Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stuff: In which we learn what a dybbuk is, read smack about the movie "The Unborn," listen to an exorcism, and check in on Hitler and Judas.

On the Jewsih culture web site Nextbook web site, the new horror flick The Unborn gets some attention because its spectral villain is not just a ghosty, but specifically a "dybbuk": "In Kabbalah and European Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is a malicious possessing spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person."

The Nextbook review of the flick isn't very flattering. According to the reviewer, the movie is lamely unoriginal in most parts and insulting where it is original. From the review:

The Unborn is not terribly scary, and it's humorless (unless you count the scenes with the homicidal six-year-old, which had the audience guffawing at the screening I attended). Aside from its Jewish angle it's as predictable as all the other horror films that studios dump into theaters every January. The old Hungarian, Sofi Kozma, is Casey's grandmother. She survived Auschwitz as a child, but her twin brother didn't. The siblings were subjected to one of Josef Mengele's perverse experiments, in which the brother had something toxic injected into his eyes to make them blue. (Since, you know, blue eyes were important to the Nazis.) The brother died, and then he came back to life. But he wasn't the same anymore—he was a dybbuk! Yes, here's a mainstream horror movie aimed at teenagers—complete with video IM'ing and babysitting and vodka-and-Red-Bulls—that has a dybbuk as its villain, and goes to awkward lengths to explain what a dybbuk is.

In her skillful accent, Jane Alexander says that she and her fellow kiddie Auschwitz prisoners could tell that her brother was no longer her brother. He had neon-blue eyes and a ghostly pallor. "So I killed it," she says. Yep, she killed her own brother at Auschwitz. (And you thought The Reader was the most deplorable Holocaust-exploiting film now in theaters.)

Shame the review makes it sound so dull; I wasn't interested in the flick until this review underscored the whole folkloric angle. The reviewer giveth and the reviewer taketh away, I guess.

The experience isn't a total washout though. The review contained this odd tidbit that I found interesting:

"My main source of research was watching real exorcisms on YouTube," Yustman says in the press notes.

There are exorcism videos floating around on Youtube?

No. Not really. Not that I could find. At least, no good ones.

One of the most popular seems is this collage of alleged images and audio recordings of the exorcism of on Anneliese Michel.

Michel was born of German Catholic parents. Her family belonged to a rebellious strain of Bavarian Catholicism that had rejected Vatican II reforms.

Starting in the late 1960s, Michel was plagued by repeated bouts of crippling mental illness. Treatments seemed to do little to help her and, with the help of various religious authorities, she diagnosed herself as demonically possessed. Michel's behavior, when possessed, was extensively catalogued by her family and members of the clergy. She would rip the clothes off her body, perform hundreds of squat exercises compulsively each day, and eat insects she caught in the home. For days on end she would crawl around the house and act like a dog. Once she found a dead bird and bit the head off. She would urinate on the floor that then, getting on her hands and knees, lap up the puddle.

During the first half of 1976, two Catholic priests performed the rites of exorcism on Michel 67 times. More than half of the sessions were recorded on tape. In these recordings, several possessing demons introduce themselves. In one of the stranger episodes, the spirits of Judas and Hitler make an appearance and actually answer questions put to them by the priests. On tape, the supposed spirit of Hitler mocks atheists for thinking there's no afterlife. Later, the spirit of Judas insults Hitler and assures the priests that Hitler has no authority in Hell.

Through the exorcisms, Michel’s voice sound very much like the voice of the possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist, which had been release in Germany two years prior to the creation of the Michel tapes.

About mid-way through 1976, Anneliese Michel began telling the priests that she believed she had to die in order to redeem the wayward youth of the world and save those Catholic apostates who believed in Vatican II reforms. She began refusing food. At her own request, no doctors were consulted. Before the year was out, Annaliese had starved to death. She weighed 68 pounds when she died.

After her death, both priests and both of Michel's parents were charged and convicted of negligent homicide manslaughter. All four defendents were sentenced to six months of prison time. That time was suspended and they were put on three-year's probation.

For genre fans, Anneliese Michel probably ranks just behind the "Roland," the teenaged boy from Cottage City, Maryland, that inspired the novel The Exorcist, for cinematic relevance. And since you could say The Exorcist franchise buried Roland’s story rather than immortalize it, one could argue that Michel’s story has had a more extensive cinematic run. Michel’s exorcism and death form the basis for two films: Requiem and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.


Julie Schuler said...

Guh. You can always count on movies to make a hash of really interesting folk tales.

Arboghost! said...

Mmmm. Hash.

ilovehorror said...

Well, that video was certainly terrifying beyond comprehension.

OCKerouac said...

Yet another insightful nugget of joy, but I shall not watch the video. Religiously tainted mental illness creeps me the eff out...