The Big Picture
- Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth, is hitting theaters after being in the works for over 16 years.
- Roth shares the inspiration behind the feature that finally provided him and co-writer Jeff Rendell with the plot to make this project a reality.
- He also discusses the process of bringing the film to life, including the challenges of low-budget filmmaking and orchestrating kill sequences. He also shares his top three favorite horror movie kills.
Just in time for the season’s festivities, Eli Roth’s very long-awaited slasher, Thanksgiving, is hitting theaters with a full-course meal of blood and guts. To celebrate, Crumpa’s Steve Weintraub spoke with the co-writer and director about cooking up kills with a side of laughs and finally bringing this story to fruition.
Thanksgiving is based on a faux trailer Roth made in 2007 for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, which you can read all about and watch here. However, the timeline for this movie goes back further than 16 years because, according to Roth, he and co-writer Jeff Rendell have been sitting on this idea since they were kids – very disturbed kids. The premise fans will finally get to see on the big screen is that Plymouth, Massachusetts is plagued by a mysterious killer who appears to be taking vengeance on the small town after a nightmarish Black Friday gone wrong the year prior. One way or another, everyone involved is going to pay for the tragedy that may not have been the accident residents were led to believe. Revenge is best served warm this year, with lots of sides and stuffing. Thanksgiving‘s cast includes Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hoffman, Gina Gershon, Addison Rae, and more.
While talking with Crumpa, Roth reveals the final push that provided him and Rendell with the plot they needed to move forward with their passion project. While horror is a fun and experimental genre, it’s also often utilized to serve up social commentary, and Roth discusses those ideas behind Thanksgiving, as well as what it takes to pull off a low-budget quick turnaround shoot when dealing with fire hoses worth of blood. Curious about orchestrating big kill sequences? The horror director breaks down his process, as well as shares his top three favorite horror movie kills and tons more. Check it all out in the full interview below.
After a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy, a mysterious Thanksgiving-inspired killer terrorizes Plymouth, Massachusetts – the birthplace of the infamous holiday.
- Release Date
- November 17, 2023
- Eli Roth
- Rick Hoffman, Gina Gershon, Patrick Dempsey, Milo Manheim, Addison Rae
- 107 minutes
- Main Genre
- Jeff Rendell, Eli Roth
Crumpa: Congrats on Fright Krewe Season 2.
ROTH: Thanks, man. That was a fun premiere. The response was amazing, and we’re so excited people love it. People are loving the gateway horror for their kids. It’s a great thing to watch with nephews and kids 8/9/10 years old, and excited about Season 2.
Eli Roth’s Top 3 Horror Movie Kills
You have seen a lot of horror movies, and if maybe you’ll answer this, maybe you won’t, but what do you rank as the top movie kill of all time, or the top three movie kills of all time?
ROTH: I mean, I can’t do the top one. I love in Pieces when the girl is in the bathroom and she gets cut in half with a chainsaw. It’s so insanely real and realistic. I love The Omen when the glass slides and decapitates the head in slow motion, that’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s not a kill, but the pencil in the ankle in Evil Dead always gets me every time.
The Inspiration Behind Eli Roth’s ‘Thanksgiving’
Jumping into why I get to talk to you. How did you come up with the idea of it basically being a Walmart – I’m sorry, Rightmart – on Black Friday for the setup?
ROTH: Obviously, Jeff Rendell and I had been wanting to do this movie since we were 12 years old. We had the kills, but we sort of had no plot. Then it was about 10 years ago we started watching those viral videos that were of these midnight Black Friday sales, which is a relatively recent phenomenon, and all the people trampling over each other in these riots to get the products first. That’s what gave us the idea, thinking like, “Oh, this is real fertile ground,” because not only can it give you your inciting incident that you can go back to later, but it’s actually thematically about the consumerism and greed and the panic of not get getting the item before someone else does bleeding over into this holiday that’s all about being thankful for what we have, for our health, for our family. Then, two hours later, you’re trampling over someone for a flat-screen TV.
There’s also a lot of dark undercurrents because why do those gladiator games happen? It’s because some rich overlord has decided, and people aren’t paying people enough. Wages have been cut to shit, so there’s no middle class anymore, so people have to go to the Black Friday sale. It’s the only time they can get stuff on sale to buy everything for their kids. The kids need Christmas gifts, so they’re forced into these gladiator games. So, while you have the Rick Hoffman character kind of sitting in his mansion while they’re listening to violin music, drinking their wine, everyone else is fighting at the gates, scrambling over a waffle iron. So I think that it’s more just a commentary on this kind of sick culture that we have of a very few at the top having so much and the masses having so little and being forced into these gladiator games, but all of that sort of corrupting the holiday. People can’t even sit and have dinner together anymore.
What is the kill in the movie that you are most looking forward to audiences seeing?
ROTH: I don’t know, that first diner kill is pretty amazing. I’ve watched that with an audience, and people kind of scream at the top of their lungs. That one is really fun, and the corn cob in the ears is a great one to watch with a crowd.
Yes, I actually really enjoyed watching it with my audience and hearing the mixture of people jumping/laughing.
ROTH: That’s great. That’s good. I wanted a fun movie. I didn’t want it to be an endurance test and a grueling, punishing movie. I wanted one where the kills were great, and they were scary, and they were gory, and satisfying, but one where people were leaving the theater with a big smile on their face.
The Recipe for Perfect Kills
If you don’t mind, I want you to break down or take the audience behind the scenes on what it’s actually like to do these kills in a movie. How much before you’re filming are you working with a team to figure out each of these kills and how much are you figuring out on set? For someone who wants to do something like this, what does it actually take?
ROTH: The more you prepare, the better it’s gonna go because the reset is massive. So, for a scene with someone getting their face stuck against the refrigerator and they have to rip it away, Adrien Morot and his wife, Kathy [Tse]—Adrien won the Oscar for The Whale, he’s a brilliant makeup effects artist—we do a bunch of tests. “Do we do it to look like chewing gum? Do you start with makeup on the face?” You’re testing it over and over and over to get the right look. I want it to look like when you have a blister and you rip it off. I wanted that kind of feeling. But if you do too much, it looks fake, too little, you can’t see it. Then, where’s the camera gonna go? You sit there with your director of photography, you have a storyboard, or you draw it out. You say, “The camera’s gonna go in here.” This movie was so low-budget we shot it in 35 days. Everything is planned beforehand. You have to know, you have to discuss it all because if you don’t, you’re dead because you’re gonna lose 20 minutes discussing something and then you don’t have time to do a shot. It’s 45 minutes of set up, and then if you do that shot and you reset, it might be a half-an-hour or an hour reset to redo the makeup and clean up the blood. So you hope you get it right on the first time, but you gotta give yourself another take to get it.
So things like the riot, we use a program called FrameForge to kind of build it out with Justin Harding, who’s my second unit director. He measures the space, we put the camera in with the exact angles, we can kind of pre-vis the whole scene, I shot list it, and we start to sort of workshop it weeks ahead of time. Same thing with the ending in the warehouse, all these sequences. I’ve been making movies for 20 years now, and this is the kind of film I only could have done with 20 years of directing under my belt because I knew exactly how to approach it. But the more you prepare, the more you are going to get on the day. And you educate your whole crew so they know exactly, “These are the shots we’re getting.” You sit with your AD, “This is the order. We’re looking all in this direction.” If you’re lighting at night, you can’t turn around and relight, it takes an hour. “We’re going to block shoot this way, this way, this way, this way, then this way, this way, this way.” So you have to know what all of those little pieces are, and you have to have it meticulously planned out. That’s the only way you’re gonna pull off a movie like this.
I love talking about the editing because it’s where it all comes together. What was it like when you first put together all the footage? Did you want to jump out a window, or were you like, “Oh, we have it?”
ROTH: I knew we had it, but it’s always tricky because it’s always playing longer than you’d like, and you can’t quite see where to take the time out. But once you show it to an audience and you see people shuffling, then you’re less in love with your footage, and you’re more willing, like, “Okay, maybe we don’t need that scene. Oh, maybe I can fix that with a line of ADR here or there.” So there’s just other ways around it. But I knew we had it. You know when you’re shooting. I have enough experience under my belt to know on the day, “Either I got it or I don’t.”
Were There Any Leftovers From ‘Thanksgiving’?
Did you end up with a lot of deleted scenes or no?
ROTH: We had a lot of deleted scenes, but there more police detective scenes. It felt like we were doing three movies: a slasher movie, a high school movie, and a police detective movie, and the police detective stuff was the stuff that got truncated the most. It’s just people wanted the slasher, and then the high school. They wanted kill, a little plot, kill, a little plot, and that became the pace of the movie.
I’m sure you show a rough cut to friends and family or people you trust. Who gave you the best note, and how did you incorporate it?
ROTH: Well, it was really the audience that we did at a test screening. I used to be very against test screenings, but watching it, you just sort of feel where the movie is working. Kevin Goetz runs the test screenings, and he analyzes the data, and he’s like, “People want to like the movie. You have them. They want to be with you. It’s just feeling a little bit long in the middle. They don’t care about the police stuff. They want to get to that next kill.” And so they said that the faster you can get to that next kill without the police investigation, the better the movie is gonna be. And we really hacked a lot of it out, and we found ways to do it that didn’t sacrifice the movie.
Eli Roth Breaks Down the Mayflower Truck Scene
One of my favorite kills in the film is the truck scene. You know what I’m talking about?
Talk a little bit about pulling that one off and the challenges of trying to make that one go right.
ROTH: It was tricky. You’re filming a scene with two kids, who I worked with both before. These two girls, Hannah and Charlie Storey, they’re the funniest kids. Hannah had been in my short, Trick VR Treat, and Charlie had been on an episode of Urban Legend and an episode of A Ghost Ruined My Life. Their parents are big horror fans, and the girls love all things scary, so I knew they were gonna be down to get covered in blood. The girls wanted to be covered in blood. I mean, you’re there with like a fire hose of blood, pumping it on these girls screaming, “Grandpa, grandpa, wake up! Wake up!” And then you yell cut and they’re laughing, and everyone’s taking pictures with them, and the girls are the happiest you’ve ever seen.
But when you’re doing a scene like that, you’re just nervous because it’s a six-hour reset because there’s so much tubing and there’s so much puppeteering. We’re doing it practically. I want it to be a real practical effect that’s shocking. We’re breaking glass, and it was a lot, and it took us four times to get it. We just weren’t getting it, and then I thought we had it on the third time and I showed it to Adrien Morot, and he’s like, “Nope.” He wasn’t there that day, and he’s like, “I’m flying out. I’m doing this myself,” and he did it. Adrien redid it, and I was like, “Yep. We got it. We got it.” But it was crazy. It was like you think you’re gonna get it and then you don’t, and you’re like, “Damn it.” That’s the scary thing with practical effects is that they can go wrong. You can choose to do stuff digitally, but it’s just not the same.
Thanksgiving is in theaters now. Purchase tickets here.