Eli Roth's ‘Thanksgiving’ is Actually Great

Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is a holiday spectacular of blood and guts that takes glee in finding new ways to rip bodies apart and make stomachs churn. I can’t remember the last time that a new horror movie was so gross I started watching it between my fingers, anticipating what kind of viscera I’d be seeing onscreen during the next kill; to be clear, this is a compliment.

Thanksgiving arrives just in time for the actual holiday, and is a long time coming—it’s an outgrowth of the fake trailer Roth made for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 2007 Grindhouse. And while you may think that trailer may have worn out the gag of a masked serial killer stalking Plymouth, Massachusetts during Turkey Day, Roth has actually and rather ingeniously managed to stretch the concept out to feature length.

The opening sequence is a killer, literally and figuratively. It’s Thanksgiving night, and Plymouth’s local big box store Right Mart has decided to open early for Black Friday—a greedy move on behalf of the proprietor Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman) and his new trophy wife Kathleen (Karen Cliche). A mob has gathered in the front demanding their free waffle irons, held off by two measly security guards who cannot keep control.

Tensions augment when a group of teens gets past the barrier, led by Thomas’ daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque). While Jessica feels guilty about cutting the line, her pals taunt some of the crazed shoppers outside. Meanwhile, also inside are the local sheriff (Patrick Dempsey, his Masshole accent on full display) and his friend (Gina Gershon), the wife of one of the employees.

Naturally, shit goes terribly awry. The crowd busts through the doors, tramples a security guard. Someone’s neck gets slashed on broken glass. A scalp is removed from a skull by a shopping cart’s wheels.

After an appropriately retro title card rolls, we jump one year ahead in time. People are still angry about the massacre, but life has gone on as normal—until a killer in a chintzy John Carver mask starts, uh, carving up people in exceedingly clever ways. He seeks to target anyone who had a hand in the madness at Right Mart a year prior, with a specific focus on Jessica and her friends.

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