‘Thanksgiving’ Review: Patrick Dempsey Polices Eli Roth’s Hard-R Slasher Flick That Started As A Fake Trailer But Proves To Have Enough Leftovers To Gross Us Out

Director and horror aficionado Eli Roth had plenty of fun working on his friends Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 2007 drive-in double feature Grindhouse. Roth wasn’t part of the main attraction, but he did one of the fake trailers for a non-existent feature called Thanksgiving that was placed between the two films. That trailer was a hilarious and gruesome satire of the ’80s trend of holiday-themed horror movies such as Halloween, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day, New Year’s Evil, Silent Night Deadly Night, etc.

Massachusetts native Roth correctly surmised that no one had yet done one centered on Thanksgiving. Plymouth was the birthplace of the holiday, and Roth saw plenty of opportunities to stage some gross-out murders including several beheadings and a cooked human in the form of the traditional turkey dinner. There even was a gut-wrenching scene with a trampoline-jumping teenager meeting a memorable end.

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The good news for fans of the trailer is that Roth and his co-hort and screenwriter Jeff Rendell have found a way to incorporate all the greatest “hits” of the Grindhouse trailer. Seventeen years later, they finally cracked the code of making an actual movie from the trailer (kinda like the tail wagging the dog), and it’s one that fans without weak stomachs will relish. It is all ridiculous fun, playing as much like a broad comedy as a classic horror flick. The urge for critics to call this all a “turkey” should be resisted because it works for exactly what it sets out to be — largely because Roth is a devious devotee of the genre who clearly is having a blast bringing this all to the screen.

It starts out on Black Friday, the infamous shopping event that now takes place on Thursday night of Thanksgiving. Hundreds of eager buyers are crowded outside the local Right Mart, many driven by the idea of snatching up bargain waffle irons. A stampede ensues, some people are killed in the process, and clearly it was a complete mess. Cut to a year later, and the town of Plymouth is still reeling, especially when a masked killer known as John Carver dressed as a pilgrim — and yes, there really was a John Carver among the original pilgrims — becomes suspect No. 1 (a la the gimmick favored by the Scream series) in a series of grisly killings (and I mean grisly) that all seem to be tied to the events and people at that Right Mart the year before.

The cast of characters include People‘s newly crowned “sexiest man alive” Patrick Dempsey as the local sheriff who is determined to get to the bottom of all this. At its center is Jessica (Nell Verlaque), a teen who is potentially targeted and, like all films of this ilk, is constantly in danger (think Jamie Lee Curtis). Her father (Rick Hoffman) is super sleazy, owned the Right Mart store and skimped on security. Best friend Gabby (TikToker Addison Rae), preppy Ryan (Milo Manheim), Jessica’s ex Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks) — who mysteriously disappeared and is ghosting her (perhaps) — and a slew of other teens are front and center. Karen Cliche plays the nonplussed stepmother of Jessica, while none other Gina Gershon turns up in the early goings-on.

Give major credit to makeup wizard and prosthetics genius Adrian Morot, who won an Oscar this year for The Whale, and creates all the unattached heads, body parts and other fun stuffings. Producer of this Tri-Star Pictures and Spyglass Media Group production with Roth and Rendell is Roger Birnbaum.

The studio has even lifted the ad line from the original Grindhouse trailer — “this Thanksgiving there will be no leftovers” — as a major part of its campaign.

Title: Thanksgiving
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Release date: November 17, 2023
Director: Eli Roth
Screenwriter: Jeff Rendell
Story by: Eli Roth and Jeff Rendell
Cast: Patrick Dempsey, Nell Verlaque, Addison Rae, Milo Manheim, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Rick Hoffman, Gina Gershon, Karen Cliche
Rating: R
Running time: 1 hr 43 min

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