A Seret (Film) for Each of the Aseret Makot (Ten Plagues)

Some things are truly epic.

When I’d get a cold as a kid, my parents kept me home from school. Back in the day, the only thing on midday was boring talk shows and soap operas. Too immature to have my attention held by that type of visual content, I popped in The Empire Strikes back (on VHS!).

After the movie, I took a nap. When I woke up, I went back to watch it again. But, I had forgotten to rewind the tape and, lo and behold, ANOTHER space movie started. I thought maybe it was Return of the Jedi. I was horribly, horrifyingly, horrifically wrong. It was Alien, and all the while I kept waiting for Luke, Han, and Leia to appear. They never did – but I was riveted, anyway.

Thus began my weird fascination with horror and suspense films. I find I am unable to tear myself away from the likes of Cloverfield, Cursed, or Children of the Corn

Do you think it’s strange for a rabbi to be riveted by horror films? Well, as it happens – there’s plenty of stuff that happens in the Torah that I’d say is TOTALLY appropriate for the scariest of movies.

For example, we have a tendency to wash over the Ten Plagues (found in the weekly Torah Portions of Va-eira and also in Bo -which is what we’re reading this week) and not realize how truly scary they’re supposed to be. In fact, when we retell the plagues chapter of the Exodus Story at Passover, we might even wear fun headbands and sing songs about frogs.

But the plagues were no laughing matter. To those who experienced them, they were as chilling as the Exorcist.

So with that in mind, may I present to you ten horror films (with alternates) that you can watch to reflect on the ten Plagues when we read Bo this week… and yes, we’ll certainly share this list again when Passover rolls around, and maybe even for Halloween 😉 By the way, this list is intended for the adult-ed or teen youth group crowd, not the afternoon Hebrew School audience!

Blood: Nosferatu – the genesis of all vampire movies. There are several versions of this story, all creepy and infatuated with blood in their own way. (Alternate pick: Dead Alive – before he made Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson held the record for most fake blood used in any movie.)

Frogs: Frogs – mid-70s island vacation goes awry. (Alternate pick: Anaconda – frankly, the scariest thing about this campy jungle flick is Jon Voight’s accent choice.)

Lice: Island of the Dead – yet another island flick. Only this time, it’s supernatural flies you have to look out for. (Alternate pick: The Fly – before you tell me lice aren’t flies, just watch Jeff Goldblum at his Goldblumiest and enjoy it as a delightful “close enough” option.)

Locusts: Mimic – Mira Sorvino is a scientist trying to stop giant insects that are out to destroy mankind. (Alternate pick: The Mummy – this might be closer to a rom-com, but there is a swarm of bugs [and the acting can be, at times, downright horrific].)

Beasts: An American Werewolf in London – classic foreign beast-movie from the director of an altogether different movie about beasts–Animal House. (Alternate pic: Cujo – who let the dog out? Stephen King, that’s who.)

Disease: Dawn of the Dead – I prefer the high-speed zombies in the updated version to the original slow walkers. (Alternate pick: Cabin Fever – Eli Roth, Jewish director, makes a film that is not for those with squeamish stomachs.)

Boils: Scanners – I get that there aren’t boils in this film, exactly, but the gruesome deaths remind me of them. (Alternate pick: Resident Evil – one of the few video games that translated well onto screen.)

Hail: The Thing – set in Antarctica, John Carpenter gets everything right in this terrifying, ice-filled flick. (Alternate pick: Twister – again, I get that it’s not exactly a horror film, but it definitely has hail and jump scares.)

Darkness: Lights Out – made me afraid of the dark as an adult. (Alternate pick: Paranormal Activity – a contemporary classic that came out while I was in rabbinical school and gave me a whole new category of nightmares.)

Death of the First Born: Rosemary’s Baby – a truly unnerving film when it comes to pregnancy/firstborns. (Alternate pick: The Omen – what if the firstborn child killed YOU?)

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