Holiday-themed slasher films have long been a staple of the horror genre, as Halloween, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine and countless others add a shot of festive fear to an otherwise celebratory season.
Director Eli Roth adds to the calendar of carnage with Thanksgiving, which sees the residents of a small New England town at the mercy of a knife-wielding killer dressed as a pilgrim, who carves up his victims with as much ravenous gusto as revellers would a freshly roasted turkey.
Thanksgiving first took flight as a fake trailer, directed by Roth, which was included in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s experimental 2007 exploitation anthology Grindhouse.
Sixteen years on, the concept has been expanded into a fully fledged feature, which pays loving tribute to a host of beloved horror classics, from Scream to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as Roth continues his own extended foray in the genre, which began with films such as Cabin Fever and Hostel.
The film opens with a horrifying Black Friday riot, as a frenzied mob of delirious shoppers storms the local RightMart superstore in a hunt for holidays bargains, leaving a number of people dead in their wake.
One year later, a string of grisly murders shatters the community just as they are preparing for the holiday.
At the same time, a group of friends who were present at the deadly stampede are targeted in a series of mysterious social media posts from someone calling themselves “John Carver” – the name of the town’s first mayor, whose face is now a popular mask worn during the celebrations.
Chief among those targeted is Jessica (Nell Verlaque), whose father owns the RightMart. She is also caught in a heated love triangle with current boyfriend Ryan (Milo Manheim) and her hot-headed ex, Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), back in town for the first time since the violence of the previous year.
Roth and Rendell pack their script with a murderer’s row of potential suspects, and it falls to Patrick Dempsey’s local sheriff to catch the killer before everyone’s goose is cooked.
Roth has never been one to show restraint, and Thanksgiving serves up a blood-soaked banquet of impalings, beheadings, and endlessly inventive kills, shot through with a devilishly sadistic wit, that will leave the hardcore horror crowd fit to burst yet clamouring for more.
While hardly suitable for family viewing, a sequel seems inevitable – Thanksgiving seems destined to become the next festive franchise holiday, one that slasher fans can be thankful for.
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Khushi Patel is a science fiction author who lives in Austin, Texas. She has published three novels, and her work has been praised for its originality and imagination. Khushi is a graduate of Rice University, and she has worked as a software engineer. She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and her books have been nominated for several awards.