The Schmooze

The Disembodied Evil of Jewish Horror Movies

Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror
By Jason Zinoman
The Penguin Press, 272 pages, $25.95

The contribution of Jews to the American film industry both behind and in front of the camera is well known and well documented. Yet, having just read Jason Zinoman’s “Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror,” it has struck me that the specific contribution of Jews to the development of the modern horror genre is perhaps not so widely circulated.

Arguably, four of the key psychological and supernatural horror films of the late 1960s and ’70s were directed by secular and agnostic Jews: Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973), Richard Donner’s “The Omen” (1976) and Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). In the contemporary era, they have been joined by Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” (2002), “Hostel” (2005) and “Hostel: Part II” (2007). Zinoman also argues for the inclusion of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” (2010), which he claims “may be a lavishly shot portrait of the world of New York ballet with an A-list cast, including Natalie Portman, that is led by one of most ambitious art house directors of the day, Darren Aronofsky. But it’s also a nasty little horror move that uses the convention of classic fright films.”

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The Disembodied Evil of Jewish Horror Movies

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