It’s just about two minutes and 25 seconds, but it remains the best thing Eli Roth has ever done. Set right in the middle of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s ambitious and dark film Grinder (2007) is the trailer for a fake movie called Thanksgiving. You probably remember it, you remember a lot from that Forty-Deuce wax museum with the pulse. It’s late November, someone is murdering horny teenagers, kindly old ladies and, er, hornier teenagers in the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The killer is dressed like a pilgrim. The vibe is 80s slasher. A trampoline and a butcher knife are combined to good use. If you grew up consuming as many horror movies on VHS as you could, you’ll recognize the unpleasant visuals, the sleazy sub-Carpenter synth soundtrack, the disturbing deep bass narration. The result is such a tribute to that era of horror films that you’d swear you actually saw it in a triple feature film with Terror Train It is Graduation night in the past. And given that any exposure to Roth’s work lasting more than five minutes can cause flu-like symptoms, it’s the perfect, concise vehicle for his genre knowledge base, his retrograde obsessions, and his incessant need to shock. Check out.
So yeah, let’s admit that when we heard His Rothness was making a feature film about that trailer – or at least something inspired by his contribution to that nerdy movie madness for two – we had a momentary lapse of hope. Of course, their back catalog is a graveyard of failed attempts to recreate FangoriaThe biggest photos spread out and resurrect that old splatter feeling. He’s much better at calling himself a next-generation “horror master” than he is at actually making horror films. The less said about this DOA Death wish redo, better. But the idea of him and his co-writer Jeff Rendell expanding on this bad joke seemed promising and a potential way for him to tap into a genuine love for the bloodfest of the past that would pay off. Right?
What’s that line about the definition of insanity, when you repeat the same thing over and over but somehow expect a different result? This long game Thanksgiving the film may borrow a bunch of footage from that fake trailer – yes, the trampoline/knife gag is here, albeit only half-done; the same goes for a parade’s turkey mascot getting the ax — but it’s not a tenth as smart, as creative, or as cutting, in every sense of the word, as that one Grinder excerpt. Nor does it fetishize a vintage late 1970s/early 1980s drive-in movie look, which would have at least given us something visually interesting. Which was a clever, lame riff on his old wave of Christmas-themed horror films (Halloween! My Bloody Valentine! Silent Night, Deadly Night!) is now just a poorly made and barely functional mediocrity, full of incomplete homages and lazy cinematographic productions. In other words, it’s just another Eli Roth production. Why did we think this would be unique?
It’s Thanksgiving night and most families in Plymouth, Massachusetts, are sitting down to devour turkey – but not the Collins’. Mitch (Ty Olsson) is the manager of the RightMart superstore, who decided to start Black Friday early. He has to go in and make sure everything runs smoothly, much to the chagrin of his wife Amanda (Gina Gershon) and his best friend Eric (Patrick “The Sexiest Man Alive” Dempsey), the local sheriff. Meanwhile, across town, the Wright family is also having their meal interrupted. Thomas (Rick Hoffman, aka Suits‘Oily Louis Litt) owns the RightMart chain, and he and his new wife, Kathleen (Karen Cliche) want to come down to watch the fun. Their daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque) has already excused herself, along with her boyfriend Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), to go on a cruise in the city with her high school friends.
Everyone ends up at the store, where an angry mob is ready to snatch up all those half-price deals and free waffle irons. Things get out of control, the crowd goes crazy — really wild – and everything turns into a massacre. It’s the only set piece Thanksgiving it shows any kind of panache or appropriate sense of terror, as the shoppers begin to cause gruesome deaths. Unfortunately, it’s over before it even begins, although it manages to maim several of our heroes and kill a major character. The city is traumatized.
Things get out of control, the crowd goes crazy — really wild – and everything turns into a massacre.
A year later, Thomas declares that this time they will close the store on Thanksgiving night, but he still wants to put effort into the promotion and erase the memory of what happened. That’s not good enough for many city residents, who are still angry about the tragedy. One person in particular is mad as hell. He would be the one who wears a John Carver mask, dresses like a pilgrim and is attacking the people who were shopping that night, one by one. Additionally, he keeps tagging Jessica and her friends in Instagram posts over an empty but fully set dining table. This can’t be good.
What follows is an undercooked feast of gruesome deaths, last-girl chases, some light digs at capitalism, red herrings, blood-red interior decor courtesy of beheadings, the occasional nod to that trailer, and a lot of dead air. If you’re semi-fluent in Slasher Mysteries 101, you’ll probably ride the cop. And you’ll also be confused as to why, despite the sound and fury of Roth putting his cast through horror beats and pouring gallons of Karo syrup, this feels so devoid of scares or fun. “There will be no leftovers this year,” says the killer, repeating the slogan from the original clip. Which is a great irony: all of this is just leftovers. But the cook didn’t even bother to reheat them. Thanksgiving it’s less a movie than a confusing attempt to avoid an old-but-good episode without adding anything to the party. He can go 100% alone.