‘Thanksgiving’ – Eli Roth on the Importance of Original Horror and Evolving His ‘Grindhouse’ Trailer [Interview]

Based on his fake trailer from the Grindhouse Double Feature (2007), Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is finally a full-feature movie, and it’s arriving in theaters this Friday, November 17.

In Thanksgiving, “After a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy, a mysterious Thanksgiving-inspired killer terrorizes Plymouth, Massachusetts – the birthplace of the infamous holiday.”

Bloody Disgusting spoke with Roth, who wrote the script with Jeff Rendell, about his gory slasher and how it’s evolved since its faux trailer origins. 

Roth tells us about how the original concept that began it all started with his childhood and a noticeable void in the slasher space.

“The original concept of Thanksgiving came from Jeff Rendell, my best friend, and I growing up in Massachusetts watching every holiday slasher film,” Roth explains. “In Massachusetts, Thanksgiving is the biggest deal. There’s the parade. There are school plays. There are two Pilgrim recreation villages you go to where they’re like, ‘What’s a television? And we churn the butter.’ You know? It’s a part of growing up. So, for us, every year was like, where is the Thanksgiving horror film? It felt like on November 1, horror was over. It was done. For the rest of the year, it was holiday movies, Christmas movies, and family movies. I’m Jewish, so Christmas movies meant nothing to me. It meant I had to wait for two months, until January or February, for horror to start back up again.”

Eli Roth carving turkey

Director Eli Roth on the set of TriStar Pictures and Spyglass Media Group, LLC THANKSGIVING. Photo by Pief Weyman.

Gone is the grainy film grit and ’70s vibe from the initial Grindhouse trailer, replaced instead with a modern polish and contemporary style. When asked what surprised the filmmaker most about Thanksgiving’s evolution from faux trailer to feature film, well, it turns out it was society.

“What evolved were the Black Friday tramplings,” he explains. “That wasn’t a thing back in 2006 when we shot it. It was the viral videos. These viral videos of midnight Black Friday where everyone is so thankful and say, ‘We’re so happy. We don’t need anything, just our health.’ And then it’s like waffle irons and they kill each other for a big screen TV or a PlayStation or a waffle iron. Once we had that, we thought, ‘This is the great inciting incident.’ Because all those movies, whether it’s Prom Night or anything, always start with a tragedy. Then, it’s a certain amount of time later, and all the people connected to the tragedy are being killed.

“But it also not only gives a tragedy, it gave me a theme. It’s the commercialization of Christmas that has bled over into this holiday about being thankful, while at the same time, there’s a real consciousness that Thanksgiving is about colonialism. There’s a real backlash to the holiday, and people are going, ‘Why are we calling this Thanksgiving and being thankful when we massacred all the Native Americans and took their land?’  You have the perversion of the holiday from Christmas, but also this sort of awareness, which is something that we address in the movie.”

Roth continues, “It feels like Thanksgiving was this pure Charlie Brown Thanksgiving when I was a kid, and now it’s got this kind of Black Friday tramplings and this tinge of colonialism, too, that it’s not the same. For me, that’s where it’s rich, fertile territory to make a great slasher film. Let’s use that as the ground for which we can grow this movie.


Nell Verlaque stars in TriStar Pictures and Spyglass Media Group, LLC THANKSGIVING. Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.

Thanks to its commitment to gore and a mean streak, Roth’s slasher taps into the cynical spirit of early aughts horror that seems to go against the grain of cathartic, fun escapism horror that’s emerged recently. Roth weighs in on his slasher’s place in modern horror.

“A lot of gore is on television, and that’s okay. I think there’s a lot of gory horror on TV, so people aren’t putting it into movies,” he notes. “But I do miss those good old-fashioned meat and potato slasher movies where there are brutal kills and people are getting killed violently. I mean, people love it. Look. We’ve seen the Scream sequels and the Halloween reboots, and it’s always about who is the killer and what happens. In Scream, you’re guessing to see who the killer is. In Halloween, it’s just Michael Myers again. So those movies are done very well, but it’s really time for new blood. I really missed a new slasher language, a new town, new characters, and new mythology. We can’t just keep rebooting everything forever. It’s much better when you can give people an original.

“I think the audience is hungry for an original, and I want to deliver. It’s not just that, ‘It’s original, go see it.’ I want to give people the best night of their lives at the movies. I still have people come up to me and say, ‘Hostel was the best night I’ve ever had at the movies. Cabin Fever was the most fun I’ve ever had at a movie. I saw Green Inferno opening Weekend. I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve never been with a crowd like that.’ It’s like going to see a concert.”

Karen Cliche in Thanksgiving

Karen Cliche in TriStar Pictures and Spyglass Media Group, LLC THANKSGIVING. Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.

With that in mind, Roth sought to deliver a slasher with the audience experience at the forefront of his mind, and he’s spent quite a bit of time developing that.

These movies don’t come along very often. I’ve been working on this movie since that trailer; it’s been 16 years. It’s been a long time planning this movie. So, when you go see it in the theater with a crowd, I guarantee you’ll never have another experience like that,” Roth promises. “Horror movies are best the very first time you see them. It will never scare you like the first time. It’s like when you have perfume or cologne; you open that bottle the first time, it’s so potent, but every time you open it, it loses its potency just a little bit until eventually it’s just water. I wanted to create that communal experience where everyone would have a great horror movie to go to in November and not have to wait until January.

Stay tuned for more from our chat.

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