Written by: Jordan Downey & Kevin Stewart (writers) and Bradley Schulz, Anthony Wilson, and Grant Yaffee (additional dialogue)
Directed by: Jordan Downey
Starring: Lance Predmore, Ryan E. Francis and Lindsey Anderson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďYou just got stuffed!"
Back in 2007, we were all pretty excited about Grindhouse in general and Thanksgiving in particular. Sure, it was a fake trailer, but Eli Roth has often hinted that it might marinate into an actual movie someday. Five years later, weíre stuck with pretty meager offerings on the Thanksgiving slasher table; however, little did we know that Kevin Stewart and Jordan Downey were actually putting their money where their mouths were back in Ď07 when they set out to make their own entry in the bloody Turkey Day canon. Sure, that money only amounted to about 3,500 bucks, but it was enough to produce ThanksKilling, a film whose one joke can be found in itís premise: a goddamn walking, talking, homicidal turkey kills college kids.
Letís back things up, though, all the way back to 1621. ďThe olden days,Ē as itís hailed by the opening title. A puritan woman, breasts inexplicably flopping about, is chased by an unseen pursuer. Itís revealed to be said killer turkey, who compliments her on her ample bosom (ďnice tits, bitchĒ) before axing her in the face. Say what you want, but ThanksKilling pretty much puts it all on the table right there--A Walton Thanksgiving Special it ainít. Anyway, the movie flashes ahead to present day, where a group of five kids canít wait to embark on Thanksgiving break and party; unfortunately, their car breaks down at a nearby wood where a vagrantís dog pissed on the killer turkeyís grave, thus reviving it for some modern mayhem (it might lack the fiery pizzazz of Freddyís similar resurrection in The Dream Master, but it gets the job done).
You know this sort of drill by now (coincidentally enough, thanks to Grindhouse): this is a one note, high concept with low brow execution that aims to throw us all the way back to 80s irreverence. This one is especially dyed in a Troma wool thatís played broader than broad; it certainly has no pretensions (mostly because itís mathematically impossible for it to even have one pretension), so it plays up its dumbness for maximum parodic effect. Itís far too stupid to be considered a satire, so itís just another slasher thatís dumb for the sake of being dumb, with the joke being that these movies are bad, so whereís the harm in yet another bad one? That approach makes ThanksKilling harmless and juvenile, but thatís essentially what the splatter movie did to the genuinely transgressive slashers and proto-slashers. I can see that rubbing people the wrong way, and, really, films like ThanksKilling sort of represent the height of misguided irony because it is so simplistic and reductive of the whole Grindhouse thing.
It sort of begs the question if a bad movie should get a pass if it knows itís bad, and I think the answer is an unequivocal ďyesĒ if it features a killer turkey. If the concept alone werenít stupid enough, things just get downright absurd when all of the characters are broad caricatures; the kids of course are sectioned off into typical types: the good-hearted jock, the clown, the virginal girl, the not-so-virginal girl, and the dweeb (goddamn, Cabin in the Woods really was spot on). When one of them tells a campfire tale involving a demonic turkey conjured up by Native Americans seeking revenge against white people, theyíre at least smart enough to laugh it off; however, theyíre all apparently lobotomized somewhere along the way because they (or anyone else, really) never bat an eye, even when the turkey is driving a car or masquerading as one of the kidsí dead dad (to be fair, he is wearing the fatherís skin as a mask, so maybe heís like the Fletch of killer turkeys).
At any rate, thatís the joke: everyone and everything is stupid, so it excuses the typical independent movie failings that crop up, particularly the wooden acting and stilted dialogue. The puppet effect especially reveals the budgetary limitations, but thatís sort of the charm, I suppose. Turkey himself still manages to be a star; sort of a feathered Chucky, heís stuffed with bad puns and one-liners (ďthatís what I call fowl play!Ē) and a real mean streak that results in some legitimately effective gore work; thereís a cool Alien riff in there in addition to the Leatherface-esque face-peeling, among other fun gags that validate ThanksKilling as a fine, over-the-top splatter film. Even though you could argue that these types of movies are sometimes misguided, thereís no denying this oneís spirit and energy; it never slows down, and even its obligatory campfire tale flashback is relayed with style. Overall, itís silly without being too grating, mostly because itís smart enough to realize that its premise wears thin pretty quickly, so it wraps up in a swift 66 minutes or so.
ThanksKilling is often fun even if it isnít genuinely funny (in fact, even its best, terrible JonBenet Ramsey joke is run into the ground no less than three times, so even it loses effect), but it admirably lives up to its Troma aspirations on a supremely limited budget. On the Thanksgiving slasher menu, I guess itís still just another appetizer along with Home Sweet Home and Blood Rage, with Madman kind of serving as the entrťe since it was technically set around the holiday. Iíd say itís no Thanksgiving, but, really, Thanksgiving is no ThanksKilling on account of the latterís actual existence. Maybe ThanksKillingís sequel will be the ultimate turkey; it might be even more irrelevant since itís skipping straight ahead to ThanksKilling 3, so it looks like weíll miss the space-based sequel teased at the end of this one, which is just as well. Nobody wants to see ThanksKilling X anyway. As for the first one, itís streaming on Netflix, and hopefully itís there every year during the holiday season. For better or worse, itís likely to be a Thanksgiving slasher staple thanks to its boneheaded charm and hyperawareness of its own foulness. Rent it!
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