MOTHER KRAMPUS (2017) is a quite serious and pretty gory b-movie from the UK that claims to be “Based on the German Urban Legend of Frau Perchta, the Christmas Witch, who takes a child each night over the 12 days of Christmas.” Maybe C.J. or any of the other German readers can let us know if they’ve ever heard of such a thing. With a little reading I learned she’s a pagan goddess of the Alps, a guardian of beasts and does have some association with the 12 Days of Christmas. She often has one oversized foot and an iron beak, both of which are sorely missing in this cinematic depiction. In some legends she has servants who look like Krampus, but they’re not Krampus, and she doesn’t have them in this movie anyway, so the title is bullshit. But it is a specifically Christmas-themed horror story about an evil hag who comes out of the woods to kill people at Christmas time and that I can get behind.
And we gotta give the ol’ Frau this: it takes balls to do the opening kill at a church! A mom is not paying attention to her son, as she talks to the priest after the service, and he follows a trail of candy to the door, where our shadowy robed non-Krampus related hag snatches him up. I like that it’s hard candy, because it shows that Mother Krampus is a grandma at heart. Either that or she’s so devious that she could use any delicious candy and purposely chooses the less good stuff because she knows it’ll do.
After that we’re introduced to our leads, middle schooler Amy (Faye Goodwin, LUCIFER’S NIGHT, MANDY THE DOLL) and her mom Vanessa (Claire-Maria Fox, SUICIDE CLUB, BRIDE OF SCARECROW, PET GRAVEYARD), who are coming to town to spend Christmas with Grandpa Alfie (Tony Manders, THE YOUNG CANNIBALS, THE MERMAID’S CURSE). There seems to be a little bit of a single parent motif: Vanessa is spending her first Christmas split from her husband, and talks to her father about what it was like when his wife left him, and I guess Mother Krampus is not actually Krampus’ mother, but I’m pretty sure she’s single.
Little time is wasted on people not knowing what’s going on. Shortly after the visitors settle in a mysterious woman named Leslie (Michelle Archer, CURSE OF THE WITCH’S DOLL) shows up, upsetting Alfie and whispering in another room about a curse. Leslie and the other locals meet up in
the church, and in the ELM STREET tradition they connect these child disappearances to that time in the winter of ’92 when they strung up suspected child murderer Molly Fletcher (Tara MacGowran, SPYMAKER: THE SECRET LIFE OF IAN FLEMING, VIRTUAL DEATH MATCH) and she cursed them to be avenged by Frau Perchta. Other than one non-believer (Tim Freeman, “Mr. Wopsle” from the Mike Newell GREAT EXPECTATIONS) they’re all pretty convinced that’s what’s up.
Even Mr. It’s-an-urban-legend will be converted pretty quick, because as he’s driving home early from the meeting his daughter Tilly (Blythe Rosewarne, RIVER MONSTERS) is saying “Frau Perchta” three times in a mirror, prompted by her babysitter (Becca Hirani, THE GARDENER starring Gary Daniels and Robert Bronzi). That connects this to the urban legend of “Bloody Mary,” but Tilly compares it to CANDYMAN. (Good kid.) After it actually does summon the old hag to their house Tilly complains, “This is all your fault. We should’ve never played that game.”
Vanessa’s husband Wildon (Tom Bowen, who played David Lee Roth in an episode of Breaking the Band, and looks more like Amy’s older brother than her dad) later shows up with his new girlfriend Debbie (Dottie James, SICK OF LOSING SOULMATES) and everybody besides Vanessa acts like this is reasonable. Vanessa expected it to be a weird Christmas because he left her, not because she had to welcome his new girlfriend to her dad’s house. Or because she learns several earth-shattering family secrets (she had a sister who died! her dad was a cop! and more). It’s too much even without the witch murdering everybody in town.
The witch’s powers are to come back from the dead, show up where she wants to, and maybe hypnotize people, judging by the teen bully who finds her in a tent inside the classroom during detention and crawls toward her and takes her hand? But her look is just kind of a withered hag with bad teeth in a robe with some flair around the back of the neck. I wish she actually was a Krampus, but I really appreciate that, having been lynched on Christmas, this Frau Perchta does maintain a holiday theme for most of her murders, which to me is one of the most important (and most neglected) aspects of Christmas horror.
Whenever she needs to tie people up (which is often) she uses lit Christmas lights or garland. As part of the most spectacular murder, she stitches her victim’s mouth closed with ribbon and then sews Christmas lights (again, lit) beneath the skin of her stomach! She cuts off pieces of skin with cookie cutters (shout out to BLACK X-MAS) and roasts them over a fire, or slices out organs with an electric knife and bakes them in the oven. She does not skimp on the holiday spirit.
There’s also a part where Alfie gives everybody Christmas tree lights wrapped around sticks like torches because “the light should fend off the witch.” Extra points for that.
As you might notice from the actor credits, this comes out of a world of V.O.D. b-movies and mockbusters all made by the same producers and with many of the same cast members. Director James Klass’ only other film as a director, HOUSE ON ELM LAKE, was released the same year, but his co-writer Scott Jeffrey is a prolific b-movie writer, director and producer (THE BAD NUN, CLOWNDOLL, BATS: THE AWAKENING).
MOTHER KRAMPUS is definitely a better movie than I would assume based on my prejudices about those types of titles. There are certainly awkward storytelling choices (like the overly long narration at the beginning describing the 1921 and 1992 incidents that are about to be explained in the movie anyway), but it’s mostly competent, and even pretty atmospheric. The grim tone is not my preferred mode of holiday horror fun, and leads to way too many crying scenes, but I respect it more than the it’s-bad-but-we-know-it’s-bad-so-that-makes-it-okay-right? jokiness of, say, PUPPET MASTER VS. DEMONIC TOYS. The complicated backstory does have a pretty good payoff that I didn’t see coming, and I like that Fox and Manders are pretty good actors taking their roles completely seriously, even wringing a little emotion out of their relationship and family troubles. Goodwin as Amy is a pretty funny protagonist, too. She reminds me a little bit of the main character in EIGHTH GRADE – not too self conscious, trying to put a good face on things, and a little too young to have any of the teenage interests common to horror.
I would absolutely not add this to the modern Christmas horror pantheon with KRAMPUS and SINT, but it was pretty good for a gloomy December afternoon watching Tubi, which, by the way, has a surplus of cheap-ass Christmas horror movies I never heard of. It went right into some killer elf movie. I should probly start leaving Tubi on all day like it’s the evil twin of the Hallmark Channel.
P.S. I was excited when I saw that there was a MOTHER KRAMPUS 2: SLAY RIDE – I thought from the title maybe they decided to go a little more over the top. Unfortunately it’s some unrelated retitled movie and honestly it’s a Christmas miracle that I got through the whole thing. This one involves a lady in a nightgown and what looks like a part 4 Michael Myers mask (but with longer hair and smeared makeup) – or maybe it’s Michael Jackson? – going around barefoot, axing people. In a few scenes. Mostly it’s about women on probation doing community service and whining about it. Unlike the first one, it’s painfully amateurish, with awkwardly edited together shots of actors awkwardly failing to sell awkward dialogue and unbelievable behavior in boring cliche situations. There are many scenes of people calling into the other room to a person they don’t know is dead.
It does take place on Christmas Eve, and there is an ice skate face slashing, but I think it’s fair to assume you will not getting anything out of it. The only redeeming value I can think of is that one of the leads (co-writer Roger Conner) is a drag performer whose bitchiness is at least a little more fun than everybody else’s.