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Jewish movies for... Halloween?

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10/19/2012

 Jewish movies for... Halloween? photo

No, it's a not a Jewish holiday by any stretch. But at this point, regardless of its origins, do you know anyone who celebrates Halloween as a religious holiday?

As it happens, a surprising number of horror movies from both America and Europe turn out to have Jewish connections. The new film The Possession is about being possessed by a dybbuk, or poltergeist. Reggae-rapper Matisyahu plays the rabbi who performs the exorcism.

Stories of this spirit have been around for a long time. In the 1914 play by Yiddish writer S. Ansky, it is a bride who is possessed. This plot was turned into a film (1937), an opera (1933, debuted 1951),… and a 1974 ballet by the West Side Story team of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins, both Jewish. Its first TV appearance was directed by Sidney Lumet, and now it is a play again, by Tony Kushner… also both Jewish. (The funniest movie to feature possessions has got to be Ghost Busters, directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Rick Moranis and Harold Ramis.)

Another Yiddish horror tale revolving around a thwarted wedding is Corpse Bride, made into a movie by Tim Burton as a sort-of follow up to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jewish actress (and Burton's own bride) Helena Bonham Carter stars, and Danny Elfman did the score.

One of the mainstays of horror is Frankenstein's monster. While Mary Shelley's original novel is subtitled "The Modern Prometheus," she admitted that the monster also had Jewish origins—in the Golem. This Medieval clay automaton is said to be first animated in Prague to protect the Jews from pogroms. The Golem has inspired plays as early as 1908, novels going back to 1914, an I.B. Singer book, operas… and lots of TV, including episodes of The X-Files and The Simpsons (whose Golems were voiced by Fran Drescher and Richard Lewis!).

There are Golem characters in the Dungeons and Dragons game, comic books, even Pokemon. Israel had some early computers named after the Golem. And Golem is the name of a great, fun punk-klezmer band. Some even feel that J.R.R. Tolkien's mysterious Gollum owes his name to this Hebraic hulk. 

Some horror creators have been Jewish, too. R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series, is. In the movies, Sam Raimi directed The Evil Dead (and then the Spider-Man trilogy). And Eli Roth is a writer/actor/director/producer in that genre.

 Jamie Lee Curtis's turn in the Halloween movies was just the first in a line of Jewish "scream queens" including Danielle Harris, who was in the Halloween reboots and the Hatchet series… Neve Campbell of the Scream series… and Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. In fact, about half the Buffy TV cast was Jewish: Alyson Hannigan (Willow), Michelle Trachtenberg (Dawn), Amber Benson (Tara), Danny Strong (Jonathan), Juliet Landau (Drusilla), Seth Green (Oz)... and Armin Shimerman (their principal). 

Oz, of course, was a werewolf, and there is a surprisingly strong affinity for these shapeshifters among Jewish creative types. John Landis directed American Werewolf in London, in which the title character has nightmares of Nazi werewolves, leading some to speculate he was himself Jewish. But first, Jewish songwriter Warren Zevon wrote the song "Werewolves of London," inspired by the very first werewolf movie ever, made back in 1935. Jewish director Mike Nichols directed Jack Nicholson as a werewolf in Wolf; Corey Haim, who starred in Silver Bullet as a werewolf-slayer, was Jewish, as was Michael Landon, star of I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Two Jewish screenwriters wrote the Michael J. Fox remake of that one, simply titled Teen Wolf.

This link is not working anymore— horrormovies.org— but it was the source of this list of still  more horror movies with Jewish themes and/or characters. I have taken out the ones already mentioned above: All Good Things; The Devil's Advocate (with Al Pacino); Disciple of Death; The Lowborn; My Wife is a Vampire; Night of the Living Jews (a short about accursed matzah); and Santa's Slay (Santa is played by Jewish pro-wrestling champ Goldberg). 

For more on Jewish monsters and the Jewish participation in the horror genre, here’s what else I… dug up! (insert Crypt Keeper cackle here):

“Possession” and the Tradition of Jewish Horror Films

Halloween and Judaism (video)

And for something truly frightening: ‘Baby Rabbi’ Tops Worst Halloween Costume List.

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