Eli Roth's fake trailer from 2007's 'Grindhouse' is now a full-length slasher flick that serves up gory slayings but a by-the-numbers plot.
November 16, 2023
Edgar Wright's Don't and Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS must be on their way to the big screen soon. With Thanksgiving's arrival, three of the five films teased as trailers in 2007's Grindhouse — and at the time only conceived to exist as those faux trailers — have come to full-length feature fruition. So, the double of Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof didn't just give the world biochemical zombies and a murdering stuntman, but Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun and now Eli Roth's turkey-holiday slasher horror. In this first stint behind the lens since 2021 documentary Fin, plus 2018's vastly dissimilar Death Wish and The House with a Clock in Its Walls before that, the Cabin Fever and Hostel filmmaker knows the right mood: when you're plating up a film that began as a gag ad, leaning into both tropes and a knowing vibe is the best choice for carving a path forward.
There's a downside to the joke beginning and happy winking now, though: Thanksgiving sure does love sticking to a tried-and-tested recipe. Roth and screenwriter Jeff Rendell, both returning from 16 years back and sharing a story credit, have taken to the whole "Halloween but Thanksgiving" approach with the utmost dedication — because it's as plain as a roasted bird centrepiece that that's what they've purposely cooked up. The mood, the nods, the derivation: they don't add up to a new masterpiece, however, genre-defining, cult or otherwise. But there's something to be said for a film that commits to its bit with this much relish, so bluntly and openly, and with the tongue-in-cheek attitude that was baked into the Grindhouse package slathered on thick. And yes, the image that no one has forgotten for almost two decades returns, alongside other signature shots from Thanksgiving's proof-of-concept sneak peek.
As they splatter around gore, not gravy, plus guts that don't belong to poultry, Roth and Rendell have given themselves a task: reverse-engineering an entire feature from a spoof trailer that made fun not just of holiday horror flicks, but of Roth's part in torture porn's boom. They're also eager to ensure that their picture locks in its place on the occasion-centric viewing calendar. The raucous Thanksgiving slides in before Black Christmas and New Years' Evil, dates-wise, and joins a roster that also spans My Bloody Valentine and April Fools' Day. This slice of the scary-movie spectrum isn't small, both in general and with past Thanksgiving-themed fare — for the latter, see also: Blood Rage, Black Friday, Blood Freak, ThanksKilling and Boogeyman, and more — but, blatantly angling for sequels as well, Roth and Rendell don't just want to dish up one serving.
Thanksgiving could go by Black Thursday, the shopping opportunity that's also been dubbed Grey Thursday and Brown Thursday, because that's when and why its carnage commences. The place is still Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the slasher who'll start offing teens still nabs disguise cues from pilgrims — wearing a John Carver mask specifically, which noticeably resembles not just Plymouth Colony's first governor but V for Vendetta's Guy Fawkes mask — but the 2022-set opening is all about a crushing trip to score bargains. At RightMart, the masses gather when it's traditionally dinnertime, demanding with increasing ferocity to be let inside. The shoving and shouting becomes a stampede after the crowd sees Jessica Wright (Nell Verlaque, Big Shot) and her friends enter early because it's her dad Thomas' (Rick Hoffman, Billions) store. For some, the results are fatal, whether via being caught underfoot, copping shards of glass or getting scalped by trolleys.
In adding to the bowl while spooning in pieces from horror classics, Roth and Rendell take inspiration not just Halloween but from Dawn of the Dead — aka that shopping spree gone savage — as well as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. If Thanksgiving was a feast itself, it'd be everything from dark and light meat with cranberry sauce to sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie smashed together in a blender. Here's another mission on Roth's list: crafting killer setpieces and slayings, with the Black Thursday onslaught at the top of the heap. Not every death is inventive, but this movie and its director are all about the audience impact, with endeavouring to incite cheers, screams and laughs their stuffing and seasoning. That said, Thanksgiving is strongest when it's fresh out of the oven, then dutifully works through its recreated offings from the Grindhouse trailer and soon proves content with a stock-standard cat-and-mouse game.
The bulk of the flick occurs a year following the RightMart riot, when Jessica and her fellow survivor pals Gabby (Addison Rae, He's All That), Evan (Tomaso Sanelli, Holly Hobbie), Scuba (Gabriel Davenport, Mistletoe Time Machine) and Yulia (Jenna Warren, The Young Arsonists) get tagged in a creepy social-media post. Then a diner employee turns up dead not long after waiting on them, a spree begins, and Sheriff Newlon (Patrick Dempsey, Disenchanted) and his colleagues aren't much help. Although biting into consumerism's worst impulses is on the menu, as is satirising the chase for viral fame in these always-posting times, the themes and plot aren't the main course. That status goes to upping the body count with bloodthirsty and grisly enthusiasm.
The key thing to be thankful for here is that Thanksgiving's creative forces are patently having schlocky fun, including with their McDreamy casting, practical effects and some visual moments — and they don't ever stomach being subtle about it. Ditching the throwback look hasn't meant scrapping the 70s-esque tone or toning down the revelling in getting gruesome. There's a difference between appreciating how much enjoyment went into whipping up the movie and consistently having more than a by-the-numbers time with it, though. Excited chefs can still cook average meals with sprinklings of flavour, as Roth does. There's also one goal that Thanksgiving threw out with the bones: creating a picture that doesn't make viewers certain that they saw most of the best bits in that years-ago trailer.
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