It’s surprising that it took 45 years after the debut of John Carpenter’s Halloween for someone to finally make a wide-release holiday slasher for Thanksgiving (Yes, there are some low-budget indies), but here we are. When Michael Meyers appeared on the scene in 1978, suddenly, the 80s were filled with slasher films for every holiday except maybe Arbor Day. But when Eli Roth delivered a fake tongue-in-cheek trailer called Thanksgiving for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 2007 double-feature release, Grindhouse, fans were clamoring for seconds.
With a script by Jeff Rendell and directed by Roth, the feature-length Thanksgiving follows the tried and true tradition of the Clue-like slasher film that has become the staple for every film in the Scream franchise. Take some teenagers who all don’t seem to like each other, send a disguised serial killer after them, and try to guess who is behind the mask.
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In Roth and Rendell’s variation, a Black Friday stunt at a store on Thanksgiving night ends in tragedy, causing a serial killer dressed up as Plymouth, Massachusetts’ founding father John Carver, to pick off people involved one by one the following year.
Patrick Dempsey plays Sheriff Newlon (didn’t he do this in Scram 3?), who is involved in the Black Friday mayhem and becomes directly involved in investigating the murders occurring around the holiday.
Rick Hoffman plays Mr. Right, the owner of the store where the tragedy occurred, and his daughter Gabby (Addison Rae) becomes the heart/obvious Final Girl of the film by being the one to watch her friends get picked off one by one.
Again, we have a group of stock high schoolers who are all kind of dicks and who we don’t really care about. They just yell a lot and act stupid, and we secretly hope ANYONE kills them even before the murders begin. All have thinly drawn characters, with the sole black friend barely having anything more than a few reaction shots.
Gabby herself is too smart to hang with this bunch of idiots, but here she is, also dating a guy with a stereotypical jock/dude persona.
Anyway, people start dying (all who were either assholes or instigators of the Black Sunday riot), so figuring out who is behind the mask isn’t all that difficult, nor is the reason behind it. Basically, The Carver just keeps jump-scaring their victims (and the audience) and offing them in expected and unexpected ways. Yes, Roth loves to shock with gore, and he gets to play in his favorite arena here. Some people will find this amusing on an ingenuity and special effects level, others may wonder why we are entertained by human suffering.
That said, the movie moves through the usual paces of our final girl watching as people get attacked or killed while trying to figure out who is doing it. There’s a bit about a live-streamed Thanksgiving table that slowly gets filled with dead bodies and/or tied-up victims-to-be. In that sense, a bit of Texas Chainsaw Massacre is built in, along with references to a slew of other 70s and 80s slashers.
Truth be told, if you like this type of horror movie, you’ll probably have a good time. I was entertained for sure, but something was missing. There wasn’t much dread here, and it’s never really scary. The dialogue is bland and riddled with cliches, and the cast of characters are mostly unlikeable. Granted, this is sort of how these things were in the decades when slasher films were at their peak, so I want to believe it’s a nod to the “classics,” but when Kevin Williamson was able to take the genre and make it smart and fun, you’d hope other filmmakers would do the same.
Thanksgiving is a feast full of the dishes you love to see in horror, and in that, it is mildly satiating. But in the end, Rendell and Roth don’t bring anything new to the table.