The holiday season is an excellent time to curl up on the couch, take a break from the hustle and bustle of the world around us, and soak in some entertaining films. Of course, there’s a whole genre of Christmas movies built on just this idea, and the subgenre of the holiday horror film is a mixed bag of frights that can range from the delightfully campy to the truly terrifying. Like any genre, there are hits and misses, but something about a miss in a horror movie just hits particularly hard.
Hanukkah may have been an attempt to fill a gap in the holiday horror canon, but fans and critics alike agree that it really missed the mark.
‘Hanukkah’ was released in 2019
Written and directed by Eben McGarr, Hanukkah was released in 2019, according to IMDb. Like many holiday-themed films, it centers around a group of people who are dealing with the season’s obligations to friends and family. A group of Jewish 20-somethings are navigating holiday parties and all the other ups and downs of the festivities.
When the fun turns to horror, the friends eventually figure out that they are being targeted for having violated tenets of the Jewish faith.
This wasn’t some quickly thrown-together horror B movie. As Forbes reports, McGarr was committed to the creative endeavor and its Jewish themes — despite having been raised Catholic himself.
McGarr explained that he was “inundated” with Jewish culture from his friends and that he saw a lack of Jewish representation in the holiday horror genre as a problem he could fix: “I run horror events through Mad Monster and there are so many holiday horror films and there was just a serious lack of representation.”
His work on writing the film began about a decade before its eventual release, so it’s safe to say that McGarr had time to make sure the plot came together the way he envisioned.
‘Hanukkah’ had some real star power
McGarr recognized that his work could be viewed as anti-Semitic, so his antagonist was such an extremist that McGarr was sure no one would interpret it as commentary on Judaism itself. He said,
“It was yet another point to be like, ‘Listen, this is a bad guy, he’s an extremist.’ We didn’t want anyone to misinterpret this as anything other than, ‘This guy’s a lunatic, it has nothing to do with Judaism.’”
McGarr also managed to land some pretty serious names despite his low budget. He got horror alums like Sid Haig, Caroline Williams, Dick Miller, and Charles Fleischer to take on parts in the flick. He was able to accomplish this because he runs a company called Mad Monster that puts on horror events, and he had met many of them before.
Notably, Hanukkah would be Haig’s last on-screen role. He passed away at the age of 80 just a few months before the movie’s release. Dick Miller also came out of retirement for the film because he wanted the chance to play a rabbi. It would be a final role for him as well as he passed away in January 2019. With these two deaths, some even whispered that the film might be cursed.
Viewers were not impressed with the holiday horror movie
Despite McGarr’s years of work on the project and the cast of seasoned horror actors, the movie did not go over well. It receives only a 3.8 out of 10 on IMDb, and the reviews run the gamut from the scathing to the hilarious.
One reviewer commented about an expectation for a “blasphemous satire” like Black Christmas, and it does indeed seem that was what McGarr had in mind.
However, the reviewer made it clear it failed, calling it “just dire and unpleasant. The plot is razor-thin. The ‘villain’ is lame with a tired motivation. Every character is unsympathetic with cringe-worthy dialogue that ranges from absurd to proselytic. It is either trying too hard to be outrageous or taking itself way too seriously.”
Reviewers also bemoan the fact that Haig’s final role was in a work that doesn’t seem befitting his long history of horror contributions.
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