Thanksgiving - New Release Review
Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Gina Gershon, Addison Rae, Rick Hoffman, Milo Manheim
Written by: Jeff Rendell, Eli Roth
Produced by: Roger Birnbaum, Jeff Rendell, Eli Roth
Cinematography by: Milan Chadima
Original Score by: Brandon Roberts
After a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy, a mysterious Thanksgiving-inspired killer terrorizes Plymouth, Massachusetts - the birthplace of the infamous holiday.
Eli Roth has had a roller coaster of a career as a film maker. He came straight out of the gate with the cult classic 'Cabin Fever' then followed it up with the very controversial 'Hostel', ushering in the “Torture Porn” era of horror in the mid to late 2000’s. In the following years Roth would continue to make movies but never find the same success he did with his first two films. He’s often looked upon as one of the Masters of Horror, with his encyclopedic knowledge of all things horror, yet he’s struggled to deliver anything that’s caught on with mainstream audiences.
Weirdos like me love his films, but recent horror directors have passed him by in popularity. Shortly after the release of 'Hostel', Roth was invited to take part in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 'Grindhouse', a throwback to the exploitation era of cinema. 'Grindhouse' worked as a double feature film, with Rodriguez’ 'Planet Terror' and Tarantino’s 'Death Proof'. In between the features, fake trailers for other exploitation films were shown including 'Don't' by Edgar Wright, 'Hobo With A Shotgun' by Jason Eisener (which only aired in certain theatres), 'Werewolf Women of the SS' by Rob Zombie, 'Machete' by Robert Rodriguez and lastly, 'Thanksgiving' by Eli Roth. A Thanksgiving based slasher film showcasing Roth’s talents for gory kills and tongue in cheek dialogue. 'Grindhouse' came out in 2007, so why 16 years later has Roth decided to turn this little-known fake trailer into a full feature now? Passion project? Or sheer desperation for a hit?
After a tragic accident resulting in several deaths on the previous Black Friday, the town of Plymouth starts being terrorized by the John Carver Killer, a mysterious masked killer who is knocking off certain members of the community. It's a pretty basic plot but nothing that wouldn’t feel out of place in an 80’s slasher; but this is where the problem lies with the film as this version of Thanksgiving feels like a 2000’s remake of an unknown 80’s grindhouse film. I’ve read in interviews with Roth that this was his intention, but it almost feels like he’s throwing away an aspect of what made the original fake trailer great. Now saying that, 'Grindhouse' bombed when it released and any other exploitation project hasn’t done amazing with general audiences either, so maybe I see Roth’s reasonings for modernising the project.
The cast varies in quality, with Patrick Dempsey and Rick Hoffman being the best and most of the young actors just doing a serviceable job. The main cast of teens are all given enough screentime for you to care about them in the moment, but as soon as you leave the theatre, you’ll not remember a single character's name. 'Thanksgiving' doesn’t have its own Laurie Strode or Sidney Prescott and it really would have benefited from one if Roth is planning on making this a series of films.
But enough of the negative stuff, let's talk about the star of the film, THE KILLS. 'Thanksgiving' is packed with some of the absolute best kills I've ever seen in a mainstream horror. There’s a particular kill with a barge float that had me clapping in my screening. The killer, John Carver, is extremely brutal and very much out in the open in suspenseful scenes. He doesn’t hide in the shadows, he's much more of a Ghostface than a Michael Myers and I really enjoyed that about the killer. The killer's identity is a mystery throughout, and they throw out enough red herrings to have you guessing who the John Carver killer might be, but any seasoned horror fan should be able to work it out from the first frame.
I’ve been quite negative in this review about a few things, but I really did have a fun time with 'Thanksgiving'. I feel like I’ll be revisiting this every year in my rotation of seasonal horror films. Did Eli Roth deliver on the premise from the fake 'Thanksgiving' trailer? Kinda. Although it’s not a complete throwback to the grindhouse era of slashers, it’s definitely Roth’s best film in years. 'Thanksgiving' doesn’t serve up a full 5 course meal but there’s enough here to leave the audience full and wanting for more...
- Adam Neeson
'Thanksgiving' is currently slashing up theatres right now