New Israeli Hor­ror: Local Cin­e­ma, Glob­al Genre

  • Review
By – June 3, 2024

We live in a gold­en age of hor­ror cin­e­ma, in which Amer­i­cans can screen films of fright from all over the globe. But, until less than fif­teen years ago, you couldn’t watch an Israeli hor­ror film. This had noth­ing to do with stream­ing or geopol­i­tics: it was because, strict­ly speak­ing, there weren’t any. At all. They sim­ply didn’t exist. And then, as tends to hap­pen with hor­ror, the sit­u­a­tion changed — quickly. 

In her new book, Olga Ger­shen­son, a pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish stud­ies and film stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts, Amherst, tells the sto­ry of that change — of the boom­let of Israeli hor­ror cin­e­ma in the 2010s — engag­ing­ly and mas­ter­ful­ly. She weaves insti­tu­tion­al fac­tors ger­mane to Israeli cul­ture with the glob­al cul­ture of hor­ror cin­e­ma that made these films pos­si­ble. Ger­shen­son exam­ines the nature of Israeli pub­lic film financ­ing, the cul­ture of film stud­ies in Israeli acad­e­mia, and the inner work­ings of admis­sions to Israeli film fes­ti­vals, among oth­er topics. 

Ger­shen­son also asks ques­tions about what makes a film Israeli.” Does it have to be nar­row­ly polit­i­cal, address­ing what’s so often described as the con­flict”? (No, accord­ing to Ger­shen­son; in fact, many of the movies eschew the sub­ject — although, like so much of the hor­ror genre, a lot of this work is done alle­gor­i­cal­ly.) Does it have to be Jew­ish” in sen­si­bil­i­ty? (No, although it some­times is; and what that means can change rad­i­cal­ly from movie to movie.) One of the most inter­est­ing fea­tures of Israeli hor­ror that Ger­shen­son points out is that many of Israel’s most notable hor­ror films take place dur­ing day­light hours, due to bud­getary rea­sons and as a way of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing the prod­uct from oth­er coun­tries’ hor­ror movies. But, as every­one knows, day­light is not the usu­al time for mon­sters to make their appearance. 

And the mon­sters! Ger­shen­son gives her read­ers enough plot and descrip­tion to under­stand her inci­sive analy­ses, but not so much that she keeps us from slaver­ing for more. She is a ded­i­cat­ed fan of hor­ror who under­stands the movies’ glob­al influ­ences, giv­ing us plen­ty of com­para­nds to movies we know well, includ­ing zom­bie movies, slash­er films, and ser­i­al killer flicks. 

All of these films and more are now avail­able to you in Hebrew and with sub­ti­tles — if you dare to watch them. And Gershenson’s book pro­vides us with a robust introduction.

Jere­my Dauber is a pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture and Amer­i­can stud­ies at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. His books include Jew­ish Com­e­dy and The Worlds of Sholem Ale­ichem, both final­ists for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award, and, most recent­ly, Amer­i­can Comics: A His­to­ry. He lives in New York City.

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