‘Thanksgiving’s Most Terrifying Scene Doesn’t Involve the Killer

The Big Picture

  • Director Eli Roth’s film Thanksgiving showcases his expertise in horror and thriller genres, combining elements of comedy, suspense, and terror.
  • The Black Friday scene in the movie is the most terrifying, capturing the chaos and violence of the real-world shopping frenzy. The camera work and sound design immerse viewers in the scene, evoking a sense of fear and discomfort.
  • The deaths in the Black Friday scene, particularly those of the security guard and Mitch’s wife, highlight the realistic and brutal consequences of the greed and madness that can occur during these sales events. The scene’s basis in real-life incidents adds to its terrifying nature.

Thanksgiving has proven that director Eli Roth knows his way around the horror and thriller genres like the back of his hand. The film has the good ol’ blood and guts of his claim to fame, the Hostel series, while also really showing his skill at building suspense and fear. It may not be as gory as some of his other work, like The Green Inferno or Cabin Fever, but it’s a film that mixes together Roth’s talents in the areas of comedy, thriller, and horror.

However, that doesn’t mean Thanksgiving isn’t as scary or sickening as his splatter films. In fact, it hits that scary note pretty early on in what is absolutely the film’s most terrifying scene: the Black Friday sequence. Between the kills, the camera work and sound design, and the real-world implications, the Black Friday scene quickly sets the mood for the rest of the film — and honestly gives you a reason to root for our John Carver mask-clad killer.

Thanksgiving 2023 Film Poster


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

‘Thanksgiving’s Black Friday Scene Is Full of Terror

Let’s set the scene real quick. It’s the night of Thanksgiving and all through the city, every creature is stirring. RightMart manager Mitch Collins (Ty Olsson) has been called into work to help with the store’s Black Friday sale, and a less-than-polite and civil crowd of people has already surrounded the store. The two hired security guards are of little help in controlling the crowd, and once Jessica (Nell Verlaque), the store owner’s daughter, and her friends are seen in the store after she lets them in through a side entrance, all hell breaks loose.

The mob breaks through the barriers and through the store’s front doors, trampling and killing a security guard in the process. It’s madness as people race to get half-priced electronics and discounted waffle makers and start physical altercations that kill and maim other shoppers. All the while, Jessica’s friend Evan (Tomaso Sanelli) is filming the bloody Black Friday stampede from atop a register area.

Roth’s camera work here really captures the frenzy. Firstly, there’s the juxtaposition of the outside versus the inside of the store when the scene first starts. Outside, the energy is tense and restless, and specific attention is paid to the people at the front of the crowd, who are cursing at the security guards and starting to whip the rest of the people waiting into a frenzy. Then, we cut inside to a store being prepared for the sale. It’s brightly lit compared to the darkness outside, it’s orderly as employees stock items, and the grumbling is far more muted than the roar of the crowd. This juxtaposition only adds to the tension — those inside the store are in no way prepared for the chaos that is about to be unleashed. It results in the stampede being more impactful; the employees don’t know that they are about to experience a nightmare scenario, and to an extent, the mob doesn’t know that it’s about to create one.

As the impending doom grows closer, the movement between characters and scenes becomes faster and a little choppy. This captures the way people crash into the store, the way glass breaks and people slice their skin to get inside through the damaged doors, the way the carnage is leading to people falling to the ground left and right and sustaining mortal (and not so mortal but still gnarly) wounds. Everything moves faster and faster until finally, Sheriff Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) fires his gun at the ceiling.

The way the scene is shot puts the viewer on edge because it makes them try to process the scene as quickly as possible. It’s a great method because it’s highly immersive; it makes the audience feel like they’re fighting for their lives, too, as they’re being overloaded with visual and auditory input. Speaking of, that’s another reason the scene inspires so much terror. The way the scene sounds makes you feel disgusted in the best way possible. It’s the mix of voices yelling, the scraping of metal as the crowd pushes against the barriers and gets closer to the doors, the shattering of glass and the squeaking of shoes against linoleum, and the crack of bone and squelch of flesh. All together, these sounds make a symphony of discomfort and fear as the scene plays out that just leaves you sick to your stomach.

Who Gets Killed in the Black Friday Riot?

However, that sick feeling is also partially caused by the casualties during the scene. The first death is Doug (Chris Sandiford), one of the two security guards tasked with controlling the crowd. Mitch tells him to go inside and lock the doors once the crowd starts to get violent, but soon after he does, the mob breaks through the doors and tramples him. No one seems to notice him underfoot as they continue to walk over his bloody and glass-riddled body until Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks) tries to help him, getting his arm (and his dreams of playing baseball) broken in the process. This particular death hits hard because of its “insult to injury” quality. Doug didn’t just die; he was tortured for no reason due to the greed of people who wanted cheap toasters. It’s far from the most gory death in the scene, but it’s perhaps the most realistic.

The second death is that of Mitch’s wife, Amanda (Gina Gershon). She wasn’t an employee or a customer; she had simply come by to give her husband food since he had to leave Thanksgiving dinner early. However, she gets caught up in the scuffle and trips. She tries to get to safety, but her head is suddenly smashed between the shopping carts of two women, seemingly oblivious to the harm they are causing. As they fight, Amanda’s hair gets caught in the wheel, and she’s scalped. Both Mitch and Eric have particularly visceral reactions to finding her body, and her death is ultimately what leads to Eric firing his gun to stop the madness. Her death is a little more over the top, but still rather grounded when compared to the rest of the film. And just like Doug, it hits harder because she wasn’t one of the people rioting.

‘Thanksgiving’s Black Friday Scene Is Similar to Real-Life Incidents

Group of teenagers in Thanksgiving
Image Via Sony

Perhaps the thing that makes Thanksgiving’s Black Friday scene truly terrifying, though, is its basis in reality. Injuries and deaths are so common during Black Friday sales that there is an entire site, Black Friday Death Count, dedicated to documenting them. Many of these incidents are due to fights over items, parking spaces, and the rush to be the first to enter the store.

In fact, Doug’s death in Thanksgiving bears a striking resemblance to a real-world event. In 2008, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death while unlocking the door to let in thousands of Black Friday shoppers. That morning, police had to be called in for crowd control and an officer with a bullhorn was trying to calm the chaos (not unlike what happens in Thanksgiving), but the crowd pushed against the doors until they shattered, and the employees on the other side were trampled, which resulted in the death of a temporary holiday employee named Jdimytai Damour. The New York Times reported that after the incident, many people continued to shop, saying they had been waiting in line since the day before.

Even the use of waffle makers as the item everyone is in a tizzy over is similar to a real event. In 2011, a riot broke out in an Arkansas Wal-Mart over $2 waffle makers. This isn’t even to mention the number of car accidents, shootings, stabbings, and uncountable brawls and tramplings that have happened since Black Friday began in the 1950s. Roth has always liked to play with the ideas of consumerism and its absurdity, and Thanksgiving is his most pointed criticism of it yet, putting the most capitalistic holiday around in the role of villainy. It only makes sense that the scene that truly shows its evils is the most terrifying one in the film.

Thanksgiving is in theaters in the U.S. now. Get tickets on Fandango.

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