(NEXSTAR) — It took 16 years but Eli Roth’s latest horror hit finally made it to the table in time for Thanksgiving. Audiences’ first taste of Roth’s “Thanksgiving” came all the way back in 2007, when the Roth-directed short of the same name debuted as one of the fake exploitation film trailers in the Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez cinema event “Grindhouse.”
And for fans of a certain kind of slasher movie, “Thanksgiving” was worth waiting for.
The set-up is simple enough: a pilgrim-dressed killer returns to Plymouth, Massachusetts, one year after an infamous Black Friday riot ends in death. One-by-one, many of the key players in the events become the target of the killer’s vengeance.
Our main group of teens, led by Jessica (Nell Verlaque) try helping local law enforcement, led by Sheriff Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey), catch the killer before their geese — or turkeys — get cooked.
A funnier-than-you’ll-expect screenplay co-written by Roth drives the grisly events, which strike a fine tone between horror and humor. Sticking true to his “Hostel” franchise roots, “Thanksgiving” features some gruesome death scenes that contain just enough camp to keep your stomach from turning. But make no mistake: “Thanksgiving” earns its R rating through a variety of holiday-themed killings you aren’t sure to forget this coming Thursday.
Though Roth’s original “Grindhouse” take on “Thanksgiving” was a tribute to slashers of the 1970s — think “Black Christmas” and “Halloween” — “Thanksgiving” (2023) feels closer to a slasher movie of the 1990s. Whether through the quippy dialogue of its teen characters or its parodic depiction of holiday consumerism, “Thanksgiving” conjures feelings one might have felt watching the first “Scream” movie back in 1996 (or watching it on VHS tape sometime later, in secret, because you were too young in 1996).
Now, while it’s not nearly the game changer “Scream” was, “Thanksgiving” would nonetheless be at home alongside the many films “Scream” catalyzed, like “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Urban Legend” and “Valentine.”
Roth’s ninth film since “Cabin Fever,” his 2002 debut, shows that just over 20 years into his horror career, the 51 year-old director and actor (most recently seen in HBO’s “The Idol”) still understands how to make a simple horror movie work — and he seems to still be having fun doing it.
So far, audiences seem to be hungry for “Thanksgiving.” The film earned $10.2 million domestically in its opening weekend, and it currently holds an 82% Rotten Tomatoes score — which Collider reports makes it Roth’s best-reviewed film ever.
“Thanksgiving” will be joined in theaters nationwide for the holiday weekend by Disney’s musical fantasy “Wish” and Ridley Scott’s historical drama “Napoleon.”