Thanksgiving, of course, gestated from the “joke” trailer Eli Roth directed for 2007’s Grindhouse double feature of Planet Terror and Death Proof. Since that day, Roth has been asked over and over and over when we might get an actual full length movie. (Including by me in 2009, an interview I can’t even link to because the site Popeater no longer exists. Roth’s answer was, “Not yet, but it is something I’m working on.” Again, this was 14 years ago.)
Well, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving (written by Jeff Rendell) is finally a reality. Set in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 2022 multiple people are killed after things get out of hand during a black Friday sale on Thanksgiving night. The next year, someone dressed in a John Carver mask is going around killing everyone associated with the events from the year before. Patrick Dempsey (you know, the Sexiest Man Alive) plays the town sheriff who must figure out who is behind the murders before it’s too late for a group of high school students who were peripherally involved (they sneaked into the store early when the crowd saw them has started a riot). It’s a true throwback to late ’70s and early ’80s slasher movies, with the spirit of Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and Porky’s thrown in. (It turns out Eli Roth is a huge Bob Clark fan.)
Ahead, Roth discusses why it took so long to make Thanksgiving and all the influences that are contained within (buckle up, there are a lot). But, first, the star of his movie was just named the Sexiest Man Alive, as Roth deadpans about Rick Hoffman.
The Sexiest Man Alive is in your movie.
It’s really great. I knew that when we cast Rick Hoffman, I’ve always loved him, and then Suits blew up and then he became The Sexiest Man Alive. So he deserves it. I was saying to Sony, we should change the ads to say “Thanksgiving just got hotter, turned up the heat.”
Why wouldn’t you lean into that?
Yeah. Now we get to torture him in a multitude of ways for the rest of our lives, so I’m very happy for him. It’s very important to be sexy.
But really, this could kind of work out.
Oh yeah. No, I’m not complaining. It’s hilarious. I’m curious to see what people will bring now they watch the movie knowing it’s the Sexiest Man Alive. Look, we’re very lucky to get Patrick. He’s an awesome dude and the accent that he uses in the movie, that’s his real accent. He grew up in Maine and he actually grew up talking like that, and that’s how all his friends talk from there. So when he became an actor and moved to New York City in the ’80s, he had to lose the accent. So this is the first time he’s ever acted with his true natural accent in a film before.
He seems like he’s having the time of his life in this.
We had the best time making this movie.
It looks like it.
It was great and everyone did. I mean, look, when you’re making a low-budget movie, all you can really offer people is a great experience. It just all went so fast and then Patrick Dempsey’s agent reached out and I was like, “Please don’t tease me.” Because, of course, I’d love Dempsey to do it. “No, no, he wants to do a horror movie! He wants to be in something different that’s not a romantic comedy!” And his kids are really into horror. That always helps, when the kids push the parents. And Gina Gershon and I had worked together on Borderlands and she called me and she’s like, “When am I going to be in a horror movie?”
The one thing that has not aged well in this movie is the Patriots being a hot ticket…
I don’t think you’re from Massachusetts.
I’m not. I’m originally from Kansas City.
You have no idea what you’re talking about, do you?
They are 2-7. [Update since this interview took place, they are now 2-8.]
Okay, well, maybe this season…
Yes, this season. Of course this season. People are not into Mac Jones.
But if you have Patriots tickets to sit on the 50-yard line…
Okay, the 50-yard line, point taken. The upper deck tickets aren’t hard to get right now.
Well, yeah, we’re not talking about upper-deck tickets. If you’re talking about sitting on the 50-yard line, those are good tickets.
I was at the 2019 AFC championship game in 10-degree weather in Kansas City. I saw the Patriots beat us in overtime. So I say that with all due respect, but you’ve had all these years of great Patriots teams to make this movie, and this is the year you picked.
If that’s the only thing in the movie that hasn’t aged well.
That’s the only thing?
I’ll take it. It’s the kind of movie, because it’s called Thanksgiving, people can watch every year. So by next year they could be undefeated again, and then the scene will make sense again.
I have faith that one day, that scene will make perfect sense. Thank you. No, I’m teasing. I need it.
Something else I’ve been thinking about since I watched this yesterday. I feel this movie is a throwback to kind of an ’80s slasher. When you made the fake trailer for Grindhouse, you were still establishing yourself as a filmmaker. It feels like, now, you can make a throwback because people will get what you’re doing and people like slashers again.
Well, the truth is, the movie started when I was 11 and 12 years old. Jeff Rendell and I grew up 40 minutes from Plymouth in Massachusetts. So Thanksgiving is rammed down your throats. So our goal was always to make a real slasher movie, like Black Christmas, Halloween, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day. And then in the ’90s, Mute Witness and Scream, I thought were masterpiece slasher movies. So when we had the opportunity to do the trailer, it was doing it in the context of Grindhouse, which is supposed to be one of those fun 1980s low-budget, sleazy drive-in movies. So the trailer was a joke.
I know it was meant as a joke, but at the same time, the reaction to it was very positive. People wanted to see it even from that moment, which maybe surprised you?
Why would you?! Because we’ve just seen the best parts! My feeling was, why make the movie?! We could just make trailers then you don’t even have to think of a story or a plot or characters! And it wasn’t until we saw those Black Friday YouTube videos that it really got us thinking, because all those movies start with some inciting incident. Starting with Black Christmas or Bay of Blood, but starting with a holiday, a tragic event, a certain amount of time later, and all the people connected to that event getting killed, and you’re guessing who the killer is.
I thought about Black Christmas a lot while watching this…
And also the grandma in the beginning is played by Lynne Griffin, who’s the first victim in Black Christmas. The actual first victim of a holiday slasher movie in the opening scene in the movie, she was very upset we didn’t kill her. It was nice that she’s in it.
You made a list of your favorite ’80s movies. You included Porky’s, which was also directed by Bob Clark from Black Christmas…
There are three Bob Clark movies in this. There’s Black Christmas, and Porky’s, which I think is one of the greatest movies ever made…
I just rewatched Porky’s recently. It’s great.
It’s no accident. It’s no accident that the movie was that good. That movie is a brilliant movie. Beautifully photographed, perfectly written characters. it’s so of its time, it’s a perfectly executed movie.
It has a weird reputation now, but it has a lot to say about racism, and antisemitism, and it is so closer to Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story than I thought about nostalgia and the ’50s…
No, it gets sort of lumped in as this stupid movie, but it’s not. Bob Clark started three sub-genres: the holiday slasher film with Black Christmas, the sex comedy with Porky’s, and the family holiday movie with A Christmas Story. Which has one of the best Thanksgivings. This movie, I wanted it to look like a holiday movie. So the high school scenes look like Porky’s. The holiday scenes when we’re dressing Kathleen? I wanted it to look like a holiday dinner. And then we start with a slasher POV on a holiday like the beginning of Black Christmas. So Bob Clark is kind of the unsung hero of three of my favorites. Two of my favorite subgenres. He’s a brilliant, brilliant, underrated director.
By the way, I’m a big Rhinestone fan too, so I love Bob Clark.
Me too. And Deathdream, you can’t go wrong with that guy. He’s incredible.
And the call coming from inside the house. Scream gets a lot of credit for that. And also When a Stranger Calls. but Black Christmas, that’s the movie that did that, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.
It is his own sub-genre. Look, you could say that the POV slasher film first came from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood from 1971. It’s Black Christmas. He was going to make Black Halloween, but he didn’t do it. Look, Popcorn, the movie that he produced and kind of sort of directed that his partner Alan Ormsby made? The trailer for Popcorn, I remember seeing a bunch of crazy images and then the commercial went, “Popcorn.” That gave me the idea to do the voice for the Thanksgiving trailer. It was literally me imitating the commercial that I saw on TV as a teenager for Popcorn. And I was like, what is this movie? It’s such a weird film.
I own the Porky’s Atari 2600 game. Here it is. (Holds up the game.) This exists.
I’ve never played it. It’s so incredible looking.
It’s a lot like Frogger. You’re trying to get across the road to get to Porky’s so you can burn it down.
You know, when we’re shooting the high school scenes, a lot of the times when I looked at movies for what I wanted this to look like, obviously Porky’s is a huge influence. I think it’s a beautiful-looking film.
But the diner, we looked at Five Easy Pieces. For the actors, they’re like, “What horror movies should we watch?” I had them watch Sorcerer by Friedkin. I wanted them to see what those actors put themselves through. The girls were like, “What should we watch?” I said, watch Béatrice Dalle in Betty Blue. Watch her performance. She was 21 when she did that. That’s the bar I expect. You’re 22, do what she did. So they knew that that’s what I was expecting.
The Five Easy Pieces part is really interesting. I love that movie and Bob Rafelson movies. I wouldn’t have picked up on that.
Look at Jack Nicholson’s performance! Look at how understated he is. This guy running away from his talent. And that scene with the father? Look how cool he is. He doesn’t have to do anything and he has such presence in that movie. And that’s what I wanted.
For your favorite ’80s movies you also listed Friday the 13th Part III.
Look. I love Friday the 13th Part III. But if they want to watch slasher movies, I’m going to tell them to watch Pieces, I’m going to say watch The Prowler, I’m going to say watch Happy Birthday to Me. but Friday the 13th Part III, that’s the one where he gets the mask…
Yeah, from Shelly Finkelstein because he loves doing the pranks and he brought the mask.
Yes, of course! Of course. Doing the jokes! Look, I like the deaths in Friday the 13th Part 2, which is basically a remake of Bay of Blood. But if they wanted to get in the vibe of those movies, I told them Mute Witness. I was just trying to pick ones they hadn’t seen before. Stuff that would kind of crack their heads open a little bit and get them in a different frame of mind. I don’t need them to think that’s the style of acting I want them to do. But yeah, of course, we love Shelley Finklestein. I was that guy. If I were in the movie, I would be this guy.
I love every October when people who’ve seen the Friday the 13th movies don’t realize Jason doesn’t get the hockey mask until the middle of the third movie.
Yeah, he gets the mask in the third one, I know. But I also love Steve. Number 81! I want to go as him for Halloween one year. When he gets the machete in his head and he just goes down the stairs in the wheelchair? I looked that guy up to cast him. I love that death.
Wait, that’s Part 2, right?
That’s Part 2. He’s so nice. He’s a sweet guy. He’s in a wheelchair. He likes the girl. And he just gets a machete in his face.
You think he’s going to save the day and it’s just like, no, sorry, man. No.
Jason’s like, I don’t care you’re in a wheelchair. I’m going to kill you.
No, Jason certainly does not care.
Jason’s an equal-opportunity killer. And of course, Part III is great because he went to the slasher gym between Part 2 and Part III.
Yeah in Part 2, Jason is a skinny guy with a bag on his head. In Part III…
WWE wrestler! 400 pounds of solid muscle! He just goes to the slasher gym. Maybe that’ll happen between Thanksgiving two and three? We have to have John Carver just gets yoked, turns into this steroid beast.
I couldn’t help but notice the Krull poster in this movie. Why Krull?
Why not? It’s one of the posters that McCarty loves. But then there are certain ones that we like for clearance, some we tried to get, but the rights are confused.
Krull is a Sony movie, so that helps.
Well, we got Krull. I knew he would love Krull. Death Wish 3 because he sells guns and that’s the best one. Then Last Resort with Rob Morrow and Johnny Depp and then Heather Thomas in the pink bikini, and we got permission from Heather Thomas, which was very cool to use that. It was either going to be Krull or Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, and we went with Krull.
Krull is that perfect sweet spot of an esoteric movie, but people also kind of remember it because that poster was everywhere in that era.
It’s like Krull, Zardoz… Krull is like the Zardoz of the ’80s, you know what I mean?
I just watched Zardoz for the first time a few weeks ago. What a trip.
Peter Yates goes Breaking Away and someone’s like, “You should do a Star Wars.” All right, Krull. You can tell. It’s like, totally, why did he make that movie? It’s incredible. It’s like Zardoz. It’s just like, wait, what? That movie happened? Sean Connery, with the muffin top and the cod piece. It’s the best!
And one of the best reveals, of why it’s called Zardoz.
It’s pretty good! Go see Thanksgiving in theaters … as good as Zardoz! What can I tell you? It’s better than Krull.
‘Thanksgiving’ opens in theaters this Friday. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.