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Case Studies Guest Posts

Attachment (dir. Gabriel Bier Gislason, 2022)

As part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, I was able to get an early look at Attachment, a queer dybbuk story written and directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason. I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to anybody interested in Jewish horror, but if you want a full analysis of what stuck with me about this film, click here to head over to In Review: Online for my full review.

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Guest Posts

The Jewish Book of Horror

It’s here!

Proud to announce the release of THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR from Denver Horror Collective, a truly fantastic anthology featuring twenty-two new, original stories of Jewish horror.

This is a project that I’ve been involved with for a while now, and I’m so grateful to the wonderful folks at DHC (in particular, editor Josh Schlossberg, one of the sweetest guys in horror) for letting me write an introduction to these fabulous stories, giving readers a brief primer on the basics of Jewish horror and discussing where this under-appreciated sub-genre might lead us.

You can pick up The Jewish Book of Horror pretty much anywhere good books are sold, including at Amazon (global) and Waterstones (UK).

If the book alone simply isn’t enough for you, a bunch of us got together via Zoom on the first night of Hanukkah this year to do a bit of community education, in the form of JEWISH HORROR 101.

The lovely folks at DHC were kind enough to immortalise the evening on YouTube, so if you’d like to hear myself and several other contributors to the book talking about dybbuks, Lilith, golems, and all other kinds of weird and wonderful inventions, check out the video below!

(psst – if you want to skip to my bit on Lilith, it starts at the timestamp 28:08)

Categories
Case Studies Guest Posts

Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories

‘February 1986. The playwright Tom Stoppard has organised a demonstration in support of the Jewish refuseniks trapped in Russia without human rights or means of leaving. The demonstration, taking place in front of London’s National Theatre, involves various actors, celebrities, and activists reading a roll call of the names of over 10,000 Jewish dissidents. One of these actors was Andy Nyman… as a student, his time slot to speak was dependent on the schedules of bigger names and subject to frequent change. So imagine his surprise when, during his turn at the podium, out of the 10,000 names, Nyman reads his own.

24 years later, in 2010, Nyman stars in Ghost Stories, a play co-written with Jeremy Dyson and the first successful horror play to grace the West End since The Woman in Black. The play, taking the form of a lecture by parapsychologist and sceptic Professor Philip Goodman (played by Nyman), contains three ghost stories collected by the professor – from a night watchman, a teenager, and a businessman on the verge of fatherhood.’

Jewish Horror Review are once again moonlighting at JewTh!nk, this time to write about Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories. Check out the full article by pressing the button below!

Categories
Case Studies

Demon (dir. Marcin Wrona, 2015)

It’s impossible to discuss Marcin Wrona’s Demon without some melancholy: it was Wrona’s only feature film before his suicide while promoting it, and in his death the film achieved something of a notoriety. The film depicts a man barrelling right to the edge of his own sanity and has such an air of tragedy that is only compounded by the tragedy of its director’s early death.

A week before the UK’s lockdown started, the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies hosted Dr Mikel Koven, giving a talk on ‘Golems, dybbuks, & other movie monsters: the search for a Jewish horror film’. At the time I was just starting my research into Jewish horror and had either seen or knew in passing most of the titles Dr Koven referred to. All the staples were there – Paul Wegener’s Der Golem, Yiddish-language classic The Dybbuk, and some more subtly Jewish fare, including John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers. Yet there was only one film that caused a hush to fall over the audience. Demon.

Demon follows a young man called Piotr as he returns home to Poland to marry Zaneta, his friend’s sister, a woman he has so far only communicated with online. As a blessing to their union and a gesture of goodwill to Piotr who has been an expatriate for many years, Zaneta’s affluent father gifts Piotr land, which Piotr then begins renovating ahead of the wedding. In his renovations, Piotr discovers (and reburies) the skeleton of a young woman. As the wedding reception progresses, Piotr begins behaving erratically and sees a ghostly woman among the crowd of drunken guests. 

The dybbuk is a uniquely Jewish phenomenon, falling somewhere between a ghost that haunts the living and a demon who possesses them. Dybbukim are one of three iterations of soul transmigration, unable to enter the Garden of Eden due to either the sins they committed while alive or ‘unfinished business’. Ghost stories are often concerned with the return of the repressed, and traumas that refuse to be confined by temporal or spatial rules, the dybbuk is far more specific. The horror of the dybbuk is that it brings justice. The dybbuk forces all its witnesses to acknowledge the crimes committed against them, and therefore to admit their own complicity and profiteering from those atrocities.

Instead of pitting straightforward, simple forces of good against vaguely malicious forces of evil, the dybbuk has a clear motivation for its possession and is often justified in their rage. The dilemma audiences face is whether they would rather re-bury the skeleton or give it its due.

Stories like this use horror to defy simplistic, black-and-white ideas of justice, with the dybbuk walking a thin line between being a figure of restitution and a figure of retribution. In Demon, Hana, the dybbuk, is somewhat malevolent, but is just as often lost, afraid, and confused. As much as the other characters deny it, Hana is right, and her cause is only to reclaim what was taken from her. The dybbuk comes to function as a far more interesting foil to Christian demon narratives. Instead of pitting straightforward, simple forces of good against vaguely malicious forces of evil, the dybbuk has a clear motivation for its possession and is often justified in their rage. The dilemma audiences face is whether they would rather re-bury the skeleton or give it its due. It’s not an easy thing to condone – in Demon, the possession is a violent one. Piotr loses all autonomy over his body, Zaneta wails at the loss of her husband, and it doesn’t feel at all like justice. There is no triumph to be found here, only tragedy and suffering on all sides.

Perhaps Demon’s most interesting and important contribution to Jewish horror is in exploring the radical potential of the dybbuk. In a world eager to downplay the real, harrowing impact of anti-Semitism, the dybbuk forces us to confront our complicity in it and what our denial means. Dybbukim and other ghosts have no statute of limitations, and historical crimes can be acknowledged with frightening new relevance. By the end of the film [SPOILERS INCOMING], Hana has taken over Piotr’s body and they have fled. With no body to bury, there can be no hiding of the past, no respectable explanation of what has happened. With no body to bury, all that the characters are left with is a nonsensical defence that Zaneta’s father dictates carefully to guests: ‘We must forget what we didn’t see here’.


For more on Marcin Wrona’s Demon, I would highly recommend Rebecca Booth’s ‘Between Two Worlds: Regression, Restitution And Soul Transmigration in The Dybbuk (1937) and Demon (2015)’, which can be found in House of Leaves’ 2020 anthology ‘Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion and Worship in the Horror Film’.