Eli Roth, the man behind horror classic ‘Hostel’ is back with a new spine-tingling film set on the American holiday ‘Thanksgiving’.
When it comes to holiday themed horrors, most of the big holidays have been covered. There is one glaring American omission though, there are no horrors set on Thanksgiving. Eli Roth has put an end to that with his latest slasher film, Thanksgiving.
After a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy, a mysterious Thanksgiving-inspired killer terrorizes Plymouth, Massachusetts – the birthplace of the holiday. Picking off residents one by one, what begins as random revenge killings are soon revealed to be part of a larger, sinister holiday plan. Will the town uncover the killer and survive the holidays…or become guests at his twisted holiday dinner table?
We caught up with Eli to find out why this is the horror film he has always wanted to make.
Eli, when it comes to horror I thought we had the holiday bases covered but we didn’t – there was no horror film for Thanksgiving. No. It was a glaring hole in the holiday horror filmography, and, I felt if there was one thing I could do in this lifetime, it would be to fill that hole. That’s come from growing up in Massachusetts and being inundated, every November, with school plays and trips to pilgrim recreation villages. Also, growing up in the mid 80s, the Golden Age of slasher films, all you wanted to do as a kid was see them. My best friend, Jeff Rendell, and I were like, “Why don’t they make Thanksgiving horror films?” Ever since we were kids, we would wait every year going, “Well, surely someone’s going to do Thanksgiving?! You could have someone in a turkey costume get decapitated, run around like a turkey with their head cut off.” So, from the time we were little kids, we’ve been discussing making this movie, so it’s, I would say, the longest development process in anything I’ve ever done.
You have made horror films before but not with your childhood best friend. What’s it like watching your childhood dreams, or nightmares in this case, come to life on the big screen? Well, it’s an incredibly personal and moving experience. You know, Jeff is so smart, and has been working in high end antique and autograph dealing – businesses completely unrelated to film. But Jeff is also like one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s a genius when it comes to movies. What was really great was for other people to start getting it. You know, Patrick Dempsey read the script and said to Jeff, “My God, you’re an incredible writer. This is the best dialogue I’ve read because it doesn’t feel like movie characters. It feels so real.” It’s almost like because Jeff wasn’t infected by the Hollywood studio system, he came up with some of the funniest, most natural, fantastic characters and dialogue that just poured out of him. And I think, for me, the satisfying thing was to watch him really be rediscovered by everyone as a brilliant writer, and filmmaker and someone with incredible ideas.
When we’re trying to work out a sequence, it’d be me and Jeff and Milan Chadima (my DP from Hostel) – we would go on location, just the three of us walking through the scene going “OK, then he grabs the pitchfork; or What if she’s hiding here?; then a body pops out here”, we would really create the scenes together. So, it’s pretty satisfying to have people that, one’s your childhood friend, and another is a lifelong friend, and the three of you were together getting to make this dream project. That happens very rarely and everybody knew it. We’re like, “this is a rare and special moment and even though we’re going to work harder than we ever have in our lives on anything, we’re going to have a great time doing it.” And we did.
Eli, we saw the Thanksgiving faux trailer in 2007 (as part of Grindhouse), and you said that were stumped when it came to turning it from a trailer to a feature film. Was having your best mates with you, what helped you get over it? Yes, and also, we remembered that our idea to make Thanksgiving predated Grindhouse.Grindhouse was a great vehicle to try it out. But when Quentin said, Do you want to do it?, we had that idea ready to go. So we said, let’s go back to that original movie that we wanted to make if Grindhouse didn’t exist. We then started following that path a little bit.
But really, what freed us up was when we said, “OK, let’s pretend that Thanksgiving was a movie that was made in 1980, and that the day it was released, people were so horrified, every print was pulled from the theatres, and they were ordered destroyed. Every print was destroyed, nothing exists, except one person snuck a trailer that survived in the darkest corners of the internet, and this is the 2023 reboot of that.
Before that we found that we were just writing connector scenes. We were just writing a 90 minute version of the trailer, which we know isn’t going. We don’t want to make a 90 minute joke. The trailer is a joke. That’s why it’s fun. It’s supposed to be funny and absurd. It’s ridiculous. It’s a parody. But we don’t want to make a parody. We want to make a real slasher film – that was always the intent. So we took the ideas that we loved from the trailer,really mixed them with ideas from our childhood and we said, “What is gonna make a great, great, scary, whodunnit, slasher film?” We watched all our favourites – My Bloody Valentine; Halloween; Silent Night, Deadly Night; The Prowler. They have great kills, great guessing games and really fun characters. That’s what we wanted to do – and an iconic killer (John Carver), with a really, really cool mask.
You’ve said in the past that it doesn’t feel like you’ve done your job as a horror director, if you’re not coming home covered head to toe in blood. Do you still feel that way? And how messy did you get on this shoot? I will say this, that was before I could afford to buy vintage Missoni knitwear. That being said, I actually do still live by that – even though my wife’s Italian and has definitely helped me up my style game. She’s a fashion designer, so I can dress much better.
But when I’m on set, I have specific Tupperware buckets that say’s Eli’s set clothes. And they are the only clothes that I wear on set, because I don’t want to worry about them getting trashed. And I always get in there with the blood. And I get covered in it. And I get sticky. And I get messy. And it actually sets a great tone on set because they say , “Eli’s not afraid to get dirty. He loves it. What are we worried about?” And then the cast, they don’t worry about it either. Then when you’re sitting there and you’re talking to someone, and you have the fake blood all over you, it’s just more fun. And everyone has a fun time when they see you and you turn around and you have fake blood all over your face, and you’re having serious conversations it just keeps the energy alive on set.
So yeah, I have to keep trash bags in the van, for my ride home sometimes. And sometimes I’ll have to change into a pair of sweats or something for the ride home but I just have my same clothes that I wear in every day and they get trashed. Those are my set class.
And finally, Eli do you have a message for horror fans who are about to watch this? This is the one you’ve been waiting for!
Words – Sarina Bellissimo
THANKSGIVING is at Irish cinemas from November 17th