Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING Arrives Fully Stuffed On Blu-ray!

Eli Roth’s holiday themed slasher Thanksgiving hit Blu-ray last week, and it’s a film I’ve been looking forward to since I caught the fictional trailer in Grindhouse opening weekend back in 2007. Out of all the trailers, admittedly it was probably my favorite, probably due not only its extreme nature, but its pitch black sense of humor. That said, I am also a bit of an Eli Roth apologist, I enjoyed Cabin Fever, I dug the Hostel series and I am even an avid defender of The Green Inferno. But it’s been a hot minute since Roth has directed a fictional narrative, since he’s been working on various documentaries on the horror genre cementing himself as one of the leading voices discussing and dissecting the genre. 

So it was a bit of a surprise honestly, that nearly two decades after the fact, he would finally direct the feature length adaptation of Thanksgiving. 

For those that missed out. Thanksgiving is Eli Roth’s love letter to the holiday slasher that takes place of course, in Plymouth, Massachusetts during the Thanksgiving holiday and follows a group of teens being picked off one by one, by a man in a John Carver mask, dressed like a pilgrim. Carver was a great icon to model a killer after, not only because of the name, but he was one of the pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower and was the first governor of Plymouth Colony. The film begins a year earlier as many slashers do with the inciting incident, when a group of teens are responsible for causing a riot at a black friday sale. Several people were trampled and killed, as rabid consumers stormed the local department store to not miss out on the free waffle irons, in a nod to the consumerism and capitalism that have taken over the holiday. 

Now, having looked forward to this for so long, I honestly have to say I initially felt a bit let down by the film the first time I saw it in theaters. I think this was primarily because I was expecting beat for beat everything from that trailer, which is about 70% there in the theatrical film. Since then however, I’ve adopted the rationale that given the trailer felt like something lost from the 80s, this new version was something akin to a remake or re-imagining by the same director, given the change of time period. Speaking of which, right off the bat Roth does something most filmmakers don’t, wont or can’t, and that is keeping the cell phone and social media in the narrative. This has Carver not only taunting his prey from an instagram account, but also allows Roth to comment on the toxicity of online culture. 

While the first watch was simply a reactionary one. Since there’s a lot of gnarly kills and comedic beats to react to, rewatching it for this review I started to dig into the craft of the film itself. As a slasher, Thanksgiving is rock solid, themed appropriately to the holiday and it moves rather briskly from memorable kill to memorable kill. Now the film itself adheres to some very particular rules of the slasher while doing this, beginning with the inciting incident, the viewer is then forced to spend the film wondering who our masked killer is, and it’s a fun game of whodunnit embedded in the story. But where Thanksgiving shines is not just the memorable characters, or the iconic kills, but it’s how well it feels thought out with its understanding and subversion of what the audience has been trained to expect. 

Let’s take the Yulia kill for example, which is probably one of the best in playing with expectations. We as an audience know since she’s trying to flee to Florida, she’ll no doubt be moved up in the kill queue. I also enjoy that folks in Thanksgiving understand that they need to get the hell out of Dodge, even though that doesn’t always work out. In Yulia’s sequence, Roth toys with the audience giving these mundane tasks she does while getting ready to leave for the airport these long drawn shots, underpinned by a really tense score, just upping the dread, while putting her in a very vulnerable state, that’s not a shower, over and over again. It’s this teasing and subverting expectations that really make this particular bit work as well as it does. Of course Carver eventually stabs here with corn cob holders through the ears, but it’s that sort of unexpected and slightly absurd kill that shows how well he really understands the genre. 

Roth then takes it a step further allowing her to live and throws her still living body on a table saw, resulting in one of the most over the top and grotesque kills I’ve seen in a major Hollywood movie in a decade. 

While most studios have gotten complacent with bare bones releases, leaving more well produced discs to the boutique labels. This disc feels like it’s delivering on a clear edict by Roth for fans, to give them something worth picking up. The extras on this disc are as bountiful as grandma’s Thanksgiving feast, which are basically on Scream factory level. Included are the normal EPKs, but you also get a commentary by Roth, Outtakes, and 35 minutes of deleted and extended scenes. There’s even some more gore in these deleted bits, Karen Cliche’s cooking scene is a few minutes longer and speaking of her character, we get to see a lot more carving at the table. There’s not just gore on the cutting room floor, but my other favorite lost bit is a scene with some characters engaging in some baby goat yoga, that stops when the goat decides to pee on the actor. 

So in my reassessment, I have  to say I’ve come around on this one in a big way. Watching it again really helped me to get past my hangups and start to really enjoy the place setting Roth has given us in Thanksgiving. I feel like every course was planned, dissected, planned again and then punched up, and finally filmed. You rarely get that with horror these days, some directors think being sloppy, copying another film or just going big is the way to go, and you don’t realize how wrong they are until you watch something as well executed as Thanksgiving. Every beat just feels so well thought out and purposeful and that’s something if you dig into the extras you will appreciate, since you see some of the trimmed fat in the extended scenes. Thanksgiving is one hell of a holiday slasher and a film that is going into my holiday rotation right alongside Blood Rage. 

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