screenplay is a bit of a mixed bag. The story and its structure work quite well, successfully using the backdrop of the Great War to give the proceedings weight. It also avoids a lot of cliches, as the nuns don’t beat or abuse the children, most of the kids get along, and when news of Patrick’s death reaches the orphanage, the nuns are all about Josephine leaving to be with family. No forced drama or inept comedy to be found, making for a reasonably tight script.
But clocking in at a scant 86 minutes, there is no room for character development; aside from Josephine. Lena gets shafted the worst, as her placement in the plot, while necessary, is not organic in any way. There’s a throwaway line about how the sisters at the orphanage put up with her pagan leanings because she has a “…way with the children.” Okay, and what exactly would that way be? She’s shown only interacting with three students in any meaningful way.
Moreover, two of those three students might as well be the same person. Bram’s stammer and shyness allow him to be easily identified, but that is the exception. Adelia and Henrietta on the other hand, aside from one being slightly more careful than the other, might as well be the same person; a similar thing can be said for the two bully characters, whose names I don’t recall.
Luckily, the thin characters don’t bring Krampus Origins down too much, as Mbah’s directing keeps things moving very quickly. The opening action scene, detailing the troops’ secret mission, is engaging and fun. The tonal shifts work well too, such as when Lena offers a grieving Josephine a cup of tea, which then segues into Lena reading from the ancient spell book and summoning Krampus. Going from the highly dramatic to more overt horror moments works nicely and helps raise the stakes.
Krampus Origins suffers from poor characterizations for almost every person in the story. However, the acting is reliable from all involved, and the director ably juggles the drama and horror scenes to good effect. In the pantheon of other direct-to-video Krampus dramatizations, it is one of the better titles, despite its flaws.
Krampus Origins (2018) Directed by Joseph Mbah. Written by Robert Conway. Starring Katie Peabody, Maria Olsen, Amelia Haberman, Anna Harr, Shannyn Hall, Luke Waxman, Owen Conway.
7 Christmas Trees (out of 10)