Disclaimer: This is a review of a slasher/horror movie, full of gore, blood, violence, gratuitous nakedness, and levels of swearing even those of us who are sailors would blush at. TL;DR for the love of all that is holy (and your sanity) do not watch this movie. This review is as PG as possible, written because this movie is also bizarrely funny at times, but some of the scenes described may still be disturbing. Don’t keep reading if you know horror unsettles you.
It’s a dark and spooky night on Dec. 8, 1983, the last night of Hannukah. In the basement of a Catskills house, an elderly haredi Jew checks his knives, preparing to sacrifice his young son on the dining room table.
A nearby radio blares about a “Hannukiller” who brutally murders his victims and carves a “Scar of David” into their chests. Thirty-six years later, the son — having survived his near-sacrifice — is the new Hannukiller, lighting candles on a hanukiah made of human bone.
If ever there was a movie to never watch, it’s “Hanukkah,” billed as the first Jewish horror movie. Directed and written by Eben McGarr (who grew up Catholic) it features some classic horror actors, like Sid Haig, and music from “Friday the 13th” composer Harry Manfredini.
Released in 2020, the movie’s taglines are “From Dreidel to the Grave” and “A Torah-fying new tale of Horah” — which accidentally allude to the fact that (again, though nobody should ever watch this movie) it is a wonderful hate-watch, full of absolute laugh-out-loud silliness alongside a truly awful script.
For example, one of the calling cards of the Hannukiller is a rolling dreidel. Why? Who knows.
It falls on Dalet, and a couple is killed. It falls on Nun, and a guy is murdered. A drunk Russian Jew going to the bathroom notices a spinning dreidel on the window sill, to which he responds: “Mine is bigger than yours.” He and his stereotypical Adidas tracksuit are murdered, too.
The rest of the Jewish mostly young-adult characters also fulfill distinct, if strange, stereotypes. A sub-plot involves a cheating woman and her weirdly extremist-but-not-kipah-wearing boyfriend who refuses to sleep with her before marriage because the Torah forbids it.
There’s a tattooed lesbian. A self-described “Bad Jew” who used to be in rabbinical school. A rabbi who shows up to explain that the Hannukiller is on the prowl for Jews whom he sees as violating Jewish law (“I believe that your friends are dead,” the rabbi says — real helpful). And a host of other extremely unlikeable characters who mostly talk like misogynistic dude-bros.
But the best, and most utterly bizarre, character is the Hannukiller himself. His name is Obadiah Lazarus, and he became radicalized to murder via his parents. The mother is shown walking a young Lazarus through a cemetery and saying it’s “very important as Jews that we remember we want to be here” to scare him into being Jewishly observant.
As a murderer and ostensibly as a Jew, the Hannukiller is extremely sensationalist. He murders a neo-nazi. Then cuts off part of the neo-nazi’s skull, literally the dome of the head, where there is a swastika tattoo. Then the Hannukiller peels the skin off, polishes the bone and *wears the piece of skull as his actual kipah*. Like, WHAT.
Later, unable to kill a victim due to Shabbat, Hannukiller sets up a hunting trap for her when the victim tries to run away. Her leg is crushed, but she manages to open the trap and escape.
Which is also a perfect example of how completely perverted Jewish knowledge is in this movie. Why does Shabbat end when there are three stars in the sky? “I don’t know, I didn’t make it up,” says the Bad Jew who went to rabbinical school. The Shema prayer is told to mean “God, hear our prayer” (the Shema literally translates to “Hear O Israel,” not “Hear O God,” but ok).
The cherry on top is at the end of the movie, when Bad Jew confronts Hannukiller and tells him “this isn’t Judaism, this is wrong.” Hannukiller keeps responding just by saying “Shema” — not the prayer, just the word! Why? Oh, who cares at this point. Then they start quoting from the 613 commandments, but instead of actually quoting they just say “mitzvah 46” and let the dialogue imply what commandment they’re talking about. Riveting cinema, truly.
The kicker is when Hannukiller decides to murder Bad Jew, whose last words are “you’re a bad Jew.” Some real deep Jewish philosophy going on in this movie for sure.
But hey, it’s a horror/slasher flick, what do you expect. And to its credit, the movie has some great self-awareness about whether it should exist at all.
At a Hannukah party, Lesbian and Bad Jew are watching old horror reruns on tv. “We need more Jewish horror films,” Lesbian says. “The Last Synagogue on the Left; Pray You’re Not With The Chosen People; Gefilte Flesh; You’ll Bleed A Latke. Wow, these write themselves, I could do this all night.”
“Please don’t,” Bad Jew says, capturing the most important sentiment toward “Hanukkah” anyone should have.
Rated 3.3 out of 10 on IMDb, do not watch this movie. But if you can stomach it and have a strong sense of humor, bring it out for a hatewatch.