Dybbuk Movies Then and Now

I recently came across the trailer for “The Possession,” (above) about a little girl who gets possessed by a dybbuk after opening a strange, Hebrew-engraved box she finds at a garage sale. The movie looks creepy enough – and I’ll admit I’m intrigued by the presence of Matisyahu, who seems to play some kind of young hasidic exorcist.  Hard to tell from the trailer if it’s going to be any good or if it will enter the ever-growing legions of campy, “so bad they’re good”  horror films. (The scene where the little girl ferociously leaps on top of Matisyahu indicates it may well be the latter…)

Watching this trailer brought to mind another recent dybbuk-themed horror movie: the truly awful “The Unborn,” which featured Gary Oldman, of all people, as an exorcist rabbi. (Check out the clip below and tell me that Oldman doesn’t seem totally embarrassed that he ever agreed to star in this stinker.)

The greatest of all dybbuk movies, of course is the transcendent “Der Dibuk,” the 1937 Polish film based on the classic Yiddish play by S. Ansky. Some background according to film historian Phil Hall:

“The Dybbuk” was shot in Poland, mostly in a Warsaw studio but also on locations in the countryside…The film records the life and culture of Polish Jewry in the years prior to the Nazi invasion, which took place two years after the movie was made…With its careful and rich presentation of religious ceremonies and social protocol, it offers what was literally the last look at a civilization which was nearly made extinct shortly after the production concluded…

(The) film has one truly stunning sequence which will hypnotize anyone who comes to it: during Leah’s wedding, a man in death’s make-up abruptly appears and engages her in a sensual dance. It is a brief but jolting moment in which the film’s theatrical roots grow strong: the sight of the nubile young bride swaying happily in the death-man’s grasp achieves a greater chill than any multi-million-dollar CGI effect. For that moment alone, “The Dybbuk” needs to be experienced.

You can check out the classic “dance of death” scene second from the bottom.

For my money, the best example of contemporary dybbuk-themed cinema is the fabulously ominous prologue to the Coen Brothers recent “A Serious Man” (featuring the great Fyfush Finkel). Click on the clip at the bottom and enjoy!

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