Thursday, November 23, 2023

Carve Us Some Meat, John Carver: Thanksgiving (2023)

Thanksgiving (2023)
Rating: ****
Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Ty Olsson, Gina Gershon

Ever since director Eli Roth tossed in a fake trailer about a slasher film taking place in Thanksgiving, complete with an axe-wielding pilgrim and a decapitated turkey mascot, in the double-feature exploitation throwback Grindhouse (2007), a lot of slasher fans wanted the film to become a reality, even more so when the other featured fake trailers got their own movie adaptations, namely Machete (2010) and Hobo With A Shotgun (2011). Now, sixteen years later after long believed to be a dead project, we are thankful to say that we finally have another Thanksgiving slasher to gorge on! 

It was Thanksgiving night in Plymouth, Massachusetts when tragedy struck the town, as the staff of a local big box retailer, lacking much security against the horde of pissed-off consumers, got swarmed during its Black Friday sale. A riot quickly formed, resulting to one security guard trampled, the store manager's wife accidentally killed and a few other fatal casualties among the injured many. 

Jump ahead a year and the owner of the store (Rick Hoffman) opted to continue its operation despite the protests of a small mob who are still bitter from the fiasco. In turn, Jessica (Nell Verlaque), who’s the daughter of said store owner, finds herself and her friends in an odd and vaguely unsettling social media tag featuring cryptic messages and a picture of a Thanksgiving dinner set with their names on it. Being partially responsible of the mob riot of one yesteryear ago, the group can't help but see this as jab on them, but they try their best to ignore it, hide their guilt and move on from the incident. Little do they know is that someone is going to make sure they own up to it, along with a few other folks linked to the deaths that occurred during that horrible holiday scuffle. 

Soon, a killer wearing a creepy John Carver mask and suited in full Pilgrim wear is carving up the guilty ones with an axe. The town sheriff (Patrick Dempsey) quickly pieces together that the victims all had something to do with last year's Thanksgiving riot, but with so many people involved that night, pointing out potential suspects is no easy task. Eventually, Jessica has an encounter with ole' John Carver and nearly got her head chopped off in the matter, forcing her and her friends to help with the investigation and put a stop to the masked slasher, even more so when their threatened number is quickly dwindling down to none. 

With a good murder mystery at play and savage kills from a cool-looking killer to boot, Thankgiving (2023) practically shows that director Eli Roth knows his way around the bodycounting sub-genre, piecing in a lot of fair and fun tributes to many slasher tropes and playing them with a right balance of dread and humor. You'll pretty much get moments like John Carver gutting a poor tubby sap with an electric knife and decapitated them with a deadly wire, before having him taking the time to properly feed his victim's now ownerless cat before legging it out with a severed head which will later turn up as a macabre centerpiece of a dinner table. Its direction and writing basically juggles its tones with a considerably good balance and I am glad to say that it holds well through a good bulk of the plot, emphasizing the serious threat of the murders as the authorities and the targeted teenagers try piecing together clues regarding the identity of the maniac behind the mask, all the while sidelining to a silly My Bloody Valentine (1981)-inspired love triangle with potential red herrings, quirky discussions involving a character's unusual nickname, or visits to the local gun-totting, drug-dealing idiot played by Joe Delfin who, honestly, have to be my favorite character out of the bunch for how increasingly silly he gets in his attempts to be cool with the kids and even help them. A good swing on the acting department definitely helps make whole mystery gig watchable, plus the cordial portrayal of the friend group is just refreshing to watch.

Many of the ridiculous yet brutal holiday carnage of massacred parades and human "turkey" cook-outs are lifted from the original faux trailer that inspired this film, though more noticeably polished and not as exploitative. (we still got the trampoline striptease, for one, but it didn't end with a near-naked cheerleader doing the splits unto an erect knife by accident) The movie wisely makes up for it with a great deal of gory effects and a better variety for its kills, from standard slayings of twisted heads and knife stabbings, to savage ends like a live-broadcasted head crushing and even a full face impalement courtesy of a runaway ship prop, most of it done under the horrifically twisted spirit of the Fall holiday. On top of that, Thanksgiving (2023) have the good grace of giving us real nail-biting chase sequences that hearken back to a couple of slasher classics, one channeling Prom Night (1980) as a teen find themselves alone and hunted in a school with an axe-wielding maniac, the other bringing pitchfork horror vibes ala The Prowler (1981) as a victim plays cat-and-mouse with the killer (who accidentally made his mask cooler by leaving one side to burn on a pre-heating oven) inside a dilapidated yet well-equipped lair.

Of all the things the movie did right, however, Thanksgiving (2023) did loose a few footings and clumsily stumbled down in places, mainly within its last act. It's kinda disappointing as a potentially good set-up was there; John Carver have gathered all of his victims, the surviving ones tied to chairs while corpses of the unfortunate others are propped up in seats, used as decors or even served as the main course in a horrifying sight that comes across something out of Happy Birthday To Me (1981) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). The killer does a fine job delivering a twisted monologue taunting his victims and even adding another body to the count, but then two of the survivors manage to escape and that leads to a backwoods chase that ends just as it started. A supposed twist is then revealed, only to be undone by another and, again, the film looks like it's gearing up for another fun chase sequence, this time involving 16th century muskets and a pick-up truck, but that's also wrapped up abruptly without much fanfare (despite the big blaze involved) and leaves us with a stale parting gift of a predictable jumpscare, as well as a sequel bait as (say it with me) no body was found. This whole finale is simply a hack job in the editing department, terribly rushed with too many survivors and a reveal that should've been good given that the story had the chance to dwell on it further. Still, it could have been worse. Way worse.

Stuffed with enough good bits to make most slashers fun, Thanksgiving (2023) is a welcome addition to holiday bodycounters, one that serves a platter of carnage, satire and witty humor, as well as a decent tribute to the golden age of dead teenager flicks. It may not hit all the marks right, but there's still plenty of a killer treat to be found here. Serve it up and gobble it down!

1 male trampled to death
1 male had his neck caught and cut on a glass shard, bled to death
1 female hit on the head by an incoming shopping cart, neck broken
1 female split in half in a car-crushed dumpster bin
1 male stabbed in the gut with an electric knife, decapitated with a thin wire
1 male had his head twisted
1 female pushed to a table saw, eviscerated
1 male decapitated with an axe
1 male had his head impaled by a projected bowsprit
1 female impaled on a thrown pitchfork, cooked to death inside an oven
1  female seen dead from multiple stab wounds
1 male had his skull bashed apart with a meat tenderizer
Total: 12
Images (c) Google

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I never knew this film actually happened!

    btw, I just clicked your name from retroslashers old "Pitchfork Massacre" comment section on a whim. Nice blog. I'll have to bookmark it. :-)