The real story behind Krampus & 3 other things you need to know about the film

Dec 3, 2015 at 4:33 p.m. ET
Image: Universal Pictures

We all know Santa Claus, but many of us may not have heard of Krampus, his cruel and punishing counterpart. Here's everything you need to know before you see this scary new holiday film.

In the German-speaking Alpine areas of Europe, traditional folklore has told the stories of two very different Christmas-related characters. Saint Nicholas (known as Santa Claus in America and Father Christmas in Britain), is a benevolent figure who rewards good children, but his shadow companion, Krampus, is a frightening, horned beast who punishes children when they misbehave.

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Krampus

Image: Public Domain

For years, Europeans have sent devilish holiday cards like the one above in an effort to celebrate humanity's mischievous side. Krampus is known for his goat-like horns, cloven feet and for rattling chains — a tradition that may date back to early Christians' efforts to lock up the devil. It's thought that Krampus originated from pagan elements and was possibly related to a horned god that was worshiped by witches.

In parts of Europe, the Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated on Dec. 6. Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, is celebrated on Dec. 5, when people dress up as the hairy beast and walk through the streets, giving children lumps of coal.

Now, a new movie called Krampus explores one little boy's frightening experience when he questions the existence of Santa Claus.

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Krampus

Image: Universal

11-year-old Max Engle (Emjay Anthony), is urged by his German grandmother, Omi (Krista Stadler), to write a letter to Santa, keeping his Christmas spirit alive. But Max unleashes the wrath of Krampus when he tears up his letter to Santa out of frustration in dealing with his dysfunctional family.

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Krampus
Image: Universal

But Krampus isn't your typical family-friendly holiday movie. Here are three things to know before you see it:

1. Krampus is scary

Though it's all meant to be fun, the tone of the film is closer to a Halloween movie and will likely scare grade school-aged kids.

2. The existence of Santa Claus is questioned

This also might shock or disappoint younger kids.

3. Violent gingerbread men

There is some surprising gun violence in the film, where evil gingerbread men get their candy heads blown off. Again, this is meant to be comedic, but this may be disturbing to younger kids.

Bottom line: This movie is a fun holiday alternative for teens and people who enjoy the darker side of things, but not meant for young kids.

Krampus also stars Toni Collette and Adam Scott and opens Dec. 4.

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