Thanksgiving may be a foreign concept to Australians, but as director Eli Roth pointed out to us, hanging his latest horror movie on the famous holiday is “just an excuse to have a bunch of killings.”
Roth’s new slasher film is based on his famous fake 80s horror tribute trailer of the same name, which played ahead of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double feature Grindhouse back in 2007. Some fans called it a trailer for the greatest horror film never made, but now, thanks to Roth’s perseverance, Thanksgiving is real.
The horror pays tribute to a lot of Thanksgiving practices, but Roth said even those without much knowledge of the holiday can still have a good time at the cinema.
“I think it’s a great way to learn about Thanksgiving, but you don’t have to know the traditions of it to get what it is,” Roth told Gizmodo Australia. “I think that everybody just loves a good scary movie with amazing, fun deaths.”
The director added that he wanted to bring in not just the stereotypical traditions that are commonly associated with Thanksgiving, but also the horror that comes with the Black Friday sales.
“In America, Thanksgiving was supposed to be about being thankful and being with your family, but the Black Friday sales have bled over,” he emphasised. “Everybody wants to be first so it completely invaded the holiday. There are these YouTube viral videos of Black Friday sales gone crazy where people are trampling over each other for waffle irons and flat-screen TVs and we just thought that was a great opening for a slasher film and also thematically for the idea of consumers when greed runs amok.”
It’s something many will experience in just over a week as Black Friday deals kick off for another year – although hopefully not in the same way as depicted in Thanksgiving.
“That scene the [Black Friday] riot was pretty crazy because you have 600 extras and stunt people and people running and trampling. Thankfully, no one got hurt and we were super careful about it,” Roth explained, reflecting on the movie’s chaotic opening scene.
Following the Black Friday riot scene, things rarely get any less hectic in Thanksgiving. A year later the small town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, finds itself in the grip of a masked serial killer, bent on getting revenge on those who were involved in the sale-gone-wrong.
Making up the cast of Thanksgiving is an impressive balance of established actors like Rick Hoffman and Patrick Dempsey alongside up-and-coming newcomers like Addison Rae, Milo Manheim and Jalen Thomas Brooks. Roth said that he leaned on the teenagers both in his life and on his movie to help nail the dynamics of the Gen Z demographic in the script:
“When Jeff [Rendell] and I are writing the scripts, we’re doing the research on the scares and the kills, but I’m talking to all my friend’s kids who are now 17-18 years old. So when we’re writing scenes, I always run through it with teenagers that I trust that will go ‘Okay, I understand this is, they should say this, they should say that.’ So by the time it gets to the cast, the script is in pretty tight shape.”
“Once the [actors] are in the zone of the characters, we let them improvise and say what they naturally would in that situation and that’s how you make it real and authentic,” Roth added. “You know, being the age I am and writing for a 17-year-old part, it’s really taking the time to talk to a number of kids that age and really do the research so that when they’re speaking it feels fully authentic.”
What follows in the plot is a series of twisted Thanksgiving-inspired killings, that make creative and graphic use of holiday traditions like corn cobs, turkeys and parades.
It’s one of these scenes that Roth admits is the most intense in the movie.
“Definitely when we’re roasting someone in an oven and creating a human turkey,” he said. “Karen Cliche is an amazing actor and we really put her through it. She went for it every single take.”
Audiences can see the results when Thanksgiving releases in cinemas on November 16.
Image: Sony Pictures