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Review: HANUKKAH (2019)

When it comes to holiday-themed slashers, Christmas has been rather literally done to death. It’s been featured in everything from To All A Goodnight and Silent Night Deadly Night to Dead By Christmas and Master Pieces. However, another religious celebration that takes place in the same month has been ignored, until now. Writer/director Eben McGarr (Sick Girl, House of the Wolf Man) has made the first horror film centred around The Feast of Lights, Hanukkah.

In 1983 Judah Lazarus (Sid Haig, Spider Baby, Bone Tomahawk) stalks through his house, naked except for a yarmulke. His basement is full of severed heads and his wife Ana (Caroline Williams, Bloody Ballet, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) is chained naked in a tub full of filthy water. Voices in his head tell him to sacrifice his son Obediah. The cops show up before he can, and instead he’s killed as the boy watches in horror.

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Thirty-six years later, an unseen figure lights a Menorah made of human bones. A couple having sex in a car is murdered. The killings have begun again.

Josh (DeAndre Johnson) gets ghosted by Rachel (Sadie Katz, Automation, Clown Fear) at what was supposed to be dinner with her mother (P.J. Soles, Halloween, Candy Corn). She’s gone off to party instead. Of course, the new edition of the Hanukiller is going to crash the party.

The killer(Joe Knetter, Strip Club Slasher) is a religious fanatic who targets those who break Judaic law. And the occasional Nazi for good measure. There’s also a mysterious man by the name of Amon Feist (Charles Fleischer, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Zodiac). He plays Dr. Loomis to Obediah’s boogeyman. It’s the same formula, just with a different religion.

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I’m actually surprised that nobody has made a Hanukkah themed horror film before this. Especially since it lasts eight days. That means there’s plenty of time for piling up a body count, the primary objective of any slasher. And this is a blood and boobs slasher. With a lot more boobs than blood.

Sadly, Hanukkah will probably be best known for being the final film of genre legends Sid Haig and Dick Miller (Bucket of Blood, Chopping Mall). They were part of a cast that, apart from those already named, also includes familiar genre faces Sarah French (Art of the Dead, Bridge of the Doomed), and James Balsamo (The Litch, Lycanimator). Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th) provided the score.

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Unfortunately, despite all the talent assembled, Hanukkah isn’t a particularly good film. The first hour drags with no scares and mostly off-screen kills. Although we do get to see a Nazi skinhead have the top of his head made into a literal skullcap. The violence picks up in the last act, but we usually just see the aftermath. And the effects are on the weak side.

I was hoping Hanukkah would use Jewish traditions and scripture the way many horror films have used the bible. It would have made a nice change of pace and helped set the film apart. Instead, it’s all pretty much ignored, and we get a generic story about obnoxious assholes dying.

Hanukkah is available on DVD and Blu-ray. The first batch of discs had some serious quality control issues. However, the distributor is replacing them and sending the corrected ones to retailers. You can find out more at the film’s website and Facebook page.

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