How did Krampus become the hottest monster in horror movies?

Do we have a new (mini-)trend on our hands?

With the announcement last Friday of “A Christmas Horror Story” — a new holiday-themed anthology fright flick starring William Shatner — we now have four, count 'em four, Krampus movies either in development or slated for release. While the Shatner film will feature the demonic “anti-Claus” in only one segment of the story, it nevertheless marks the folkloric creature's sudden and unexpected breakthrough as the hottest monster in the movie business.

First, a quick rundown of the other Krampus-themed films:

1. “Krampus,” an Amblin-esque horror-comedy directed by “Trick 'r Treat” helmer Michael Dougherty and starring Adam Scott and Toni Collette as parents doing battle with the titular monster during the holidays;

2. “Anti-Claus,” a Kevin Smith film that will reunite “Tusk” cast members Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez and Michael Parks;

3. “Happy Krampus!”, a family-themed take on the character from Walden Media and the Jim Henson Company.

“A Christmas Horror Story,” which is slated to debut today at the Fantasia Film Festival, will be the first of these films out of the gate, but by far the highest-profile is Dougherty's movie, which has the benefit of a recognizable cast and a (presumably) wide release courtesy of Legendary/Universal (the studios premiered footage at last week's San Diego Comic Con). Smith's film, which has not started shooting, seems closest in spirit to Dougherty's effort but could suffer by being the second horror-themed Krampus film to hit theaters (assuming Smith isn't able to rush his out before Dec. 4).

What is certain is that with the exception of Jigsaw, the horror genre has seen a dearth of singular horror-movie monsters of the Freddy/Jason/Pinhead variety this century. Even the ones that have broken through don't seem to possess quite the heft of cinematic devils of decades past; while characters like Samara from “The Ring” and the Creeper from Victor Salva's “Jeepers Creepers” series have seen some popular success, put them up against Michael Myers or even Ghostface (admittedly more of a mask than a character) and they pale in terms of sheer pop cultural impact.

“I do miss movie monsters,” “Krampus” director Dougherty told me at last week's Comic Con. “I feel like, you know, as much as we're sort of getting a lot of vampires and werewolves and zombies, we're not getting the sort of really unique, iconic horror creatures. So we definitely wanted to help fill that void a little bit.”

Whether Krampus ultimately rises to the level of a Chucky or a Freddy remains to be seen, but the character certainly has all the right ingredients to become an icon: terrifying M.O. (punishing bad children around the holidays), monstrous appearance (long devilish tongue, black hairy body, hooves) and dark pagan origins (the character is thought to have first appeared in pre-Christian folklore). At the very least, it's refreshing to see a filmmaker (or more accurately, several filmmakers) make a play at creating a movie monster that has the potential, at least, to become one of this generation's premiere bogeymen. Not that Dougherty is thinking about it in those terms.

“I don't think you can really manufacture that,” he said. “That really has to get decided by the audiences. If they really like a character and embrace it enough, then you come back to Comic-Con and people are dressing up as the character, you know, making their own fan merchandise and stuff.”

Lucifer willing.

“Krampus” is in theaters Dec. 4.