Eli Roth spent decades cooking up his horror movie “Thanksgiving ”

Eli Roth spent decades cooking up his horror movie “Thanksgiving ”

"Hostel" director talks about crafting kills for his gory film and why he's going to make fun of star Patrick Dempsey "for the rest of his life."

Some kids dream of becoming pirates. Others fantasize about going to space. As youngsters, future director Eli Roth and his best friend Jeff Rendell were obsessed with the notion of making a slasher film set around the Thanksgiving holiday.

As Roth recalls, "We grew up in Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims landed. Thanksgiving, as you can imagine, is a massive deal there. We also came of age in that era of holiday slasher films, starting with Black Christmas and Halloween, but then My Bloody Valentine, April Fool's Day, Mother's Day. Every single holiday had a horror movie attached to it except Thanksgiving. So our dream was to make a slasher film around Thanksgiving."

Those familiar with Roth's directing filmography, which includes 2002's Cabin Fever and the two Hostel movies, will be unsurprised to learn that that this dream was, in fact, a blood-drenched nightmare. "Jeff and I had a bunch of ideas." says Roth, 51. "We were like, we’ve got to have a scene at the parade where there’s a guy in a turkey costume who gets decapitated and runs around like a turkey with its head cut off. And, what about the person who gets baked and served on the table?"

<p>TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection</p> 'Thanksgiving'

TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection


Several decades later, those exact sights can be viewed in the horror film Thanksgiving (out Nov. 17), which is directed by Roth and written by Rendell.

Set in Plymouth, MA, during the lead-up to the titular holiday, the movie finds a masked, Pilgrim outfit-wearing killer targeting a group of high school students, survivors of a fatal Black Friday riot which took place at a supermarket the year before. Roth elaborates that the murderer is "wearing a mask of John Carver, the first governor of Plymouth. [He] comes to exact revenge, and the kids have to find out who the killer is before they wind up as a victim of John Carver's special dinner he's preparing."

<p>Pief Weyman/TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection</p> Patrick Dempsey in 'Thanksgiving'

Pief Weyman/TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Patrick Dempsey in 'Thanksgiving'

The film's teenagers are played by Nell Verlaque and He's All That star Addison Rae, among others, while the cast's more seasoned members include Gina Gershon and a certain actor recently anointed by People as the year's "Sexiest Man Alive."

When EW raises the latter matter, Roth responds, "It is quite a thrill. But, you know, I worked with Rick Hoffman before, on Hostel, and I love him as Louis Litt on Suits. He turns up the heat." Roth is having a little fun with us. While Thanksgiving actor Hoffman is a fine figure of a man, People actually bestowed the award on his costar Patrick Dempsey, who plays a local cop in Roth's film. "Patrick Dempsey is quite the sexy dish," says the director. "And now I get to make fun of him for the rest of his life, so that’s kind of a gift that's going to keep on giving."

The idea of Dempsey or anyone else appearing in a feature version of Thanksgiving seemed unlikely for many years. Roth had first revived his and Rendell's idea for a holiday slasher in the form of a fake but convincing trailer, part of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse big screen extravaganza, which was released in 2007. Roth recalls, "When Quentin said, 'Do you want to do a fake trailer?' I said, 'Oh I got it: Thanksgiving.' Jeff and I already had the kills ready."

Roth shot the faux promo clip following the Europe shoot for Hostel: Part II.

"We shot it in two days," Roth says. "We looked at the props we had and we had my fake head, Jay Hernandez’s fake head. We put together this parade in Kladno in the Czech Republic, and we had the Kladno majorettes, and Mike McCarty and Kevin Wasner from KNB (the famed special effects company) made a human turkey body. I remember showing it to Tarantino and he goes, 'Holy f---, you did it, this looks like a real movie.'"

<p>Pief Weyman/TriStar Pictures</p> 'Thanksgiving'

Pief Weyman/TriStar Pictures


While Rodriguez turned his own fake trailer for a film called Machete into an actual 2010 movie of that name as well as a 2013 sequel, Machete Kills, Roth pursued other projects, executive-producing the Netflix show Hemlock Grove and directing cannibal film The Green Inferno, which was released in 2015.

Roth recalls that, "after we made the trailer we thought, well, now we never have to make the movie, we just did the best parts, that turned out great. And then for years the fans would re-post it every year going, why haven’t they made this?"

The problem, Roth says, is that he and Rendell "didn’t really know" what a feature-length version would be about. The director finally found an answer when he started to watch, "all of these Black Friday trampling videos that pop up every year at the superstores, where the first 100 people get something free, and they crush each other to death after being at a dinner with their family, saying how thankful they are. We thought, this is real fertile territory and it’s a great, great set-up that I’ve never seen."

<p>Pief Weyman/TriStar Pictures</p> Eli Roth

Pief Weyman/TriStar Pictures

Eli Roth

The fake trailer was a deliberately down-and-dirty affair. Roth decided that this new iteration would be of a higher quality in terms of visual vibe and performances. The director recalls that, before shooting a diner sequence, he showed Hostel cinematographer Milan Chadima the restaurant scene from the Jack Nicholson-starring classic Five Easy Pieces and told him, "'these are the colors, this is the look,' The cast, I had them watching Sorcerer by William Friedkin, I had the girls watch Betty Blue, I said 'Look at Beatrice Dalle, that’s what I expect, look at that level of performance.' I just wanted to crack everyone’s brains open in a different direction than they normally would."

Of course, the film also features grotesquerie aplenty. While his most recent feature was 2018's family-friendly fantasy film The House With a Clock in Its Walls, Roth says he still loves "doing great kill scenes." For Thanksgiving, the director enlisted the help of makeup artist Adrien Morot, "who’s a genius, won an Academy Award for The Whale. Adrien and I care so much about each kill being a classic in the pantheon of great horror kills. But, yeah, it is like riding a bike. A bloody bike."

If Thanksgiving is a success Roth promises, or perhaps threatens, that this particular bike ride will continue.

"Look, if people come out and go see the movie, I would love to [make more]," he says. "I think that we’ve been needing a movie like this. I love slasher films and obviously grew up with Freddy, and Jason, and Michael Myers, and we love Ghostface, but I wanted to add a new one to the canon, I wanted to bring some new blood to the genre. So if the movie does well, I’d love to continue it."

Thanksgiving will be released in theaters Nov. 17. Watch the trailer above.

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