What Is Eli Roth’s ‘Thanksgiving’ Based On?

The Big Picture

  • Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving trailer for Grindhouse was designed to provoke and disgust audiences with its shocking and disturbing content, catering to fans who enjoy boundary-pushing horror movies.
  • The Thanksgiving trailer draws inspiration from various horror influences, featuring visual cues from well-known franchises and paying homage to schlock horror marketing of the 1980s.
  • The feature-length film adaptation of Thanksgiving maintains the absurdist, gruesome tone of the original trailer, with gratuitous displays of violence and a focus on old-school slasher conventions, although it is cleaner and more polished in its presentation.

In 2007, Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino teamed up for their Grindhouse-titled double-feature: Planet Terror and Death Proof. It opened a can of exploitation-themed fake trailers with filmmakers like Rob Zombie (Werewolf Women of the S.S), Edgar Wright (Don’t) Robert Rodriquez (Machete), and Jason Eisner (Hobo with a Shotgun) all bringing the debauched goods with their uniquely horrific trailers. Rodriquez’s segment spawned the Machete series and Eisner’s Hobo with a Shotgun was translated into a feature-length depraved oddity. Eli Roth’s Grindhouse fake trailer Thanksgiving had a straightforwardly brutal premise, chock-full of patently gruesome horror trappings, grindhouse sleaze, and a masked lunatic. Now, Roth’s fake trailer will finally make the leap to theatrical release on November 17th. Thanksgiving (2023) uses the fake trailer as a springboard for a macabre feature full of seasonal terror with Patrick Dempsey‘s sheriff investigating a series of grisly homicides.

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.

Eli Roth Loves to Provoke and Disgust His Audience

Unsurprisingly, if we had to guess what his intentions were with the Thanksgiving trailer, we’d say Roth’s sole purpose with his segment was to provoke and disgust. “They want to be provoked,” said the Torture-Porn provocateur, telling IGN what he believes his fans want in 2006. “And the nature of my favorite horror movies are the ones that go into that shocking, disturbing, forbidden territory” In Roth’s 2007 fake trailer, the director serves up a smorgasbord of humorous vulgarity and depravity with a decapitation-happy killer targeting Judy (Jordan Ladd) during the festivities in a Massachusetts town. It has all the staples of grindhouse cinema, with copious amounts of gore, nudity, and over-the-top violence and multiple references to popular and obscure properties. Roth, like Tarantino, has built a successful career on the foundations of exploitation, Mondo, and Asian-extreme cinema, and Thanksgiving has a slew of pop-cultural nods to other subgenres.

What Was Eli Roth’s Inspiration for the ‘Thanksgiving’ Trailer?

The logo for Eli Roth's Thanksgiving as seen in Grindhouse

The trailer contains multiple visual cues from both obscure cinema and well-known horror franchises. The first scene borrows a killer POV lifted directly from 1978’s Halloween and accompanied by a synth score, with the masked lunatic sneaking up on an elderly lady who is stuffing a turkey. This is followed by “Thanksgiving” emblazoned Nightmare on Elm Street-style across the screen in dripping red letters. The trailer leans heavily into the schlock horror style of cinematic marketing put out by New Line Cinema during the 1980s. The sinister voiceover is reminiscent of trailers for 976-Evil and The Hidden and the deliberately unvarnished edit offers an additional Video Nasty-element.

Roth might seem like he is adhering to the stalk-and-slash formula of Thanksgiving, with the sleaze and violence foregrounded and the plot peripheral to the shock value — but with Roth, more always is going on beneath the surface. The trailer gleefully dips its toes into a myriad of different subgenres. Roth told Uproxx about his influences in a recent interview:

“So our goal was always to make a real slasher movie, like Black Christmas, Halloween, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day. And then in the ’90s, Mute Witness and Scream, I thought were masterpiece slasher movies. So, when we had the opportunity to do the trailer, it was doing it in the context of Grindhouse, which is supposed to be one of those fun 1980s low-budget, sleazy drive-in movies.”

‘Thanksgiving’ Is a Patchwork of Horror Influences

The premise of Thanksgiving revolves around a masked maniac butchering people in a Massachusetts town during the 4th of July weekend. The focal points in Roth’s trailer are a teenage girl called Judy (including a cameo from Roth and Jay Hernandez as two horny guys who lose their heads), a Thanksgiving parade, and a killer with a penchant for decapitation and other nefarious activities. At the beginning of the trailer, Roth pays homage to 1981’s underrated Happy Birthday to Me in the brief depiction of Judy we see. A scene with a naked girl on a trampoline is a juvenile and unnecessary scene but adds the gratuity typical of this kind of film.

The excellent retro-style wardrobe and purposely timeless and basic set design are very reminiscent of the splendidly weird 1975 genre-blended Dario Argento-flick Deep Red. It takes a lot of work to make something look that cheap. Where Roth’s trailer begins to go off the rails (in the best way) is with how he incorporates references to even stranger movies. The eat-the-poor parable Society has a fleshy culmination that needs to be seen to be believed. In a later scene during Roth’s Thanksgiving dinner, much flesh, gore, and human contortions are displayed and whether it is a deliberate or accidental tribute, it brings sinister shades of Society.

How Does ‘Thanksgiving’ (2007) compare to ‘Thanksgiving’ (2023)?

So, can we expect all the grimy, bloody sleaziness from the original trailer in its feature-length expansion? The most prominent similarity between the Thanksgiving trailers is the absurdist, gruesome tone and Roth’s deranged emphasis on the unadulterated horror that is integral to his gory story. The director’s filmmaking has a reputation for no-holds-barred violence gore and hard R-rated content designed to shock viewers. Both trailers feature gratuitous and often comical displays of violent death and misery for the characters involved. The cop investigation, the teenage subplot, and the killer’s weapon-of-choice and preferred method of dispatching victims are all similar. Roth does take things one step further for the feature film with the cooked-alive element. The down-and-dirty send-up of old-school slasher conventions recur throughout both trailers. The difference is Roth excised the sexual content for the 2023 trailer, which makes sense for a mainstream release (but whether it remained in the film or not remains to be seen). The new trailer is cleaner than the fake trailer and looks less like a bootleg VHS of a forbidden film, making Thanksgiving (2023) more slick than sick.

Thanksgiving comes to theaters in the U.S. on November 17. Click here for showtimes near you.

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