Thanksgiving: the essential ingredients of an Eli Roth horror movie

Eli Roth's gleefully grisly new slasher movie Thanksgiving features a sadistic serial killer named John Carver – and the masked psycho more than lives up to his name. One year after a tragic Black Friday riot in which several people died, the American town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, renowned as the landing place of the Founding Fathers, is terrorised by said killer who wants to make a nasty point in time for the Thanksgiving season.

At first, Carver alerts the local teens via social media, insinuating that they are all going to be served up at some kind of twisted Thanksgiving feast. It doesn't take long before people start dying, prompting the local Sheriff (Patrick Dempsey) to get to the bottom of the carnage before it's too late.

If you're a horror fan, you'll know that Roth's controversial reputation precedes him. And if you're in the mood to gorge on a creepy, bloody, 18-rated movie experience this winter, you can't go wrong with Thanksgiving. 

So, what makes Thanksgiving a quintessential Eli Roth chiller? Let's find out.


1. Extreme gore and mayhem

Cabin Fever, the Hostel movies, The Green Inferno – it's simply not an Eli Roth movie without savage scenes of death and dismemberment. Cabin Fever is the dark story of a flesh-eating parasitic virus that attacks a group of teens on holiday in the woods. The Hostel movies take sadistic relish in their stories of transgressive and gruesome pleasures in the underground culture of Slovakia. And The Green Inferno pushes cannibalistic chills to the extreme.

Thanksgiving is no different. The trailer opens with a great blackly comic joke involving apparent food preparation for Thanksgiving (herbs, cranberry sauce et al) before we realise that the item being prepared is a live human being. From there, you can expect ear canals to be skewered by corn cob spikes, faces glued to doors, bodies cooked in ovens and much more. Like we said, it's an Eli Roth movie.

2. People in exceptional circumstances

The Hostel movies focus on hapless American backpackers who were drawn against their will into an illicit subculture of torture and suffering. Cabin Fever is a fight for survival against an invasive, non-human enemy. And The Green Inferno strands its characters miles from civilisation as they seek to escape an indigenous tribe that wants to eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In Thanksgiving, there's the suggestion that the movie's imperilled townsfolk are somehow paying for the sins and the crimes of the Black Friday tragedy that happened one year earlier. They must rely on all of their wits to survive this perverse and ghoulish Thanksgiving season as the body count starts to rise.


3. References to old-school horror movies

Thanksgiving springs from the fake Thanksgiving trailer that appeared in 2007's Grindhouse. The movie was an intentionally sleazy and grainy throwback to 1970s and 1980s drive-in movies, bifurcated by Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror.

In between the two films came the trailers for so-called upcoming attractions, including Grindhouse. (Other fake trailers included the Edgar Wright-helmed Don't.) Roth's original two-minute pitch is knowingly graphic and gross and one moment gives new meaning to the phrase 'turkey basting'. (If you've got the stomach for it, watch the original Grindhouse trailer below.)

As a filmmaker, Roth has always been embalmed in a love of horror, including the somewhat more gratuitous end of the spectrum. He's a willing student of the Italian splatter-meister Lucio Fulci, famed for his gory zombie movies, and Roth has never hesitated to preach to the hardcore horror crowd by putting unpleasant imagery onto the big screen.

Thanksgiving is very much in this retro pastiche mold, owing a lot of its style and its kills to the cult likes of Friday the 13th and other slasher franchises.

4. Use of improvised weapons

Hostel brought out the power tools and implements to bathe the screen in blood. Thanksgiving happily takes up the mantle: one of the movie's dark running jokes is the killer, John Carver, is offing people with the use of food implements including mallets and ovens. 

Once again, it's not an Eli Roth movie unless a practical, workaday object is put to especially horrific use.


5. A love of seasonality

In 2018, Roth deviated away from the realm of extreme horror to deliver the family-friendly The House with a Clock in its Walls. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett starred in this relatively amenable horror-comedy, adapted from John Bellairs' book of the same name, about a young boy sent to live with his mysterious uncle who, it transpires, is an all-powerful warlock.

The movie's scare factor was decidedly dialled down, aiming for the Tim Burton approach of morbidly amusing rather than sadistically squeamish. After all, that wouldn't be suitable for the kiddies. The House with a Clock in its Walls also made abundant use of its Halloween setting with a climactic set piece involving sentient, malevolent pumpkins.

Thanksgiving continues Roth's seasonal trend. It's set at that most wholesome time of the year when the American nuclear family is meant to come together to eat, drink and be merry (maybe messy, as well) as they honour the tradition of the Thanksgiving Pilgrims. Only this particular Thanksgiving is going to be very different from all others before it...

In the mood for some Eli Roth-flavoured mayhem? Click the link below to book your tickets for Thanksgiving. It's released at Cineworld on November 17th.