Saturday, December 20, 2008

Krampus Postcard

Over at Flickr, "riptheskull" has a whole collection of vintage Christmas cards. In this one Krampus is snatching two naughty children out of the nursery, while St. Nick looks through the window like some kind of holly-jolly Nosferatu. Click on the photo for a larger size to get the full effect. And then just try to get some sleep Christmas Eve.

(Link to photo page here. Published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.)

Santa's Nasty Friends

Many European countries, and immigrant groups in the US, have legends about the evil companions who ride with St. Nick to inflict terrible harm on boys and girls who misbehave. Black Pete, Ruprecht, Belsnickel are some of the more infamous characters. But for sheer terror, you can't beat Krampus. Derived from "krampen," an old German word for claw, this creature is an enormous, shaggy, horned monster carrying rusty bells that make an awful racket and toting switches or sticks to beat the daylights out of anyone in his way. Krampus festivals in Germany and Austria occur in early December, when hordes of young men dressed as these creatures parade through the streets. They sometimes take things too far, assaulting people and often targeting young women. According to this 2004 opinion piece by Timothy Ryback in the Wall Street Journal, each year there is a debate about the tradition:

Should inebriated young men in oversized gorilla suits, with grotesquely carved, horned visages the size of a buffalo head and clanging cowbells strapped to their midriff, be allowed to assault women in public with impunity, generally to the merriment of crowds of onlookers, except, of course, for those who are shrieking or fleeing in terror?

Ryback details the ugliness:

For a full week during the start of the holiday season, scores of Krampuses stalk the cobbled ways of Salzburg and its surrounding villages... They stalk young women, fondling them, throwing them over their shoulders and whipping them with wooden switches until their shins and thighs are black and blue. They prowl the streets, wander onto public buses, and storm downtown restaurants where, after assaulting female patrons, they are treated to free schnapps to fuel their further fury. The anonymity provided by the Krampus mask combined with increasing amounts of alcohol consumption is not only feeding the violence but also a debate about this bizarre pagan holdover from a less civilized era.

Important note: The video clip above is from Graz, and it seems to be relatively organized and free of violence. If anyone has witnessed these events, please write in. Are they as bad throughout Germany and Austria as the events Ryback describes in Salzburg?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inadvertently Creepy Old Tunes

Fans of the 2001 film Jeepers Creepers will remember the song below by Henry Hall, a British band leader from the 1920's to the 1950's. It was even scarier than the title track, a real bright spot in that movie.

His tunes sound like they were directed at kids... but kids he wanted to terrify. And he performed another tune, just as utterly satanic. It was about a teddy bear picnic. Really.

Scaring the Kids, Elizabethan Style

From the Brothers Grimm to the Bogeyman, parents have told their small fry scary stories to smarten them up for as long as people have existed. But this poem by Sir Walter Ralegh (pictured above with his boy), has to rank as one of the best-crafted and most chilling examples. Unlike the Big Bad Wolf, it represents a threat which is very real:

Sir Walter Ralegh to His Son
Three things there be that prosper up apace
And flourish, whilst they grow asunder far,
But on a day, they meet all in one place,
And when they meet, they one another mar;
And they be these: the wood, the weed, the wag.
The wood is that which makes the gallow tree;
The weed is that which strings the hangman's bag;
The wag, my pretty knave, betokeneth thee.
Mark well, dear boy, whilst these assemble not,
Green springs the tree, hemp grows, the wag is wild,
But when they meet, it makes the timber rot;
It frets the halter, and it chokes the child.
Then bless thee, and beware, and let us pray
We part not with thee at this meeting day.

Written around 1600, it's an Elizabeth sonnet (Note the 14 lines, ABAB rhyme scheme, and a couplet at the end) just like the sonnets written by William Shakespeare. And it's pretty grim. Ralegh himself was jailed in 1603, but avoided the hangman's noose. He was beheaded in 1618.

Santa Trauma

I may be dabbling in childhood horror, but the folks at Kindertrauma have created an entire blog on the subject. I love everything about this site, from the sickly pink coloring to the banner clowns. One of my favorite sections -- "Name That Trauma" -- has readers call in for help to identify TV clips, toys, and other sundries that scared the crap out of them when they were young.

Naturally they've dug into the Christmas season with a vengeance, unearthing claymation abominations, Nutcracker nightmares, and the Little Matchstick Girl. My pick of the season has to be the Santa clip below, which they found on Youtube (Here is the whole post). It's a series of terrified kids sitting on the fat man's lap. Sorta sick and wrong, but gripping. While watching, look away from the children and notice the Santas themselves. Many of them are actually objectively scary. I was never frightened of Kris Kringle. Why didn't I notice what a terrifying bastard this guy was? Discovering this for myself is a real Christmas Miracle. Thanks, Kindertrauma!

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