It’s rare for a teaser trailer to take nearly two decades to become a real movie, but leave it to horror maestro Eli Roth to finally turn his grindhouse-style fake trailer into a full-on gory Thanksgiving feast. Back in 2007, Roth contributed the mock trailer Thanksgiving as part of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse. At just over two minutes, the trailer offered a tantalizingly twisted take on holiday horror, promising copious kills and severed body parts when a murderous pilgrim comes to Plymouth. Fans clamored for an actual film, but had to wait 16 long years for Roth to carve up a plot from the bloody components teased in the trailer.
Now releasing over Thanksgiving weekend, conveniently enough, Roth’s feature-length Thanksgiving aims to deliver on the graphically grotesque premise of the original trailer. Set in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the holiday, the slasher centers around a string of vengeful murders one year after a Black Friday sale turns deadly. Bearing the visage of Plymouth colony founder John Carver, the killer targets those involved in the prior year’s tragedy, live-streaming his crimes to the delight of fellow sickos. While police try to piece together the connections between victims, it’s clear no one is off the menu for this murderous madman.
Stuffed with Roth’s trademark blend of carnage and comedy, Thanksgiving looks to satisfy genre fans who have been craving a proper holiday horror to stand alongside Halloween and Black Christmas. Roth gleefully provides plenty of over-the-top gore showpieces, including creative kills involving trampolines and parade floats. Yet the film also promises self-aware wit poking fun at slasher conventions, as well as satirical jabs at consumer culture via a riotous opening Black Friday scene. For devoted followers of on-screen slaughter, this film hopes to hit the sweet spot between laughs and gasps. The only question is whether Thanksgiving’s protracted incubation period has allowed its killer concept to ripen or rot on the vine. Either way, prepare for a holiday seasoned with psychotic spice.
A Gory Pilgrim’s Progress
Thanksgiving wastes no time setting up its carnage, opening on a chaotic Black Friday sale the night before the titular holiday. At a Walmart-esque big box store named Right Mart, crowds of shoppers violently mob the entrance seeking steep discounts on electronics and appliances. In the frenzy, several are trampled to death, including a notable early victim portrayed by a recognizable cast member (no spoilers!). The deadly event, captured on video and spread virally online, leaves the community of Plymouth, Massachusetts reeling.
One year later, the unrepentant store owner plans to again open on Thanksgiving night, drawing public outrage. But an even greater danger lurks, as a sinister figure dons a creepy pilgrim mask and begins targeting people involved in the prior year’s tragedy. Bearing the visage of Plymouth colony founder John Carver, this brutal killer live-streams his crimes to an audience of twisted supporters. His victims include both callous shoppers seen in the viral footage as well as local teenagers who snuck into the store that fateful night.
Among the potential victims is Jessica, the rebellious daughter of the smug store owner. Despite the earnest efforts of Sheriff Newlon on the case, the pilgrim-masked murderer continues his ruthless spree, employing creative methods involving kitchen utensils and holiday decor. The killings and subsequent amateur investigation unfold among atmospheric New England locations, including the cheerily sinister department store, a local high school, and the town’s historic parade route.
In the sadistic climax, the killer gathers his victims for a gruesome Thanksgiving dinner, forcing cannibalism in a demented inversion of holiday traditions. As the ruthless murderer promises, “There will be no leftovers.” While the killings supply gory spectacle, humor arises from satirical jabs at consumer culture and self-aware winks at slasher conventions.
The mystery itself proves relatively simplistic, with the killer’s identity easily deduced through process of elimination. But narrative takes a backseat to imaginatively grotesque murders, including a cringe-inducing sequence involving a trampoline and cheerleader. For genre fans, Thanksgiving supplies plenty of darkly hilarious carnage to gorge on this holiday season.
Blood on Black Friday
On its surface, Thanksgiving is a celebration of over-the-top carnage, reveling in creative kills with no pretense of tasteful restraint. Yet amidst the severed limbs and cannibalistic dinner parties, the film also packs some scathing social commentary on consumerism and a loving tribute to the slasher era that spawned it.
The inciting Black Friday stampede makes a forceful statement, transforming shoppers into a mindless mob dismantling civilization for 50% off waffle irons. Casting the zealous crowds as virtual zombies highlights capitalistic excess and moral decay. When the riot claims actual lives, it sets the stage for a vengeance tale rooted in corporate greed and personal responsibility. The killer punishes not just the vicious shoppers, but the store owner who put profits over people in the chaos.
Carving up this critique is a throwback slasher spoofing and honoring the holiday-themed hackfests of the late 70s and 80s. With its pumpkin color timing, Plymouth setting, and killer in seasonal disguise, Thanksgiving pays tribute to the trend of Halloween, Black Christmas, Silent Night Deadly Night. It recaptures the atmosphere of dingy grindhouse theaters where these films first sliced and diced their way into notoriety.
Like those exploitation classics, Thanksgiving prioritizes audacious gore over plot coherence. The carnage is not just gory, but funny in its sheer excess, with Roth delighting in moments of shock that made early slashers so distinct from classical horror. The trampoline cheerleader kill reaches new heights of absurdity, while a disemboweled corpse cooked inside a store oven provides a macabre punchline.
The comedic tone allows the violence to function as dark humor, aligning more with recent outliers like Terrifier than the brooding nihilism of Rob Zombie remakes. While not all the jokes land, the combination of laughs and gasps is a difficult balance when pushed this far.
Amidst the carnival of gore, self-aware references acknowledge tropes like sex, drugs, and dumb decisions. Characters highlight threadbare mystery clichés, noting all the “implausible red herrings” that fail to hide the killer’s obvious identity. This metatextual humor follows Scream in poking fun at the genre’s convention while operating fully within them.
Finally, the inclusion of live streaming and social media updates the classic formula for a modern age when violent content spreads virally. By implicating viewers in murder as a form of entertainment, the film comments on both the appeal and danger of digital voyeurism. So while Thanksgiving satisfies surface tastes for seasonal slaughter, it also packs some surprisingly sharp social satire beneath the rib cage. It’s a tastefully terrible treat for freaks and thinkers alike.
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Roth’s Demented Vision
With his fifth feature directorial effort, Eli Roth shows he remains a master of balancing gross-out gore with biting humor. Thanksgiving displays Roth’s skill at building tension through pacing, lulling audiences into laughter before springing cruel surprises. He times scares for maximum effect, aided by gruesome practical effects by Oscar-winning makeup artist Adrian Morot. The kill sequences are impressively stomach-churning, leaning into absurdity with glee.
Throughout, Roth maintains a mischievous twinkle, daring viewers to withstand his sadistic imagination. His morbidity isn’t brooding, but so exaggeratedly wicked that it crosses into comedy. This demented vision provides the funhouse mirror through which familiar horror tropes are reflected.
The New England setting sees Roth anchoring the madness in regional authenticity. The Massachusetts locales lend small town charm, from the idyllic parade routes to the local high school hallways primed for chasing. The characters sport heavy Boston accents, dropping R’s like victims from the killer’s blade. Roth grew up in the area, lending little details that make the environment feel lived-in before being splattered red.
Making the most of the locations, Roth maximizes tension in set pieces across familiar terrain. The department store provides labyrinthine aisles and hidden dangers, shot to reflect the killer’s POV sneaking up on prey. Shadowy backrooms and leering security footage further unsettle. Even more frightening is the well-lit school sequence, where the killer invades a normally safe space in broad daylight.
Cinematography by Andrej Sekera allows slick tracking shots following both victims and violence. Stylized lighting and deep focus shots ape the grindhouse aesthetic. Visual effects by veteran Gregory Nicotero further splatter the screen with gore. The look alternates between the modern sheen of digital filming and retro post-production treatments that degrade the image.
These technical elements work in violent harmony to realize Roth’s gleefully deranged aims. The director’s skill behind the lens provides the necessary grounding for performances and effects to reach proudly ridiculous heights. The result is a depraved Thanksgiving feast for the darkly cinematic soul.
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Filling Out the Body Count
While the gore steals the show, Thanksgiving features a game cast clearly having fun fulfilling their horror movie archetypes. Leading the way is Patrick Dempsey, relishing playing the hard-working Sheriff Newlon. Fresh off being crowned People’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” Dempsey brings old-fashioned heroics to the role, endeavoring to solve the case through earnest dedication.
Playing his primary foil is Nell Verlaque as the rebellious but resourceful Jessica. With her expressive eyes and girl-next-door appeal, Verlaque makes for an empathetic lead to root for as she gets ensnared in the killer’s web. She brings intelligence and tenacity to a familiar “final girl” mold.
Rick Hoffman goes full smarmy sleaze as Jessica’s father and the owner of the accursed Right Mart. His greedy ruthlessness sets events in motion, showing how the upper class can be the true monsters. The gleeful contempt Hoffman displays for his own daughter makes his eventual comeuppance deliciously cathartic.
Bringing her social media stardom to the big screen is Addison Rae as Jessica’s vapid friend turned victim, Gabby. While the TikTok personality doesn’t get to demonstrate much range before meeting a grisly fate, her fame brings pop culture awareness to the mid-budget horror. Similarly, Jalen Thomas Brooks makes an impression as Jessica’s ex and potential suspect, vanishing after the opener.
As for the titular killer, the animatronic pilgrim mask conceals their identity until the predictable last act reveal. But the creepy costume provides an iconic holiday horror image, its stillness made eerie against frantic motion.
Beyond the leads, the supporting teen roles provide fun diversions as they party toward their demise. From the nerdy best friend to the obnoxious jock, they fill out variety in the body count. While largely strewn about as blood fodder, the actors dive in with campy abandon, upping the fun factor in their brief screen lives.
Undoing all their hard work is crazed murderer John Carver, who dismembers them with aplomb. Ultimately, the killer steals the show in this savage holiday showcase.
A Feast for Gorehounds
Considering its prolonged journey to the screen, Thanksgiving delivers a surprisingly entertaining mix of holiday-themed horror and self-aware humor. While unlikely to be remembered as an all-time genre classic, the film provides devoted slasher fans plenty to carved up and devour. It often reaches levels of absurd gore that provide shocks and laughs in equal measure.
Clearly a passion project for Eli Roth, Thanksgiving shows studied devotion to influences like John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s Scream. The killer’s blank pilgrim façade recalls Michael Myers’ frozen mask, while the wise-cracking teens feel descended from Craven’s self-aware protagonists. Chases staged across school hallways and suburban backyards pay direct homage.
But the carnage aims for a whole other level, pushing beyond frightening into Grand Guignol spectacle. Intensely bloody murders reference more recent viral indie hits like Terrifier or guerilla masterpieces like Peter Jackson’s Dead-Alive. Yet Roth smartly counterbalances the gore with satirical humor mocking monstrous consumerism and lampooning genre tropes.
The first two acts in particular amuse as they appall, lining up expendable victims for elaborately gory ends. Clever sequences toy with expectations, like a tense cell phone stalking set piece at the school. But the fun sags a bit as Thanksgiving enters an inevitably draggy final stretch marked by torture and anguish absent the comic relief needed to offset it. Roth seems so focused on topping previous atrocities that the killings become more exhausting than exhilarating.
The mystery itself is fairly pedestrian, with an abundance of red herrings failing to obscure the killer’s obvious identity. But narrative machinations are almost beside the point, as the appeal lies in creative death tableaus like a cheerleader bouncing to her demise. On this front, Thanksgiving rarely disappoints, with Roth gleefully one-upping himself through to the finale.
Uneven and dated elements keep the film from attaining instant classic status on par with something like Trick ‘r Treat. But there is craft visible in the directing and cinematography, and clear affection for the genre’s excesses. Fans willing to gorge on hard-R gore will leave satisfied, and midnight moviegoers could feasibly embrace it as a new cult favorite. But viewers not onboard for such a sanguinary meal will understandably flee.
Above all, Thanksgiving demonstrates Eli Roth’s talents are best deployed on purely fun, flippant shock material rather than attempts at social commentary or elevating horror. Keeping his provocations strictly tongue-in-cheek allows his skills for mayhem to shine. While best consumed in moderation, this holiday from decency provides a sweet escape for hardcore fans of scary movies just looking to have fun and scream.
A Bountiful Blood Feast
Minor shortcomings aside, Thanksgiving succeeds as a feast of Halloween season horror delights. For devotees of the slasher genre, it hits the sweet spot between shocks, laughs, and grim indulgence. While unlikely to be remembered among the masterpieces, it provides a fun and fittingly gory celebration of the influences that spawned it.
Best of all, the film represents a return to form for Eli Roth after some less focused efforts. Thanksgiving captures the director at his crowd-pleasing best, skipping lofty ambitions to simply give bloodthirsty audiences what they crave. The grindhouse trailer that started it all was only two minutes, but Roth has expanded its premise into a satisfyingly twisted holiday romp.
With gnarly practical effects, a game cast, and diabolical wit, this splatter-filled commemorative carves out a place for itself in the seasonal horror pantheon. For fans of outrageous, over-the-top carnage and black comedy, Thanksgiving provides the perfect cinematic meal to devour. While not refined taste, the ingredients blend into the ultimate comfort food for freaks just looking to have fun and scream.
Of course, mileage will vary depending on viewers’ tastes for cinematic violence served up with heaping helpings of poor taste. But for those with strong stomachs, this bacchanalia of blood provides some vicarious thrills and laughs. And really, what better way to spend the holiday than enjoying a demented meal together with friends and family? After nearly twenty years, Roth serves up his fans and haters alike a feast worthy of the wait.
Despite an overlong runtime and some repetitiveness, Thanksgiving largely delivers on the twisted promise of Eli Roth's grindhouse trailer. Fans of hardcore horror will gorge on the gory killings, dark humor, and nods to slasher classics. While unlikely to be remembered among the greats, it satiates the appetites of genre devotees looking for holiday-themed carnage.
- Very creative, over-the-top gory kills for shock value and dark comedy
- Excellent pacing and timing of scares vs. comedy in the first two acts
- Nails the throwback atmosphere of 80s holiday slashers like Halloween
- Great practical effects by special makeup master Adrian Morot
- Fun cast including Patrick Dempsey and Addison Rae
- Cool use of locations like the department store and high school
- Social media aspect puts a modern twist on the slasher formula
- Mystery and killer's identity are too obvious
- Drags in the final act with repetitive extreme violence
- Some jokes don't land and dialogue can be cheesy
- Doesn't fully commit to a retro grindhouse aesthetic
- Uneven mix of tones at times - almost too gory for a comedy