Thanksgiving Mostly Abandons its Exploitation Roots, Did it Work?

Thanksgiving KillerOne of this holiday season’s most anticipated films has been 16 years in the making. Originally featured as a trailer in the Grindhouse duology, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving has been desired by droves of horror fans. Now that it’s out, did it live up to the hype? For a lot of folks in my screening it did. However, I couldn’t help but notice that it abandoned its exploitation roots for a more palatable 90s slasher vibe. I don’t think it necessarily hurt it, but it certainly didn’t make me a fan. Be warned, I will be getting into spoilers.

In Thanksgiving, “An axe-wielding maniac terrorizes residents of Plymouth, Mass., after a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy. Picking off victims one by one, the seemingly random revenge killings soon become part of a larger, sinister plan.”

Thanksgiving Main

Before we start into the film itself, I would be amiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Roth has had some extremely questionable behavior in the past. In the book about the Grindhouse films and trailers, he discusses the trampoline scene and how in his words he exploited the actress by making her do multiple topless takes despite her being professional and getting it in the first take. This combined with some bragging he did in an interview about some misogynistic things he did on the set of Cabin Fever, I’ve never been a big fan. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into Thanksgiving.

I’ll start more positively. First and foremost, this film lacks much of the misogyny typically seen in Roth’s films. It’s shot well enough (Thanks to Milan Chadima, who has worked with Roth in the past on Hostel, Hostel 2, and the original Thanksgiving trailer) and the acting is fine. Heck, there were even a few moments where the jokes even landed for me. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end for me.

Thanksgiving Parade

Thanksgiving feels unsatisfying like a freezer pizza. Sure, it’s fine but it leaves you wishing you’d had something better. The kills are gory and in some cases creative, like someone having their head dipped in water and then stuck to the inside of a freezer door. Yet somehow they feel rushed. It felt almost like pieces of this were left on the editing room floor. I’m all for brevity but this took too much away. I wanted the thrill of the chase and this didn’t deliver on that. Guts (and oh boy are there a lot of guts) and gore aren’t enough for a good slasher.

Speaking of good slashers, Thanksgiving doesn’t just pay homage to them, it directly lifts from them. I’ve always said Roth has interesting ideas but rather than flesh them out, he just wiggles them into another film. This time we see him “borrow” from I Know What You Did Last Summer in his parade scene. Yes, I know it was in the trailer but the way it plays out and is staged is more than a bit similar. We also see a potential escape in a fireman’s uniform that is quite reminiscent of Jensen Ackles’ escape in My Bloody Valentine 3D. We also can’t forget the umpteen killer red herrings which feel a whole lot like the Scream franchise. Abandoning the original style of the trailer for this may be a way to draw in the more mainstream horror crowd but I wish they’d stuck with it, especially given they used the same cinematographer.

With my enthusiasm for gastro themes and visuals in horror films, I’m sure folks will ask my thoughts on the food. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed there either. The turkey in the opening looked disgusting and uncooked. There is also mention about putting eggplant into stuffing which made both my husband and me almost do a spit-take in disgust. In a movie focused on a holiday full of delicious food, I expect better. Marcus Dunstan’s Pilgrim is a great example of beautiful food styling.

I know we want more Thanksgiving-themed horror out there but honestly, this doesn’t come off as a classic to me. It might be novel to watch once, but I think I’ll stick with Pilgrim, Blood Rage, and The Last Thanksgiving.

My Rating: 2/5

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