Thanksgiving (2023)

In 2007 Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino decided to do a tribute to the movies that inspired them with Grindhouse.  The full presentation featured two movies, Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Tarantino's Death Proof, both of which have since been released on their own.  The features - especially Planet Terror - were a lot of fun, but for most the best part of the film were the fake trailers.  In fact, they were so popular that many viewers hoped they would become movies of their own.

A couple did.  Rodriguez made a full movie out of Machete, incorporating scenes from the fake trailer into the full feature filmThat one actually got a sequel in Machete Kills! while the fake trailer that only ran at Canadian showings, Hobo with a Shotgun, also got a full release.  Rumor had it that Eli Roth might do a full movie based on Thanksgiving but, as the years passed, it was obvious that memories of Grindhouse had faded and that no one involved was giving serious thought to anything related to it.  Roth himself had started going far afield from horror after 2015's disappointing home invasion thriller Knock Knock

It was more than a little bit of a surprise to see a trailer for Thanksgiving, leading me to double check and make sure this was what I thought it was.  My next thought was whether this was going to be anything like the trailer, which went as extreme as it could, including a famous scene involving a topless cheerleader doing the splits on a trampoline and landing on a knife.  While the MPAA was just as censorship happy in 2007 as any other time - Roth got away with it by putting in fake film damage to cover the penetration - we are now in a time where everyone is afraid to do anything.  While the full movie version of Thanksgiving is certainly a lot gorier than I thought it would be there are significant changes from the trailer.  It makes sense because, although it is fondly remembered by fans of Grindhouse, Roth is well aware that he needs to get an audience that knows nothing about it and just want to see a good modern slasher. 

When Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman) decides to open his Plymouth, Massachusetts department store Thanksgiving night on the advice of his new wife Kathleen (Karen Cliche) things go disastrously wrong.  His daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque) and her friends stop by the store to get a few things which incites a riot that results in several deaths.  A year later when he plans to do the same sale again he is facing protests and, even worse, a serial killer wearing a John Carver mask that starts killing people involved in the conflagration. 

There are several suspects.  Jessica's former boyfriend Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks) arrives back in town after the events resulted in him having a career-ending injury to his pitching arm, while former store manager Mitch (Ty Olsson) blames Wright for the death of his wife Amanda (Gina Gershon).  There is also Jessica's shady current beau, Ryan (Milo Manheim).  The Plymouth sheriff, Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey), is tasked with unraveling who the perpetrator might be, while Jessica and her friends start receiving texts from the killer showing a Thanksgiving table arranged with their names on it.  

There are a number of callbacks to the original trailer.  The narration is referenced in the texts the killer sends, the trampoline scene is back in severely altered form and the beheading during the parade is included, just not played as much for laughs.  There is still plenty of humor throughout, with many of the practical effects purposely veering into the ridiculous as well as some of the more off-kilter scenes and detours that made Cabin Fever such an enjoyable film.  Roth also makes sure to include at least one gag that pushes the R rating as far as he can, since any good horror film needs at least one memorable sequence that goes to an extreme.  

Roth also succeeds in not just going through the motions or spending the running time referencing older horror films.  It is holiday themed, but he is trying to present a modern story with an old school feel rather than just trying to be clever.  It is good that he didn't go specifically for a final girl, especially since the character of Jessica and, honestly, many of her friends are just not that interesting, but the story is enough to make up for them.  Patrick Dempsey is definitely the standout as the beleaguered sheriff that is trying to piece things together.  

Also, for once, the length of the movie doesn't become a factor.  It goes by fast and is pretty much free of filler.  It did kowtow a bit to modern sensibilities by not having any nudity, notably when remaking the trampoline scene, but I probably would not have noticed it so much if I hadn't been listening to Joe Bob Briggs complain about it so much.  The good is in the fact there is so much here that is fresh and fun, and it's nice to see that Roth's hiatus from making horror has reenergized him. 

Thanksgiving (2023)
Time: 106 minutes
Starring: Nell Verlaque, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Milo Manheim, Gabriel Davenport, Patrick Dempsey, Tomaso Saneli, Addison Rae, Jenna Warren
Director: Eli Roth



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