In 2007, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez directed a cult classic horror film named Grindhouse. Separating the two different parts of the movie were some fake trailers—one of which was made by Eli Roth, promoting a Thanksgiving horror film that didn’t exist.
Now, 16 years later, Roth finally made the movie a reality.
The new film, starring Patrick Dempsey and Addison Rae’s Gabby, follows the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, as it’s terrorized by a Thanksgiving-themed killer named John Carver one year after a tragic and catastrophic Black Friday riot.
Creating the Thanksgiving Killer, John Carver
In an exclusive interview with The Direct's Russ Milheim, Thanksgiving Director Eli Roth spoke about his new horror film, revealing the origin of its sinister killer.
Roth remarked that while the killer is in his original fake Thanksgiving trailer from 2007, it was when he and his friend were researching on the time period that they discovered “the first Governor of New Plymouth colony was named John Carver:”
“When Jeff Rendell, my writer, and I, you know, when we did the fake trailer, Jeff played the killer, we just call them The Pilgrim. And then, in doing the research, Jeff found that the first Governor of the New Plymouth colony was named John Carver. And he was the governor on the Mayflower coming over.”
As for Carver’s unsettling mask, that came thanks to “a drawing of him from 1620:”
“So we thought, you know, when history hands you a gift like this, you don't look it in the mouth. So, that became the name of our killer. And then, in designing the mask, we found one image of John Carver; it's a drawing of him from 1620. And we use that as the basis for the mask because we thought, well, the logic is, the mask was given out for the 400 year anniversary, which would have been 2020. Well, the parade was canceled because of COVID, so they have all these extra masks lying around, so everyone in town has got them.”
The design fit Roth’s vision of being something that could be “[honor] this historical figure” but still be terrifying when out of context in a deadly situation:
"And we needed something that looks slightly odd, but enough that, like, Okay, you could believe that they gave it out to kids in a diner and that everyone would have it, honoring this historical figure. But when that person is standing in your kitchen with an axe, when it's used out of context, it becomes terrifying.”
But what was the most unique part of making Thanksgiving a reality? According to Roth, he “never expected to have Patrick Dempsey as the lead:”
“I mean, I think what was--I never expected to have Patrick Dempsey as the lead... Which was a wonderful surprise. I mean, I love him. And I'm thrilled. And now I can't see the movie without him in it. But it's nice when things come together when it's not planned, you know.”
“Patrick reached out at the beginning,” revealed the director, something he simply couldn’t believe was happening:
“You wanted a great actor to anchor the film. Someone who's a real serious actor and theatrical, but who's also charming and could play that small town cop in over his head. And Patrick reached out at the beginning, and I thought, I can't believe it, like Patrick Dempsey, are you serious? I've never done anything like this.”
The actor is not only “from Maine,” but he “[used] his natural accent that he grew up with,” something Dempsey had “never used [on film]” before:
“And then it turns out he's from Maine. He's from small-town New England, and he's using his natural accent that he grew up with. He's never used it in anything ever before. So when all those things line up, and Rick Hoffman is available to do it, you know, it's just meant to be.”
One of the most intense scenes in the movie is the very opening sequence, where audiences get to watch the Black Friday riot spiral into insanity. But was it ever any crazier during development?
The director admitted he “[doesn’t] know how much more intense it can get without it becoming silly,” as he “wanted it to become real and terrifying:”
“Well, I don't know how much more intense it can get without it becoming silly. You know, I wanted it to become real and terrifying. And I want the audience caught up in it in a way they don't realize they're going to be. It was crazy to shoot that. We shot it in four nights, two nights outside and two nights inside. So when you're making a low-budget movie, and when we shot the whole movie in 35 days, which is incredibly fast.”
Roth continued, noting how he felt the production’s limitations helped them find what was right for the scene to be exactly what he wanted:
“So, sometimes you're just limited by the amount of time you have. But I do believe that diamond pressure creates diamonds, and, you know, limitations equal freedom. You somehow come up with stuff that's better than you ever would have if you had had two weeks to shoot a sequence like that. So it was just about following the characters.”
“I hate when action becomes so crazy and so chaotic, you can’t follow anything,” noted the filmmaker:
“I said, just keep it simple. Keep it about the characters, I want to follow them. I want to be in the riot with them, seeing it through their eyes and understanding. I hate when action becomes so crazy and so chaotic you can't follow anything. I was thinking about Titanic when the waters rising, and they gotta get that key, and she holds her breath, and she's reaching through--I mean that I've never been so tense as when I was watching that scene because it was so real. And we're all holding our breath with her.”
At the end of the day, Roth didn’t want the opening scene to be “about gore or violence,” instead hoping to “[create] that pure panic of being in this ride:”
“So, I think I wanted to create--It wasn't about gore or violence. It was just about creating that pure panic of being caught in this ride, going we could really die. This is terrifying, this night of going to the movies with your friends; now, suddenly, we're trapped in a riot.”
The Direct then asked if, by the end of the movie, the cast of surviving characters ever looked different.
Roth admitted that he simply “look[s] at the characters and look[s] at the story and [does] what makes sense” when deciding who lives and dies in his films:
“Well, I think you look at the characters and look at the story and do what makes sense. It's, you know, it drives me crazy and slasher movies when someone's stabbed 55 times and then like, oh, they went to the hospital, they made it. It's like, well, how ineffective is this killer if they can't stab someone 30 times and have them pop up again? I just check out of the movie.”
Elaborating on why some horror movies can lose his attention when characters survive such extreme situations, he sometimes feels that it can demonstrate a lack of respect for its audience:
“I go, ‘I'm not taking you seriously because you don't respect me as an audience member, and you don't have the balls to kill off your characters.’ So, to me, I just do what makes sense. If the character is smart and figured out a way to live, they live. If the character got tricked or got trapped or ran into trouble and the killer got him, the killer got him, and that's it.”
What Is Next for Eli Roth?
For those who have now seen Thanksgiving, it's hard to argue that Eli Roth didn't deliver exactly what many wanted, a fun, bloody time wrapped in a festive package.
But what are the odds Thanksgiving will get a proper sequel? Maybe the filmmaker can embrace a different holiday entirely and give it a good horror makeover; oddball choices like Mardi Gras, Election Day, or Hanukkah could be perfect picks.
Many fans would also like to see Roth return to the Hostel franchise, especially following the success of Saw X.
In the meantime, audiences can catch the filmmaker’s next movie, which isn't horror, Borderlands. The highly anticipated video game adaptation lands in theaters on August 9, 2024.
Thanksgiving is now playing in theaters worldwide.