It’s kind of crazy that two of the fake trailers in 2007’s Grindhouse went on to become actual movies. Machete became a real thing in 2010. That made sense, given it was only three years later. Now, a whopping sixteen years after the fact, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is a feature-length film. The director changed his approach slightly, giving the finished product a sense of humor, as opposed to keeping the gnarly tone of the faux trailer. Horror fans will still find all the blood and gore they could want from a slasher flick, just delivered with a wink.
The story opens with a wicked satire of Black Friday shopping, as greedy customers charge a Plymouth, Massachusetts department store owned by Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman). Several fatalities occur as a result. A year later, a psycho in a Pilgrim outfit and a John Carver mask starts killing the people they believe are responsible for the stampede, which includes Wright’s daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque) and her friends. Meanwhile, sheriff Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) tries to find the culprit before any more deaths occur.
Thanksgiving expands upon what was in that trailer, including the gruesome trampoline murder, which is far more explicit here. The movie also provides a story that was only hinted at previously. That story is fairly thin, as are the characters themselves. Guessing the villain’s identity isn’t difficult, either. Slasher films of the 1980s were notorious for such weaknesses, so they seem appropriate in this case. Roth is aiming to replicate the vibe of exploitation fare that played in 42nd Street cinemas. He demonstrates a strong knowledge of his inspirations.
The obvious selling point is the series of kills. Grindhouse movies infamously devised the most hideous, sickening acts of violence to gross out audiences with. On this level, Thanksgiving most fully succeeds. Characters die in ways I’ve never seen before. One poor sap goes out courtesy of the bowsprit of a pilgrim ship. The damage it does to his face is ghastly. A female character meets an even worse fate. I won’t tell you how, except that it occurs in a house that’s being renovated, and you know what sorts of objects are sitting around in those scenarios.
Blood and entrails fly all over the place, but Roth stages it in a self-aware manner, not unlike Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2. When gore is taken to extremes, becoming appalled is harder because it feels a couple steps removed from reality even though it looks real. Additional humor is found in some of Carver’s weapons of choice, most of which are related to the holiday. When he utilizes corn on the cob holders as a torture device, how can you not chuckle a little bit, even as you feel sorry for the unbearable pain the victim must be in? Having the killer wear a mask made to resemble the first governor of Plymouth Colony was a masterstroke. Again, creepy on a certain level, hilarious on another.
Holidays fueled ‘80s slasher cinema, from October 31 in Halloween, to Christmas in Silent Night, Deadly Night, to the last night of the year in New Year’s Evil. April Fool’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day got the treatment, as well. How Thanksgiving failed to get a (major) release dedicated to it is a mystery. This movie imagines itself as a product of that era. If you remember the time well, the overall tone will strike you as being spot-on. Thanksgiving is an affectionate, entertaining homage to a subgenre that was often derided.
out of four
Thanksgiving is rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, pervasive language, and some sexual material. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.