The notion of a Thanksgiving-themed horror film is so absurd that Eli Roth once made a fake trailer for a fake movie called Thanksgiving, where a maniac dressed like a pilgrim terrorizes a Massachusetts town. I can probably count the number of Thanksgiving-themed horror films on one hand. Unlike other holidays like Halloween and Christmas (Santa’s Slay, Rare Exports, Jack Frost, Treevenge, etc.), Thanksgiving just hasn’t been a fertile field for horror. There have been a few, scattered Thanksgiving-themed horror films over the years, like Home Sweet Home and Blood Rage (both of which I literally Googled just minutes before I wrote this sentence), but nothing that’s hit the mainstream.
Then Jordan Downey made Thankskilling in 2009. While it’s not exactly a titan of horror, it’s finally brought some light to the holiday.
Thankskilling (2009). A group of sexy teenagers run afowl of an ancient, homicidal turkey. That turkey winds up inside at least two of his victims.
Thankskilling 3 (2012). A crowdsourced horror film that features weird puppets, a cat that kisses a man’s asshole, a wrinkly old grandmother who makes jokes about fucking black dudes, a talking trash bag, a Thanksgiving-themed amusement park, South Park-esque voice acting, and other extremely questionable artistic choices.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Saint Patrick’s Day has produced better horror films than Thanksgiving has
Although the original Thanksgiving was the precursor to one of the most horrendous genocides in human history, there aren’t many Thanksgiving-themed horror films out there. You’d think that, with all the opportunities for unscrupulous Hollywood fuckwads to make a quick buck on 10 million dead Native American zombies who could terrorize a town on Thanksgiving, you’d have more Thanksgiving-themed horror films in the world.
But all we really have is Thankskilling. I might wager money that Thankskilling is the most mainstream Thanksgiving-themed horror film in existence today. Which is why, when you look at Thankskilling’s overall viewership relative to other horror films, it becomes obvious that Thanksgiving will never be synonymous with horror. If you look at the size of the circles in the following chart, it represents the size of the average number of raters per film for each horror franchise, and, by proxy, their overall viewership:
When you look at the horror franchises I have in my data, Thankskilling has the second fewest IMDB raters, on average, and by proxy, the second smallest viewership.
It’s small even when compared to the more niche horror films, like Ghoulies & The Mangler. Hell, it’s even surpassed by Leprechaun, which does for Saint Patrick’s Day what Thankskilling tries to do for Thanksgiving:
That’s right. You could really stretch these data to claim that Saint Patrick’s is a scarier holiday than Thanksgiving. Granted, it’s relative, like comparing the edibility of plastic to the edibility of glass, but given the option I’d probably eat plastic first.
2. Teenagers are the dumbest people on Earth.
Everyone thinks teenagers are dumb as shit. The moment I turned twenty, I started taking thinks seriously – I founded a 401K, started aggressively paying off my student loans, and began attending networking events. Before I was 20, I was a terrible person – I smashed concrete blocks in a parking lot with iron bars that I found in a dumpster behind the bar I frequented.
It took Thankskilling for me to finally realize that we’re all dipshits in our teenage years. In Thankskilling, I watched a teenager get fucked by a turkey and confuse that same turkey for her boyfriend. That scene may have lost me my faith that even God loves teenagers.
Because Thankskilling is a film that parodies horror tropes in the most ham-fisted way imaginable, the main characters in Thankskilling are on a whole different level of incompetence. There’s a full sequence where the (teenage) female lead confuses the turkey for her father, because the turkey is wearing her father’s face.
One of the key tropes of 70s and 80s horror is that the protagonists are dumb. However, Thankskilling pushes the boundaries of human incompetence. Sure, in 80s horror teenagers split off from the group to go skinny dipping, or get laid, or whatever – but no one ever confuses a turkey dick for their boyfriend’s in Friday the 13th or Halloween. No one sees Leatherface wearing their boyfriend’s face and thinks, “hey, that’s my boyfriend.” No one eats the Lament Configuration box only to have Pinhead burst from their stomach.
This is the humor of Thankskilling. Everyone is dopey as shit and Turkie plays along with the gags.
To be fair, the parents are perhaps dumber than their children, confusing a turkey in Groucho Marx glasses for a person:
Thus, it shows that humanity is a story of progress, with the educational achievement of one generation surpassing the last.
Everyone may still be coffin fodder with a sub-80 IQ, but at least the teenagers seem to be marginally smarter than their parents.
3. Every horror icon should take a trip to space. Or the Hood. But Space first.
Going to space is a rite of passage for many horror antagonists. Jason Voorhees went to space. Pinhead went to space. The Critters were from space, and went back. Shit, even the Leprechaun went to space, where he infected a man’s penis with gonorrhea for peeing on him. I don’t know if there’s an abundance of cheap space ship sets in Hollywood or what else may be causing this eventual shift to science fiction, but everyone seems to do it at least once.
Including Thankskilling. Or, at least Thankskilling pretends to. Thankskilling 2: In Space is a fake movie. As a joke, the franchise jumps from Thankskilling to Thankskilling 3 and uses Thankskilling 2: In Space as a plot point in the “third” film.
Trips to space do a great job of keeping tired ideas fresh. I watched all the Friday the 13th films in a month, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by Jason X, which broke a long pattern that was getting stale. Hellraiser Bloodlines wasn’t the best space film I’ve ever seen, but it was definitely more interesting in Hellraiser 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9. Leprechaun in Space had all of the absurdity of Leprechaun 3, just in the distant future.
Which is why it’s so sad that Thankskilling 2 never actually happened. The opening of Thankskilling 3 features a teaser from the second film, featuring Turkey and an evil pumpkin pie shooting a lady astronaut with her tits out with space ships. After the 20 second teaser for Thankskilling 2: In Space, I realized that Jordan Downey, director of both films, had made the shit fest that is Thankskilling 3 film instead. But we’ll get to that later.
4. Horror films like to make jokes about their films existing within other films.
The Human Centipede is a film in The Human Centipede 2. The Human Centipede 2 is a film in The Human Centipede 3.
Halloween 2 is a film in Halloween 3: Season of the Witch.
Following in this long and illustrious tradition, Thankskilling is a film in the universe of Thankskilling 3.
5. “If a turkey is not in his teepee, he’s killing one of your friends.”
In the original Thankskilling, the Turkey was an evil Native American spirit with a rich lore surrounding him.
He lived in a teepee. One storied proverb said that, if he isn’t in his teepee, he’s killing one of your friends.
Keep an eye on that fucking teepee.
6. Turkie is about as good as Jason Voorhees at killing teenagers.
Turkie kills almost as many people in the Thankskilling franchise as Jason Voorhees does in Friday the 13th Parts II & III.
That’s impressive considering that your average male turkey is 24 pounds, and Kane Hodder, who plays Jason Voorhees in in your 3 least favorite Friday the 13th films and Jason X, weighs 255 pounds. With 1/10th the weight of Jason Voorhees, Turkie manages to keep pace with the big man, killing 20 people over the course of two films.
To be fair, four of those victims were puppets (because Jordan Downey is a bizarre man who makes bizarre artistic choices), but it’s still an impressive record for a victim’s two-film streak.
The only two characters who might compete with Turkie’s record are Roy Burns from Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, who kills a bunch of people while pretending to be Voorhees, and the Channard Cenobite, whose numbers are fluffed out because he kills a room of 10 hospital patients off screen. Otherwise, Turkie could make a strong case for the best murder run in a slasher’s first two films.
7. The drop off in quality in these films is pretty stark, in my opinion.
Despite what IMDB thinks, I think Thankskilling is a decent film. Sure, it’s not exactly Citizen Kane, but it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen. It keeps the action flowing, it’s entertaining enough, and, at 67 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
But this isn’t a commentary on the overall quality of Thankskilling, it’s a commentary on the lack of quality in Thankskilling 3. Meandering, weird, nonsensical, rife with puppets and pointless sub plots – it would be a significant understatement to describe watching Thankskilling 3 as a chore.
A significant portion of the main characters in this movie were puppets for some inconceivable reason, and they were all voiced like Trey Parker voices Cartman. One of the puppets is an elderly woman who raps about getting boned by black dudes, fingers herself, and smells her own vagina.
The movie turns into pixel art at one point for no real discernable purpose, there’s a short animation where a cat kisses a man’s asshole during a song. The actors’ conversations are forced and weird. The jokes are badly delivered. Some of the scenes feature lazily animated jpgs for special effects.
It’s not great.
If this description feels incoherent, it’s because the film itself is incoherent. The main character is an annoying orange puppet named Yomi who has lost her mind, which is appropriate because this movie fucking sucked.
I think that’s what annoys me the most – the incoherence. The annoying puppet voices, the goofy animation, the toilet humor would have all been forgivable if the film just would have felt well put together, and eliminated a lot of nonsense scenes where nothing happened. It suffers from Star Wars Christmas Special syndrome, where scenes varied from being irrelevant to the plot, to being too hard to figure out, to being too long and boring, to being some combination of all three of these things.
There was a period that I didn’t think I could feel any more. Then I watched Thankskilling 3, and I realized I could still feel hatred.
On IMDB, Thankskilling is rated 4.3. Thankskilling 3 is rated 3.4. The drop off in quality is stark.
But hey, at least the original is still a good film. So, considering my respect for Thankskilling, I’m going to issue this open letter to Jordan Downey:
Dear Mr. Downey,
I’ve never met you in my life, but this is an impassioned plea for you go back in time and make Thankskilling 2: In Space instead of Thankskilling 3. I’ve got boxes of shit in my childhood home that I could give you as compensation – Magic cards, carved sticks, a globe, Beanie Babies – just please time travel and fix your mistake.