Starring: Charles Fleischer, Sid Haig, Caroline Williams
Sometimes you just want something different for your holiday slashers; why hand pick a celebration that's been perverted and exploited into demented bodycounters to death like Christmas or Halloween, when you can have a murderous pilgrim hacking heads off in Thanksgiving (Eli Roth. We're still waiting), or have an alien terrorize a cabin in the woods in International Asteroid Day? This appears to be the mindset of those involved in this title as they aimed to give us the first Hanukkah-themed slasher, though whether that's a good thing or not is up for debate after seeing the results.
Opening in 1983, Judah Lazarus (the late Sid Haig) returns home from a recent murder, carrying the head of his latest victim, as a radio broadcasts news about his serial killings and the flesh-carved star of David he's been leaving behind, earning him the media nickname "The Hanukiller". Elsewhere in the house, Ana Lazarus (Caroline Williams) is shackled naked inside a dirty bathtub, rendering her helpless as her husband Judah, hearing whispers in his head, wakes their son up and orders the boy to join him in the kitchen so they can re-enact God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son. Fortunately, the cops arrive just in time to hail a rain of bullets into Judah, ending the nightmare that is the Hanukiller.
Jump to present day and we now follow a group of young adults gathering at a fairly secluded house in the Catskills for a "fuck fest" party, only for just a handful of them to show up so not much of an orgy. This, however, doesn't stop them to starts bumpin' uglies as much as possible, to the fury of a hulking individual lurking outside and leering around who now deems all of them as bad Jews and deserving of death.
Considering how holiday focused the killer is, the Hanukiller doesn't lay waste on these teens in a single evening and instead stretches their murder spree through eight nights. This meant we get side plots to fill out the
This patchwork plotting, meant that Hanukkah (2019)'s tone and quality is just all over the place, leaving us with a rather unconventional and underwhelming slasher that couldn't figure out what angle they want to dig their knife in; in some parts, you can feel they wanted to do it dark and serious with how brooding and humorless the Hanukiller is, more or less around the parts that centers on the woman he kidnapped. These are probably the best bits of the movie as not only the shots used have nice cinematography and a crisp look, but a lot of effort were done to make these scenes as much of an eye candy as possible with their giallo-inspired color tinted lighting and the effects work that is just generous with the latex gore and corn syrup blood.
These scenes, sadly, are ruined by the production's attempt to work in satire and humor into the film through the on-goings of the Catskills party, where every character is either boring or bitchy, making these some of the more unlikable set of meat to be offered in a bodycounter flick. At least two-thirds of them are at each other's throats or sleeping with another's partner, with the writers attempting to have this done with a "comical" tone. This would have worked if the main talents involved aren't giving us performances as nearly dry as a wooden dreidel, the characters they are playing aren't as flat as stale latkes and, most importantly, some actual wit was put into the pen.
By then, the movie dragged itself to a dull pitch that's made worse with a very chatty climax. A chance to fight was hardly even given to these kids as they just show captured and awaiting death at the hands of the Hanukiller, that is unless group's proclaimed self-hating jew tries to talk some sense to the maniac.
It's also bad enough that majority of the murders committed to these sour batch hardly pass satisfactory; we do have this gruesomely detailed flaying of a tattooed girl, but the rest gets a choice of a disappearing act (as in they disappear and implied dead), a simple classic execution (neck snaps, stabbings and one throat cut) or an offscreen death with varying levels of gore. Why? After all of the dumb jig we have to sit through, I'm sure many of us demands onscreen blood like God ordering King Solomon of Israel to chop a child in half just to satisfy two women who both claim to be the mother! (Wait, what's that? That's not how the story went? Well, whatever. This movie's still lacking in the sufficient stalk-and-stab department)
To be honest, I really wanted to enjoy Hanukkah (2019) as a whole; this is one of the many films that got my attention back around the time this site was just hitting year one and I even remember it's cheesy tagline promising us a TORAH-fying new tale of HORAH. From what I can gather, the movie went through development hell (which is why not only we have genre icon Sid Haig here, but also beloved character actor Dick Miller. Both men passed away in 2019), so I wouldn't be surprised if one or two ideas just got the toss salad treatment and pasted into the feature so they can something to show up for. Shanda. Shanda, all of it. If this film had just stuck with a tone and rolled with it, I can bet my last chocolate babka that this slasher would have been more coherent and consistent, thus a grand more enjoyable.
Here's hoping, though, that Hanukkah (2019) finally opened the floodgates for future (and hopefully better) Hanukkah-themed slashers but until that time, I guess we just have to endure this one.
1 female head seen
6 heads seen rotting in a shelf
1 male shot to death
1 female implied dead through news article
1 male killed offcamera, method unknown
1 male killed offcamera, scalp sawed off with a limb cutter
1 male stabbed to death with a dagger
1 male disappears, implied dead
1 female found dead with a carved gut
1 male had his neck snapped
1 female flayed alive with a dagger
1 male stabbed up the jaw with a dagger
1 male had his throat sliced with a dagger
1 female found dead with a carved gut
1 male seen dead with hands flayed and mutilated into a menorah
1 male found with his guts sprawled out and arranged into the Star of David