Wedged unfortunately between Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving always gets the short end of the holiday movie stick. Eli Roth has long sought to change that, beginning in 2007 with his gory faux trailer for Thanksgiving, a retro splatterfest that was part of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double feature. That film saw other faux promos expanded with relative success, Machete and Hobo with a Shotgun, but neither of them can do what Roth has done, which is give Turkey Day the cult classic it deserves, a blood-basted annual tradition served up fresh and hot.
The original premise remains the same, but as an expansion of the 2-minute-long short, Thanksgiving adds a number of details and reworks some others. Gone is the B-movie aesthetic for a more contemporary one that resembles a Scream knockoff. But added in as a brilliantly demented opening salvo that only a diseased mind like Roth’s could conjure up. Roth beautifull ramps up the dread surrounding a Black Friday sale at a Walmart-esque big box store; literally hundreds of Plymouth, MA residents riled up to get inside and score their free waffle irons. A Final Destination-like sense of doom lingers before some jerkoff jumps the gun, leading to a literal stampede of consumers that ends in a bloodbath; bodies get trampled, arms broken in crazy angles, skin broken in shattered glass. What hits home about this hilariously demented scene, which got a round of applause at the screening I attended, is how much it resembles real-life thronds of Black Friday shoppers eager to score the latest toy, Iphone, or big screen TV at a Doorbuster prices.
A year after the Black Friday massacre, a new threat to the town emerges on Thanksgiving. A murderous pilgrim sporting the mask of Plymouth colony founder John Carver begins carving up those caught in a viral video of the retail slaughter. On his hit list are a handful of fairly harmless teens, quite unlike the promiscuous bunch from the original teaser that featured the likes of Jay Hernandez and Jordan Ladd. Leading the largely-unknown cast is someone who is actually very well-known, social media personality Addison Rae in her feature debut as Gabby. Of course, Gabby finds herself in a love triangle with two potential suspects, one a hunky ex-baseball player (Jalen Thomas Brooks)whose arm was crushed in the ruckus, another a rich stick-in-the-mud (Milo Manheim) who gives off serious creeper vibes. Attempting to save the day is Sheriff Newlon, played by Patrick Dempsey whose Boston accent comes and goes like the breeze from an errant hatchet swing.
If Roth wasn’t such a twisted sicko fuck, he’d still be a great comedy filmmaker because he dishes out sight gags and one-liners like green bean casserole. But Roth is clearly deranged, finding disgusting uses of family dinner staples like corn cob holders and turkey basters. On the menu are a series of gruesome decapitations, disembowelments, and one heinous vehicular impalement that comes out of nowhere. Roth leaves you no time to stiffen your spine for the killing blows because what’s the fun of a slasher flick you can hide from? Roth’s nasty sense of humor keeps you on edge between the slayings, and makes each murder a smorgasboard of blood, guts, and irony.
While many of the signature moments from the fake promo remain, Roth did make some changes because the original ideas, which saw women slaughtered in wildly disgusting ways, would be too much for just about any audience. As such, the cheerleader trampoline death gets a tasteful rework. Another, that saw a woman basted into a turkey with stuffing coming out of her orifices, was toned down and yet still manages to be just as stomach-churning because there’s time to show her suffering. Thankfully, the Thanksgiving parade turkey mascot meets his demise just as he should, so all is still right in the world. While the final showdown and ultimate reveal are a bit disappointing and obvious to figure out, you get the sense that Roth is setting the table for sequels, which is perfectly fine with me.
After a strange family-friendly diversion with The House with a Clock in its Walls, Roth has come roaring back in all of his grisly glory with Thanksgiving. It’s easy to see how this movie will become a new holiday tradition for genre fans, to be watched after grandma and grandmpa have fallen into a post-turkey coma.
Thanksgiving opens in theaters on November 17th.